You know you’re not going to have a good day when your father, rather than offering you the chance to rule the galaxy by his side, announces your demise. In 1981 Mark Dean was part of the IBM team that delivered the Personal Computer (PC): yet Mr Dean has looked at his stricken progeny, clinging afraid and alone above an abyss and said – “do you know what, I’d prefer a tablet”.

In the past 30 years the PC has been a device that has been adopted by both the consumer and corporate markets. Back in the day, applications were supplied from a centralised cloud service, billed on usage: users accessed that service via a thin client. “Personalisation”, indeed “getting processing time” was complex. A young upstart company called Apple introduced the Apple II. It may have started as a consumer device, but the PC was rapidly adopted as a corporate IT tool to drive agility and productivity. In this galaxy, not so long ago, IT literate users railed against expensive and rigid mainframes and demanded… a PC. They got it. Arguably, corporate IT departments have spent thirty years trying to rest back some semblance of control and help the businesses accommodate the high costs of unmanaged and chaotic environments.

AppSense, a leading provider of user virtualization technology, and Centrix Software, provider of unified end-user computing solutions, have announced a strategic partnership to provide organizations with a comprehensive, user-centric transformation program. Do you need a user-centric transformation program? How could this alliance help your business manage IT beyond the ‘single-PC-for-every-user’ era? If they can help you, are they your only hope? Will it justify your CFO’s iPad?


To be the Emperor or to be part of an Alliance?

In 2005 Microsoft’s Bill Gates envisaged a New World of Work, the technologies are available to deliver that today: likely without Microsoft Office. An increasingly demanding and mobile workforce, coupled with migration projects such as Windows 7 adoption is paving the way for replacing static, infrastructure based computing to that of IT-as-a-Service, orchestrated around the user and their requirements. Consumerisation of IT may be a relatively young phrase – but the process of innovation-in-IT emerging from consumer-based technologies first is not new.  The PC is not dead. However, end-users and departments are choosing their own devices, selecting and using software and services, applications and other cloud resources, and are often capable of by-passing the IT department altogether. Businesses are moving beyond the ‘single-PC-for-every-user‘ era.

Still, most users don’t know what’s best for the business; they tend to focus on what’s best for them. Complex security decisions or determining the best solutions for business problems must be taken in consultation with all stakeholders. In the past, IT often dictated what devices and software would be supported: this should be a two-way process, involving users and conducted with a thorough understanding of business needs.

However, if users are given complete control it opens the business to increased cost and risk. We’ve asked before if User Installed Applications are a dream or a nightmare. Cost through the likes of duplication of software, payment for licenses unused, or failure to be able to negotiate on bulk-license deals. Risk in terms of failure to comply with regulations for data protection or license compliance. In addition, as organisations increasingly utilise some (or all) of Software/Platform/Desktop-as-a-service the focus on whether that service is a success moves away from the traditional “system metrics” to, ‘does it meet the users’ needs?’

The challenge for your business is to have IT tools in place to adopt an application delivery model that is more user-centric, but at the same time delivers the business accurate reporting on what applications are used and how they are used. To ally IT and the business users together rather than have one sit uneasily under the subjugation of the other.

What is User Centric IT?

Is User Centric IT like an energy field created by well governed IT? Surrounding our applications, penetrating our productivity, binding the organisation’s IT together?

Not quite.

But, as the range of services changes, delivering user centric IT ensures that the user has a consistent user experience. That does not mean that all users have the same regimented user experience, but as a user moves between devices, or between services, their preferences and access to data is consistent.

An inflexible, highly locked-down IT service is increasingly under pressure. Services solely delivered using traditional in-house infrastructure are being challenged by cheaper, more flexible technologies. Virtualisation and the Cloud offer new options for infrastructure and service delivery. At the same time, that flexibility is not just available to the IT team: users are capable (and experienced) in accessing applications on a range of devices. Previously, those applications had to be installed on a server or a desktop: this is no longer always the case.

User Centric  IT

diagram courtesy of Centrix Software

As the diagram shows – there is a technology-use shift. Transitions between those services need to be managed.  At  the same time, while innovation and increased productivity can come from giving users more control, that control cannot be absolute: the themes mentioned in user-centred does not equal what the user wants are applicable to IT services as well as interaction design.

Can AppSense & Centrix Software Get you to User Centric IT Faster?

AppSense and Centrix Software state that they can provide organizations with the tools to:

  • Analyze: Centrix Software’s Workspace IQ gives you the ability to gain a deep, accurate insight into the relationship between users, usage, applications, content and devices. This is an essential starting point for any transformation, but importantly gives you a basis for on-going analysis allowing you to assess the need for additional optimization.
  • Plan: By providing detailed analytics, Centrix Software’s offering can enable IT to prioritize and plan based on usage information. When IT has the insight into different user work styles, technical attributes and interdependencies, it is possible to have faster adoption of a new service.
  • Manage: Here, AppSense’s product suite can help manage the user experience, independent of the environment, across different computing platforms (be those desktops, laptops, VDI or Terminal Services) and delivery mechanisms. With a consistent user experience you have increased productivity. AppSense’s product suites have a background in providing strict controls: to audit and prevent users introducing their own software. However, these controls have been enhanced to provide greater user autonomy within a controlled environment. AppSense have built on their User Rights Management features (allowing IT to grant appropriate controls) to include the ability to have web installation rights by web address or application. This allows users the autonomy to add tools such as web conferencing clients, or search tools without IT application delivery bottlenecks.
  • Deliver: Here AppSense and Centrix have products that can be combined. AppSense’s user virtualisation functions help users to access their applications from any desktop, device or location, allowing for flexibility, freedom of choice and the reduction of IT barriers. At the same time, Centrix Software’s Workspace Universal provides a platform for unifying the delivery of diverse software applications, desktop services and data content.

User centric IT is about delivering  applications to the user in a consistent manner; being able to give user’s choice and autonomy. But, within a framework. The Appsense & Centrix Software alliance provides a toolset to help you deliver that: Centrix Software’s Workspace and AppSense’s Management Suite complimenting each other well.  Will it get you there Faster? Without such tools any transition and hybrid environment is going to be more complex to use and to manage. Its fair to say no one vendor offers a tool-set that covers both the planning, management and delivery to the same extent as the combined Centrix Software’s Workspace and Appsense’s Management Suite.

Do or do not Do, there is no try

This is of course, not to say that this isn’t the only offering – or that it is truly complete.

There are a number of vendors offering assessment services to allow you to migrate from a traditional single PC model. Lakeside Software, for example, have their Systrack Virtual Machine Planner, or Liquidware Labs have Stratusphere Fit (which was OEM’d to Quest for vWorkspace migrations). Where Centrix Software’s Workspace IQ differs is that it is designed to not only help plan for transition, but to act as an application use and license management service across delivery platforms. This is important in understanding where costs can be saved in the future – or how usage and demand is changing. The competition against Workspace Universal is more limited; although at present Universal would typically be considered by larger organisations. Yet, as even small-medium sized environments take on a widening mix of web based and desktop-OS based applications delivered on- and off-premise there will be an increasing need to monitor which applications are being used, by whom and when. Of course, the focus at the moment is on applications delivered in a Microsoft operating system environment: and for most organisations this is the majority of their applications. However, it would be interesting to accommodate other platforms – or other transitions: for example what would be the impact of moving to a Google Apps, or Office 365 application environment?

There are of course, a number of vendors competing in the user virtualisation space along with AppSense. Liquidware Labs, RES Software, Scense, triCerat have solutions that can allow a consistent userexperience as a user may move between traditional desktop (PC), hosted desktop (VDI), or a session desktop (RDS/TS). In their latest release Scense have included application distribution functions with the Scense Adaptive Installer and Scense East Delivery, allowing IT to give users the ability to install their applications. Liquidware Labs are planning to release similar functionality later this year with their FlexApp product. AppSense’s current self-installation is focused on web-based delivery however, AppSense have strong links with Microsoft and Citrix they have a wealth of experience and an experienced partner network. This is going to be vital as the challenge for user-centric experience will increasingly be removed from applications delivered within in-house workspaces and devices no longer supporting Microsoft OSes.

There is a potential for other vendors to offer the combination some, like Liquidware Labs are very close: but, new products will have it cut out against more mature applications delivered by experienced partners.

And can you justify the CFO’s iPad? There is no need – if the CFO has signed it off, its obviously justified.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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