Do You Have a Workspace?

What do you give to the person who has everything? You give them somewhere to keep it. In this post-PC era, we need to provide our users with one place to go to find all of their IT resources. Ten years ago, there were two things that were going to save IT: single sign-on and portals. Neither really did what we wanted, but times have changed. Now we have the workspace category, which combines the two. A workspace is really about bringing access to all your resources to wherever you happen to be.

Ten years ago, computing was PC-centric. All of your applications were installed on your PC, and that was where you did all your work. If you were lucky, you had a laptop so you didn’t have to be at your desk to use your PC. Today, many of the applications we use are web or cloud applications, not tied to a particular PC. Also, we now have smartphones and tablets as well as laptops and desktops. Few people rely on a single device for their IT needs. As you move from one device to another, it can be a jarring transition. Different user interfaces and applications make the transitions painful. A good workspace should ease this transition and provide access to all the business resources available on each device.

What are some baseline features we need in a workspace? Some features are likely to be in all workspaces, but there will be differences. The exact feature set of a workspace product will reflect the history of the product and the vision of its developers. In addition, most customers will already have some functions already in place. A good workspace should allow integration with existing and overlapping tools. Baseline features may include:

  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Native clients
  • Secure network access
  • Universal application access
  • Personalization
  • History and context

Most staff have at least dozen systems and applications, each with its own username and password. Increasingly, these systems are web services that are exposed to the Internet. We know there is a huge risk of credentials being exposed when one of these systems is compromised. Some sort of SSO is critical to maintaining security, so that we only require staff to sign on once. This makes it much easier to have them use a two-factor authentication system to reduce the risks of passwords.

Native Clients

Even though there are web browsers on every platform, a web page is not the ideal client for a workspace. A properly implemented native client is crucial to a good user experience on a mobile device. Native clients also allow much better integration with local applications—for instance, when opening documents in Microsoft Office on IOS and Android. A web interface is also important because there are never going to be native clients for every mobile platform. A web interface typically also makes sense for some non-mobile uses, like laptop and desktop PCs.

Secure Network Access

The workspace extends access to mobile devices. We need to secure their access back into the applications inside our data centre. A workspace that requires a separate VPN will appeal to fewer customers than a product that includes its own application VPN. On the other hand, if you already have a VPN solution in place, then integration would be even better. This is also a place where mobility management products overlap. Your workspace product may actually be a mobility product that also allows access from Windows devices.

Universal Application Access

The point of a workspace is to provide access to all of the user’s resources—the user’s applications and data—excluding classes of applications that are a bad idea. It shouldnt matter whether applications are local or infrequently accessed. Everything should be accessible through the workspace. The workspace should offer local applications on whatever device is used. It should provide access to web applications and documents. In many companies, it should also provide access to remote desktops, like VDI. A single place from which to access all of these application types is the aim of a workspace.

Personalization

A workspace needs to be personal. Corporate branding is fine, but I’d like to be able to control my workspace. As a minimum, I want to control the layout and choose what items are front and center. I’d also prefer to be able to customize for my own identity. Maybe I want a color scheme that represents my favorite football team. There should also be an option for me to add my own applications and locations in which to store files. Heck, the workspace might even include a sync and share function like Dropbox.

History and Context

History is important. If I was working on a spreadsheet on my desktop this morning, then I’m likely to want to see it again when I bring my tablet to a meeting. History also includes the applications that I use a lot on each platform. This is where context becomes important: the context of the device I’m working on and the applications or resources I use. If I’m in a café on my smartphone, I shouldn’t be offered applications that aren’t permitted to be run outside corporate offices. Nor should I be offered applications that only run on Windows. However, if I’ve just opened the expense application, then I might also want to see my calendar alongside it, so that I can work out which project the expenses are related to.

A workspace should provide ubiquitous access to corporate resources from whatever device is at hand. It should be the one place from which to access all work resources. A comprehensive workspace is an important part of a post-PC IT landscape.

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Alastair Cooke
Alastair Cooke is an independent analyst and consultant working with virtualization and datacenter technologies. Alastair spent eight years delivering training for HP and VMware as well as providing implementation services for their technologies. Alastair is able to create a storied communication that helps partners and customers understand complex technologies. Alastair is known in the VMware community for contributions to the vBrownBag podcast and for the AutoLab, which automates the deployment of a nested vSphere training lab.

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