Bring your own device might be an unstoppable trend in the workplace, but accepting that still requires IT pros to work out a strategy for dealing with making those devices actually useful for something more than email and occasional browsing. Two distinct schools of thought have emerged here: desktop virtualisation and deploying native apps. Which is the better solution?
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I encountered both viewpoints when meeting IT managers last week at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne. Gary Druitt, executive officer for the South West Alliance of Rural Health, is firmly in the virtualisation corner. As we reported last week, he advocates using Citrix Receiver to make existing desktop apps accessible on other devices. "I don't really care whether you use an iPad, a portable computer or a phone as long as it's smart and as long as Citrix Receiver can run on it," he said.
There are some obvious advantages in this approach. Since the business already has deployed desktop apps, the additional investment required is minimal. Security concerns are also largely allayed; since applications run in a virtualised environment, there's no risk of data loss if the device is stolen or misplaced. Provided there's a remote wipe capability that has been activated, not much else is needed in the way of device management. (Citrix isn't the only choice in this space -- VMware is also making a big push for this area with its Horizon suite.)
Regardless of that ease of deployment and deployment, there is one obvious downside for the device owner: navigating your way around a desktop app which expects mouse-style input and a desktop resolution can be fiddly on a tablet, and often all but impossible on a smaller-screened smartphone. That's the argument that puts Barry Honey, IS strategy & architecture manager for Aurecon, firmly in the 'native apps' camp. "Putting VDI on an iPad is a complete waste of time. It's not a touch interface. I want the things that everyone else has got in mobile applications, like swiping."
A potential method used to support this is the corporate app store, which includes links to corporate-approved (and in some cases, pre-purchased) apps for popular platforms. Gartner is predicting 25 per cent of companies will offer some form of enterprise app store by 2013. Those numbers suggest it won't be for everyone, but it will be a valid approach for some.
However, that approach brings different challenges. Which platforms will you support? Two years ago, picking Apple would have given you a large percentage of your workers, but with Android having overtaken Apple in local sales, that's not going to be so rewarding. Even if you're happy to settle for just those two platforms (ignoring Windows Phone and BlackBerry and anything else that comes along), how can you justify the cost of building business-specific apps? Aurecon's Honey readily acknowledges that's an issue, but suggests that sticking with pre-existing apps will still keep many users happy.
No single approach is right for all businesses; it's unlikely that a purist approach is going to work for any larger enterprise either. It's eminently possible that workplaces will continue with a mix of these approaches: some virtualisation, some custom apps, some dictating which devices are acceptable, some allowing users to bring what they like.
What seems certain is that IT pros won't be able to rest easy and assume that this year's strategy will last in the long term, a factor Aurecon's Honey also sees as crucial. "We hate Citrix. We've had a few bad experiences," he said. "We didn't know what to use it for." But that doesn't mean he wouldn't consider it again if a business use case emerges. "As IT, we're an enabler, we're not a disabler. If someone found a need for it, we'd consider it."
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.