So last week I took a quick trip to Magnetic Island off Townsville for a test drive of the IT Survivor challenge we're running with VMware, where one reader will get to spend 6 nights staying on the tropical island while testing out the capabilities of Horizon 6. This is what I learned from the experience — lessons you can use even if you're not lounging around enjoying an ocean view.
My visit was very much a cut-down version of the full-blown IT Survivor challenge: I was only there for two nights, no-one came to join me, and I only got to quickly experience some of the natural wonders of the island. But it did provide me with some useful insights into the potential for remote working with modern technology.
#1: Virtual desktops work really well
For the trip, I was using a Dell Chromebook 11 running Horizon 6, which meant that I could have a full Windows 7 desktop running on a device that doesn't run Windows at all. The Chromebook is portable and has excellent battery life, which makes it a great remote working contender, but the same approach would also work on tablets or conventional laptops. Indeed, even if you have a normal machine, using a virtual desktop can allow your workplace to provide a managed environment while not dictating your hardware choice — a very useful trick in this bring-your-own device (BYOD) era.
What really surprised me was how efficiently this works, compared to some of the clunkier VDI systems I've played with in the past. All my regular desktop apps worked well, and even more demanding tasks like video editing or running Google Earth performed without a hitch. It was essentially impossible to tell I wasn't running a native desktop.
#2: Planning is critical
Any remote working approach will perform better if you plan for it. The team at VMware had helped set up a trial desktop for me, and I had no problems using it. But I did have a problem when Google Maps gave me the wrong location for the hotel. (Memo to our winner: it's immediately to the right of where you land from the ferry that comes from Townsville.)
Win 6 nights on tropical Magnetic Island and become a remote working champion
#3: A change of scene boosts your productivity
Being stuck at the same desk for eight hours a day isn't going to ensure maximum output. Being able to enjoy the ocean view meant that I easily powered through my day's work, and taking a trek around the island also helped me relax.
#4: You need connectivity, but not at ludicrous speeds
Using a remote desktop requires that you have a constant connection. The Grand Mercure Apartments where I stayed do offer in-room broadband, but I relied for the most part on a Telstra mobile broadband hotspot. While this wasn't performing at top speed, offering HSDPA in my room and dropping back to standard 3G on other parts of the island, even the latter was more than adequate to effectively stream my desktop. (I also had Optus and Vodafone devices on the island, and both seemed reasonable too — though all three did become hard to get when I was in deep bushland during my walk to Arcadia.)
#5: You can use a laptop in the bath
The important proviso here is that the bath has to have a sufficiently wide ledge. One commentator speculated that I was going to electrocute myself, but I made sure my hands stayed dry and that the laptop stayed in place. Simples!
Unfortunately, my boss isn't going to pay for me to work from Magnetic Island permanently. But you can still enter the competition and spend six nights there — what are you waiting for?