Supporting user-centric computing

Martha Bennett, originally published on Computer Weekly


Published/updated: December 2011

User virtualization can make life easier for IT and end users alike

Few would dispute that the needs of the business come first when it comes to IT service delivery. And in the current environment, cost considerations are top of mind for business and IT alike. As a result, it’s easy to neglect the needs of the people actually using IT as part of their day-to-day job.

It’s equally easy to say that this shouldn’t matter that much. After all, people are paid to do a job, and to use the tools they’re provided with. But it does matter, for a number of reasons.

One, if people have to work with technology that doesn’t quite meet their needs, they often find ways around constraints; this has potentially far-reaching implications in terms of IT security and support.

Two, loss of productivity and morale often occur when technology is employed that users have difficulty getting to grips with.

Last, but by no means least, users are becoming ever more tech-savvy, and the devices and services they use in their private lives are at times superior to those provided by their employers, and it is these against which they judge work IT systems.

Many of the direct and indirect costs associated with these drivers aren’t straightforward to measure. But they are costs nevertheless, whether it’s lost productivity, increased support and training, remediation work to deal with security breaches, or other issues. There’s another reason as well why it makes sense to pay more attention to the needs and wants of the people using corporate kit and applications. Users who are on the whole happy with IT tend to be more tolerant and supportive and this, in turn, can make it easier to get support or funding for IT-initiated projects.

So what can IT do to move the user centre-stage, and yet not lose control nor increase risk and costs? One technology solution worth considering is ‘user virtualisation’, which enables the central management of users’ profiles, settings and policies independently of the physical or virtual devices they use. This meets IT’s needs for maintaining control and security, while making sure that desktop and applications have each individual user’s chosen look-and-feel, regardless of which device is used to access them.

There’s a variety of scenarios where user virtualisation can bring benefits in terms of lowering support costs, improving risk management and security, while at the same time improving the user experience and minimising lost productivity. The key scenarios are:

• Desktop migration

• User support optimisation

• Support for flexible working

• Hot desking

So what should IT departments look for in a user virtualisation solution? As is invariably the case with off-the-shelf software, there is probably no solution that meets all of the requirements a company may have. The feature list outlined in Figure 1 summarises what an ideal user virtualisation solution might look like.

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Feature list of ideal user virtualisation solution

 Support a wide range of operating system and hypervisor platforms, such as Windows (XP, Vista, 7 etc.), Mac, Linux, VMware, HyperV, Xen

 Central management and profile / service policy administration

 User profile discovery capabilities

 User profile / policy - comparison and remediation

 Very granular control and policy setting (application service, printers, network drives, home drives, shared systems,)

 Application and service white listing / black listing  Comprehensive usage monitoring and reporting – including policy breaches

 Software license management and usage audit reports

 Integration with change management systems, help desk / service desk tools

 Integration with the major high level system management tools

 Profile delivery in a context sensitive fashion (e.g. time of day, day of week, different devices, different network access etc.)

 Web site access control

 Security service checking (e.g. is anti-virus software, etc, deployed and up to date)

 Build service profile dynamically at user start up

 Capable of running with physical devices or desktop virtualisation systems, including application streaming etc.

Figure 1 ______________________________________________________________________________

The relative importance of individual features will depend on what’s key to each organisation’s specific circumstances, and what the main driver is for a potential user virtualisation project. For example, a company with tens of thousands of desktops looking to migrate to a new version of the operating system is likely to have different requirements from one seeking to support more flexible ways of working.

So the first step would be to give each of the criteria in Figure 1 a weighting. The weightings form the basis of a list of ‘must have’, ‘would like to have’ and ‘nice to have’ criteria. This list can then be used to support the dialogue with potential solution vendors. It is crucial, though, not just to consider today’s requirements and how these are met by specific solutions. Equally important, if not more so, is the consideration of how an organisation’s needs may evolve in the future, to help ensure that the benefits from user virtualisation are maximised.

If you’re interested in finding out more about user virtualisation, you can download a free Smart Guide from the Freeform Dynamics web site.

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