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How to Find a Competitive Advantage at the End of the PC Era

Val King
Posted by Val King on Feb 8, 2017 9:00:00 AM

Are you riding the PC to its inevitable end or looking ahead to the platform change that is in your future?   Companies that still run entirely on physical PCs, by in large, are at a disadvantage* today vs. those that have moved to virtual desktops/VDI or cloud desktops.

I asterisk (*) disadvantage because organizations lacking the proper expertise to run a VDI environment properly or that can’t realize value from eliminating day-to-day PC support in favor of the convenience and capital savings cloud desktops provide, then managing physical PCs might be the best decision, if only a decision who’s days are numbered. Don’t take my word for it, Gartner reports that PC sales have been down for 8 quarters in a row.

Physical PC vs VDI

Physical PCs are harder to manage in mass, requiring anything from Sneaker-net at the low end (walking from PC to PC) to deploying some fairly expensive and complex tools that need configuration and expertise like Microsoft SCCM to manage volumes of PCs well.

Virtual desktop adoption is predicted at 27%+/- over the next four years. For all of the new hype around virtual desktops and the buzz around hyper-converged infrastructures, VDI does not typically have a lower capital cost than a barn full of new PCs, but these environments are far less expensive to support when setup properly. We are seeing savings up to 75% in some of the environments we manage. 

The first rule of virtual desktops is that you cannot have a good virtual desktop environment built on a poor-to-miserable network, chock full of shortcuts and bad design.

For all of my picking on full PC environments, PCs do not require the precision virtual desktop environments require to deliver a quality end user experience and often do a much better job of hiding fundamental flaws in the network itself. I am looking at you, Group Policy, SQL and SAN/NAS among others.

Every network environment should be of rock solid design, stable, fully patched, and secure as a bank vault on Sunday, but we know better don’t we? While the flaws may be more easily masked, the support costs are still there, often hidden in the “fog of IT” in organizations that pay IT staff a salary with minimal or zero understanding of how the IT staff’s time is consumed. When executives wonder what IT guys are doing all day, it is often running around in reactive-mode, trying to keep everything glued together behind the curtain as best as possible for as long as possible.

VDI, done well, built on a quality network, can be far more versatile and easy to manage. Changes can happen very quickly across the environment, touching one person or everyone  with minimal staff. From malware response, reducing time and cost of a planned merger or simplifying support going forward, VDI makes support easier. Staff can work from anywhere from any device that fits the location or occasion.

For our part, we have built a new model that keeps the underlying network in good shape and removes all of the burden local staff face managing a virtual desktop environment that sits as another popular alternative between customer-managed published applications or virtual desktops (VDI) and cloud desktops.

Cloud desktops, typically costing $80-100 per user/month, of equivalent power to an average desktop PC, can bring another layer of convenience. I am not even going to waste my time talking about the low-end budget cloud desktops out there that are the horsepower equivalent of a pocket calculator. Please don’t subject your staff to these things. I am holding my nose just thinking about how bad these things can stink up an end user’s experience, sending productivity right out the window with the smell. 

Cloud desktops done well are all about “What if?” What if your computer was new every day? What if you never had to update/patch a computer again? What if you never had to do another Windows OS migration? What if you never had to deal with 6 different versions of Microsoft Office in your organization and the compatibility hijinks that can become office legend? What if you could repurpose your PC support staff to something more meaningful than doing basic PC support, which offers the equivalent job satisfaction of watching eggs boil. What if you could remove the majority if not all of the “attack surface” your endpoints present, effectively making them hack proof?

Anything more and this becomes a commercial for cloud computing, which it is not, because there are still many situations where the cloud is still too low to the ground to be game changing for business and thus relegated to a different category, one we affectionately call fog computing.

Virtual desktops and cloud desktops alike offer something very powerful to end users. Choice and self-empowerment. Choice of endpoint. Choice of work location. Choice of productivity tools and apps, and empowerment in the form of self-service tools to take some control of their own work experience.

It is right about here that I normally get a question about the endpoint device that these VDI and cloud desktop users are going to be sitting in front of. There is a lot of expense here, right? Yeah, no.

We sometimes convert old PCs to thin clients, extending their useable life because they have plenty of power to run virtual or cloud desktops even after their days as a full blown PC are done.

We have built and developed a lot of customizations for the Intel NUC computing platform. These customizations have provided our customers a very powerful computing platform/experience at a very inexpensive price point. 

To be clear, laptops and PCs, virtual desktops and cloud desktops all may have a role in a modern end point architecture. The best of the three choices might be a combination of all three as is frequently the case for our hospital/healthcare clients as an example. It is cliché, but the best platform is the one that fits the customer's workflows the best. It should be noted though, in any decision about endpoints, that the world is either moving away from the traditional PC or extending their life and slowing purchases as evidenced by Gartner. The PC-on-every-desk model of the last 20 years is closer to its ending than its beginning. Either way, that should be a sign to step back and take a look with fresh eyes at all of the options available to you as you think about what platform might serve you best over the next three to five years.

When we are trying to work through these decisions with customers we start with mapping out key workflows in the business. How does “work” flow through your organization? How many different paths and roles intersect as work moves toward completion? With an understanding of how you work it is far easier to make a fact based decision as to what type of computing solution will serve you best.  

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Topics: Performance Improvement, Desktop Virtualization, Cloud and Hosting