by Toby Martin
Today’s organizations are facing a new workforce, one that uses computing devices in all parts of life, not just work. These new users expect access to what they need to do their jobs, regardless of location or device used. Computing devices are no longer just company-provided PCs as the proliferation of user-owned computers, smartphones, tablets, and thin-client devices continues to add to the picture. In order to address user expectations and reduce management costs, organizations are evaluating or implementing user-centric initiatives enabling a model that removes the dependency of traditional desktop computing management. The idea of user-centric computing is not new, but the ability of IT departments to implement and provide user-centric computing to the general workforce is just becoming a reality.
Supporting User-Centric Computing
At its core, user-centric computing gives users control of their computing experience, providing them with access to any combination of computing environments, applications, settings, and data from any location or device. User-centric solutions provide the user with pieces of the computing environment (desktop, applications, data, and settings) on demand, where only the required resources are delivered based on the user’s device and location. When working from a company managed Windows PC, users can request applications that are delivered directly to their desktop. When using a non-Windows tablet device, the request for an application initiates a session-based connection to an appropriate server-based computing environment that already has the applications installed. In both scenarios, the user is not required or expected to supply the device type or location of the request.
User-centric computing requires more than just targeting users for resource delivery. The first step is to define the resources that require management. Applications, user data and settings, and computing environment are resources that must be managed in order to complete the solution. Applications, and the definition of applications, have changed over time. Today, applications are not only Windows® Installer (MSI) and executable-based installers, but also include application virtualization, session, mobile, and cloud-based.
Administrators must be able to support applications from many different vendors in various formats and produce resources in multiple formats supporting different user devices. User data and settings must roam to the appropriate endpoints to enable application usefulness. The last resource for user-centric computing is the computing environment, since most applications are built for delivery to Windows-based desktops. In scenarios where users are connecting from non-Windows-based devices, a Windows based computing environment from a session-based or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is required.
Next, user-centric computing solutions must orchestrate the delivery of the appropriate resources to users based on their location and their connecting device. User-centric models require delivery of the resources to traditional desktops, sessions, and VDI with logic that can identify the requesting user, location, and device type. Users working from home access a secure webpage that displays their accessible applications. On request, the self-service portal identifies the user’s location, device type, as well as any dependencies, and routes them to an appropriate delivery mechanism. If the user is accessing the application from a company owned laptop, the application can be delivered as a traditional installation or streamed as a virtual application with the appropriate data and settings. However, if the user is accessing from a home computer, a session or VDI based connection is initiated with the same application, user data, and settings applied on the delivery technology.
In a typical organization, management of a user-centric solution spans many IT technologies, thus the consolidation of management tasks and tools is critical for success. The starting point for user-centric computing is application readiness, as applications must be packaged in formats that support all of the delivery mechanisms, device types, users, and locations. Therefore, application readiness presents a limiting factor for adoption of new technologies like session, VDI, and Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager in user-centric computing.
Organizations are increasingly supporting employees’ desires to utilize additional types of non-managed devices. Supporting these additional devices and environments requires IT to change their approach to desktop computing, with processes and procedures that support user-centric computing. Supporting this new model of computing requires application delivery solutions that optimize the delivery of applications for users on multiple and different types of devices that access resources from any location.