-by Forrest Smith, Dir. Product & Customer Experience
May 2, 2017
As the start to a series of blog posts the role of CloudReady in Enterprises, I wrote last week about how VDI-centric businesses can benefit immediately and down the line from adopting CloudReady.
Next, I want to take a look at the challenges a large company faces when first making the transition from VDI-dependency towards cloud-computing.
Part 2 - Charting a path to the cloud using CloudReady
Part 1 of this series covered the crucial role CloudReady plays in reinforcing the goals of a VDI deployment: Allowing the natural flow of data and interactions to move unrestricted throughout the secure environment, but guarding against malicious or user-initiated breeches. In Part 2, I want to consider what happens as an organization that uses VDI heavily begins to evolve their IT infrastructure to take better advantage of cloud computing.
VDI is usually a large investment of both time and money. We’ve found that the Enterprise IT veterans we speak and work with are acutely aware of this, and love the idea of achieving the same security and manageability without as much hassle. But the stakes are high. It can be hard to keep in mind when you’re like me and spend all day thinking about technology, but I’ve learned (the hard way, over and over) that, unless you’re an IT company, IT is just a liability. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” becomes a job-saving mantra for many, because what you have, you can trust. Anything new might fail you and impact everyone.
So cloud computing’s adoption, rapid as it may seem now, is a history of cautious adoption that has a long long way to go. Organizations are starting to see market validation that, paired with their own pain points, pushes them toward cloud storage, web-hosted applications, and public or private cloud computing over local server farms. These changes, leaving behind local and self-maintained solutions, bring efficiency gains that in turn make more cloud adoption easier and more attractive.
But consider the case of a VDI organization that, upon shifting storage and computing and many applications to the cloud, is starting to question their need for VDI. Data is stored in the cloud and security is ensured by their service provider; sensitive data is viewed and edited remotely via secure web applications like Salesforce. Maybe the cost of VDI can be shed?
A good example of an answer we hear is “Yes, except, Accounting can’t live without MIcrosoft Excel, and the Analytics team has 6 home-grown applications that only run in Internet Explorer -2.0 and below and…”
So what options exist for a business with this kind of conundrum?
Stick with VDI - Often the challenge seems insurmountable and VDI remains embedded in the company’s DNA.
Rapidly eliminate dependency on legacy applications - With a robust team and a huge tolerance for change, an organization can transition to one or a few web-hosted tools, or implement a custom hosted solution, for any legacy dependency.
Revert to (some) local Windows apps - Maybe the cost savings are so great that they decide to retire their VDI and have users install their most crucial legacy Windows applications on their local Windows machine, but focusing work, when possible, on the cloud.
Now let’s think about the drawbacks to each option:
Stick with VDI - There’s no progress made here - the company remains addicted to expensive and high-maintenance infrastructure in a market with little competition to improve the value.
Rapidly eliminate dependency on legacy applications - For a company that can accomplish this, this is a great option. However, the stakes are high here. If you’re not an IT company, IT is just another liability. This means that rapid change, adding dependencies on unproven technologies, or choosing to develop in-house over purchasing something, can each be an immovable blocker in and of themselves.
On top of all that is perhaps an even larger factor - change management. People don’t respond well to change. When you replace all of their legacy applications with impostors that don’t quite work the same or have a touch more latency, there are bound to be harsh responses - including potential outright rejection. Justified or not, this can be just as destructive as losing functionality.
Revert to (some) local Windows apps - This seems like the best option - ditch VDI, and with all the time and budget saved, spend some time carefully rolling out only the apps you know each user needs and cannot get elsewhere. The adoption of cloud computing for most tasks feels like it satisfies the security, efficiency, and management demands that VDI did, while the end-users are not perturbed by any big workflow disruptions.
In reality, this option is something of a trap. As we like to point out, habit and convenience are major factors in how end-users do their work. While they will have the best of intentions, they will constantly be faced with scenarios where it is slightly more convenient, slightly faster, or slightly more familiar to do work on the local machine - even if that work isn’t in the scope of their legacy apps. When multitasking or in a hurry, the temptation to violate data security and use the local machine in place of a cloud-service will often be strong enough to overcome a user’s discipline. As suggested in Part 1 - information is like a gas, expanding to fill whatever space it is given access to. Leaving a porous Windows device as your last line of defense has the capacity to undo much of the good that VDI, and now cloud services, provide.
So is VDI an unbreakable corporate addiction? Or is option #2, ripping off the bandaid and risking major blowback, the only path? Fortunately, with CloudReady in the mix, the answer is “no”.
CloudReady, combined with a more nuanced approach to running legacy apps, presents a unique option for desktop productivity during this kind of cloud-transition stage.
We can again note here that #2 is a good option path forward where accomplishable (for instance, if only a tiny number of legacy applications need to be replaced, or only a single department is making the change). These circumstances are the topic of Part 3, and will show CloudReady at its strongest. But for the majority, going cold-turkey on Windows is not an option.
CloudReady offers a secure and easily managed endpoint for VDI organizations - PCs, Macs, and even thin clients on a single platform optimized for accessing remote resources.
This eliminates the inherent risk of Windows endpoints that option #3 presents. No more Windows, no more local computing, no more risk. But CloudReady specifically prohibits legacy apps - that’s a major aspect of how it maintains security. So if we can’t fall back on #2, we need a way to run legacy apps without taking on the risks of local Windows OR the cost of universal VDI.
This is where application virtualization and “app streaming” comes in. Though the details vary, the concept is to offer users access to individual or multiple apps at a time that run on a virtual machine. However, unlike VDI, where they’d “inhabit” the entire environment and desktop of the VM, app streaming retains a focus on the endpoint device and attempts to be a part of the local user experience, rather than imposing a brand new one. The difference may seem small, but it can have meaningful implications.
Through app-streaming, the essential legacy apps can be provisioned and efficiently served to the users that need them without the full-expense of a universal VDI deployment or the risk of running local applications. And while app-streaming offers only modest advantages when used on a Windows endpoint, on CloudReady it provides the familiar experience and full-functionality of a legacy Windows application without requiring a business to accept the risks of local application privileges.
Compared with full VDI, app-streaming limits the use of virtual resources to only what’s necessary per user, and can more easily support multiple users with a limited number of hosts. Options are numerous, from the usual virtualization suspects like Citrix’s XenApp and VMware’s Horizon App, to newer challengers like Amazon’s AppStream 2.0 or Frame. You can even use Microsoft’s session-based application remoting using RDP, RDS, etc. if you choose from the many RDP apps available in the Chrome Store and manage your own servers in the cloud. Chromotif is a great look at how you can easily adopt this technology now, and how it might get simpler and better in the future.
User experience varies from option to option, but legacy apps served this way are the final piece of the puzzle when transitioning from VDI to the cloud. Minimize the ongoing cost of virtualization, maintain endpoint security, and transition users to the cloud without asking them to give up crucial legacy apps (yet). An organization that combines cloud services, CloudReady endpoints, and app-streaming can eliminate legacy dependencies and finalize their journey to the cloud at their own pace.