Friday, December 14, 2012

It’s not about the desktop anymore: the new role of workspace aggregators in enterprise mobility

If there’s one thing that the proliferation of the iPadMicrosoft Surface, and other tablets has proved, it’s that the place people do their work is no longer limited to their physical desktop.
That now goes for your computing desktop, too.  The mobilization of enterprise applications means metaphors are shifting fast and furiously and IT orgs and the users they support should take note.
Here’s the hard part: how do you describe this newest shift?  What’s the new metaphor that correctly describes the new tablet-driven computing work environment?
I recently heard analyst Chris Wolf present Gartner’s description of a new category intended to explain exactly this – something he, Mark Margevicius, and other folks at Gartner are calling a “workspace aggregator.”
I think it’s a pretty good label that’s worth considering for what tablets are enabling.  Here’s why:
Tablets change your computing behavior
Instead of wanting to ship over an entire desktop environment to your device, iPads and other tablets are enabling “quick hit” computing.  You get in, do a few things, and get out.  What you need is access to your key applications and the relevant data, without an arduous start-up process.  The enterprise, of course, still requires security and data integrity.  How do you deliver this?
“We don’t believe the traditional desktop experience is the end goal,” Chris told his audience at a November Gartner briefing in San Francisco on mobility.  “You have to adapt to the ad hoc way that users are consuming applications and data.  You have to meet users in the middle.  We think workspace aggregators are the direction of the future.”
The workspace aggregator term emphasizes applications
When Chris explained this new workspace aggregator category (something he also did at both their Catalyst and Symposium events), it sounded almost like a mobile version of a portal.  The emphasis is on providing access to a mix of Windows, Web, SaaS, and mobile applications – and to make sure there’s adequate security for enterprise content.
“Up to this point, these were all managed in individual silos.  There was no way to simplify user experience,” said Chris.  “What we’re trying to do to bring all this together: Windows apps, Web apps, mobile, and social data.”
Gartner describes this new term as a way to give users a consistent client computing experience, with an eye toward security and management, regardless of your location, network, or even device.  Early interest, they say, has been around cloud and SaaS services, but the promise includes these alongside existing applications behind the firewall.
I like the workspace aggregator term that Chris and his Gartner colleagues have started using.  The phrase represents the fact that it’s not the desktop (or its virtual instantiation) that is the important thing for your employees and users.  It’s the applications.
IT has a strong value prop with workspace aggregators
This also highlights a nice benefit from workspace aggregators for the IT department as well.  They give IT central control over a diverse set of applications, data, and cloud services from anywhere inside or outside the firewall, capable of being delivered to whatever mobile device the employee is using.  In a world where IT is fighting to show its value, using a workspace aggregator allows IT to show that value without seeming draconian to the user.  In fact, IT might even get some positive vibes out of the deal.
Honestly, I have to also admit that Chris’ description of a workspace aggregator is also a pretty good description of our current Framehawk Canvas offering.  He also mentioned Citrix, VMware, ASG, and Centrix working to offer solutions in this space.
Vendors working to provide a workspace aggregator capability, said Chris, will differentiate on their approach to application delivery, data delivery, management, security, and user experience.  The areas of importance that I heard Chris emphasize were around:
  • Content and how it is delivered
  • Primary processing location – on the device or remote
  • Communication mechanism (which he said comes down to the protocol being used when considering scalability & performance)
  • Security
If you’re interested in digging a bit, you can read about what we think our own Framehawk differentiators are in relation to these points.
A new approach with value for enterprise mobility
Why is a new approach even necessary?  Because employees are using different, often personal, devices to get their jobs done (thank you, BYOD).  “Solutions should be designed with the expectation that users will do their own thing,” noted Chris. “If we keep pretending that users are under our control, we’ll keep doing the things we’re doing and we know how well that’s working.”  In other words, something has to change for enterprise mobility to really work.
In general, I like the workspace aggregator term.  I think this new concept deserves a place in the industry debate about the right approach to enterprise mobility.  This is especially true for a discussion that has so far been dominated by old paradigms (like VDI) trying to adapt to a world of new mobile devices and new usage patterns that actually have many vastly different requirements.
Hopefully, having Chris, Mark, and others at Gartner starting to talk about a new approach to enterprise mobility – and give a name to it – will open up the eyes of IT organizations to the possibilities that arise when you unchain yourself from both the physical and virtual desktop.  We’ll keep you posted on our perspective of this new approach as we watch it (and help it) evolve.

This post also appears on the Framehawk blog.

No comments: