Just what is a “Workspace”?

“Workspaces” are taking over all aspects of end user computing. Now... what is a workspace?

This article was originally published on July 24, 2017.

It’s crazy just how much the term “workspace” has taken over in end user computing, even in the two years since I wrote the first version of this article. For example, by now most people in end user computing have heard of VMware Workspace ONE. And everybody in the desktop virtualization space has heard that Citrix has rebranded a lot of their products to Citrix Workspace, and they know Amazon AWS Workspaces. And recently, we heard about Dell Technologies Unified Workspace.

Right now, there are a lot of different ideas about what exactly a workspace is. This article is my take on the term, plus, it’s a convenient place to link when someone asks you, “Hey, just what is a workspace?”

Even more workspaces

Here are the categories of products and ideas that I’ve come across that use the term “workspace.” I’m sure you can add to this list:

  • Big suites and bundles comprising endpoint management, virtual desktops, app management, and identity management
  • Enterprise file sync and share
  • User environment management for Windows
  • The enterprise-managed apps on a BYOD or COPE-enabled mobile device
  • Virtual desktops, and especially DaaS
  • App launching portals and app catalogs
  • Identity management

That’s a wide range of products and concepts!

Side note: I used to think that Brian, the founder of this site (and my brother) was too cantankerous and jaded—the prime example this article he wrote a few years back: “Vendor marketing slogans are ridiculous.” But now after writing more than a thousand articles, combined with all the conversations about the definition of “workspace,” I get it!

What is a workspace?

To me, a workspace isn’t hugely complicated. A workspace is really just all the components of end user computing today—that is, Windows and Mac desktops and laptops, “modern management,” phones and tablets, mobile apps, web and SaaS apps, desktop apps, virtual apps, virtual desktops, identity management, security, conditional access, and so on—delivered in a coherent way.

For years, we’ve been talking about how end user computing is moving beyond just the Windows desktop. “Workspace” is simply how you do EUC in this new world.

Yes, it can involve a lot of new technologies, like enterprise mobility management, identity management, unified endpoint management, and lots of cloud apps and services.

But you don’t have to do everything at once. Really, you can get started just by thinking about your end user computing experience in a holistic way and being aware of all the different things that users do and need.

There are some good places go next, though. If you have SaaS and cloud apps that aren’t hooked up to an identity management and federation system, they probably should be. All those random SaaS apps that IT doesn’t even know about can be formalized, giving the users a better single sign on experience, and avoiding the security risks of poorly managed passwords in unmanaged apps.

And while there a lot of companies out there that still do mobility in an ad hoc way, really every company is a mobile company these days. (Don’t believe me? See how much work grinds to a halt if you replace everybody’s smartphone with a flip phone.) Everybody should be testing iOS and Android betas, and considering the value you could get out of at least doing some basic mobile device management.

Another great emerging trend is contextual access, also known as zero trust or conditional access. This is the idea that instead of granting access based on username, password, the user group, and maybe IP address, you’re evaluating more factors. For example, policies ask: Is the device healthy? Is it a corporate device? How has the user authenticated? Is the user exhibiting normal behavior? How sensitive is the app? And so on.

Yes, it’s a complete rethinking of trust, and there are a lot of different places you can go with it, but it’s not actually that hard to get started. Maybe your identity and access management system checks to see if devices are enrolled in MDM before allowing them access to SaaS apps. Or, you use some sort of agent so that your IDaaS can see if the device is healthy.

Final thoughts

The bottom line is that now and in the future, the end user is no longer just confined to a Windows desktop. Instead, it’s everywhere—on mobile devices, on SaaS apps, on Macs and Chromebooks, and who knows what else is coming down the line.

A “workspace” is the idea that we’ll be able to enable users to work in this new world, in a secure way.

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