|As noted below by Martin Sheppard, what follows is not actually feasible. The only way you get the ability to access a VDI desktop is if the Windows RT device is a companion to a device that already has SA. So yes, this would work, as long as they had a desktop sitting under their desk that had SA on it. I guess it could be off to save on management, but that doesn't help the cost model :). Thanks Martin, for the info (and for raining on my parade!). This is a nice thought exercise, though, so I still encourage you to read on.|
One of the best things about twitter for me is the fact that article ideas can come from anywhere. Today's article is 100% based on ideas thrown around by myself, Gunnar Berger (@gunnarwb), David Stafford (@dstafford), Nathan Coutinho (@nathancoutinho), and others stemming from a tweet I mindlessly tossed out to the world regarding the realization that you're only entitled to use Windows RT devices (like Surface RT) to access VDI desktops without buying additional licenses if the device is corporate-owned only. Employee-owned devices still require a VDA or CDL license.
Just learned that WinRT can access VDI session for free only if it's company-owned. Otherwise, still need CDL or VDA. Thanks @nathancoutinho— Gabe Knuth (@GabeKnuth) February 28, 2013
After griping about Microsoft screwing people in a BYOD situation (as if consumers were actually buying Windows RT devices), the conversation turned to Windows RT-based thin clients. David Stafford suggested it along the same vein as my Android thin client on-again/off-again relationship. Dismissive at first, I began to think about what a Windows RT-based thin client might look like and why a company would go that route. Let's look at some interesting points.
While the lack of a built-in license might be troublesome for BYOD situations, few employees are buying their own thin clients. Using Windows RT as a thin client OS on a corporate-owned device would be an easy way to avoid buying VDA licenses for thin clients. Yes, there is a cost for Windows RT, but according this article from Engadget, that cost is somewhere around $85. Keep in mind, too, that it's a one-time cost, as opposed to VDA which is $99/year. So, even if the thin client costs more, it pays for itself in less than a year. We're already saving money…that's a good start! Of course, we don't know how much the hardware would cost, but it would have to be less than a tablet, right?
Interface and applications
This is, to me, a distinct advantage of other non-traditional thin client OSes. I've written lately about how I've fallen out of love with the idea of Android thin clients. The primary reason for this is that Android isn't made for a desktop form factor, and neither are the applications. Keyboard and mouse support is bolted on rather than integrated, and even if it were perfect, the applications would also have to be written not only for non-touch inputs but also for desktop screen resolutions and aspect ratios.
With WinRT, all of that dirty work is done. It's made for use with a keyboard and mouse (both buttons, even!), and while it can at times be atrocious to use without touch, in a limited use case such as a thin client it could be more than useable. Add a touch screen and it becomes even better.
The other bonus with regards to the interface is that the applications, every single one of them, are written to work on Windows RT and its many devices. That means that if Windows Apps catch on, those apps can be used, even deployed, to Windows RT thin clients to run alongside published applications or full-on VDI desktops. (Granted, for RDSH applications, you'd still need an RDS CAL.) In theory, someone could probably even work up some reverse seamless windows solution for use with it that could combine everything into one interface.
The last thing is Office, which, even in its limited form, might be good enough for use in a thin client scenario. It's certainly more useable with a keyboard and mouse, so it stands to reason that the possible use cases expand in this scenario, too.
This is where things get a little dicey, because there isn't a built-in way to manage Windows RT devices like there would be for managing thin clients with embedded versions of x86 Windows. Still, Windows RT devices are manageable via EMM solutions, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that thin clients would be as manageable as other non-Windows thin clients. Then again, perhaps we don't need to manage them. Brian and Jack might argue that you should treat all devices as insecure no matter what. I'm not quite as black and white on the matter, but if you are then management isn't going to be a problem.
Adding in other capabilities as they come along (Lync support?) only serves to expand the use case even further, and the fact that you can save $100/device/year on licensing means that there are more funds available to put into a management platform (that you need anyway for all those mobile devices you're dealing with). Ultimately, you could wind up actually saving money and getting more flexibility (because of something Microsoft did, no less)!
So what am I missing? Why isn't anyone making these? I'm in the honeymoon phase of this idea, so everything is wine and roses at this point. Someone hit me with a dose of reality!