The merging of desktop virt. and the consumerization of IT. Welcome to the new end user computing.

Our jobs as IT professionals delivering end user computing are pretty complex! In the old days, we just had to worry about delivering the Windows OS to Windows desktops.

Our jobs as IT professionals delivering end user computing are pretty complex!

In the old days, we just had to worry about delivering the Windows OS to Windows desktops. The arrival of laptops fifteen years ago changed some of the logistics (we had to learn about new things like modems, RRAS, and VPNs), but at the end of the day our job was still about delivering Windows desktops to users.

Then VDI and desktop virtualization came out. At first people started to think that it was a "game changer" and was really going to transform the desktop experience, but ultimately (again), our job was really just about delivering Windows desktops to users. Even though VDI introduced more complexities like remoting protocols, client device weirdness, and licensing headaches, Windows was still Windows.

As long as the Microsoft Windows desktop was the face of the IT department, we could solve all end user computing scenarios by understanding Windows applications and the registry and user profiles and GPOs and DLLs and login scripts.

This was fine from the mid nineties until about five years ago. Then in 2007, everything changed for two reasons.

Reason 1. The iPhone

In January 2007, Apple announced the iPhone. Even though the first iPhone didn't support third-party apps, the iPhone (and later devices inspired by it like iPads, Androids, and Blackberries with touch screens) set the precedent for touch-based non-mouse-driven computing. Users bought these devices by the millions and brought them into the office, forcing us to support them.

Our initial knee-jerk reaction to supporting these touch-based devices was simply to fall back on what we knew well—the Windows desktop. In what now seems naively hilarious, we actually thought that we could "solve" the tablet and smart phone problem in the same way we solved the laptop problem and the working-from-anywhere problem: we'll just deliver our familiar safe Windows desktop:

The best we can do

Figure 1. Our comical attempts at solving the tablet problem

While running a Windows desktop on a touch-based device is a great party trick, it's hardly a long-term solution to users' desires to do actual work on these types of devices.

Reason 2. The Cloud

At the same time that touch-based devices were becoming popular, the concept of The Cloud as a platform for real business and powerful consumer applications was also blossoming. Technology that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2007 was available on-demand via the cloud for pennies per hour by 2010. Installation and configuration time of cloud-based applications and services was measured in minutes instead of months.

For example, in the old days (like 2006), if an end user or a department wanted any kind of technology, they had to get it from IT. Even if they wanted to go "rogue" and buy their own application, they'd have to smuggle a server into the building that someone would eventually find out about. But by 2010, the availability of services like Gmail, Dropbox, Salesforce, Evernote,, Amazon Web Services, 4G networks, etc. meant that individual end users and departments could do whatever they wanted. (And not only was it difficult for IT to prevent them, but in most cases IT didn't even know it was going on!)

What do you get when you combine corporate Windows desktops, touch-based client devices, and the cloud?

If you combine the popularity of touch-based devices, the ease of access to powerful applications via the cloud, and the fact that IT's entire identity has been wrapped up in the Microsoft Windows desktop, you get the perfect storm of end user computing that we're in today in 2012.

And we can't keep doing what we've been doing the past twenty years.

If we decide to deliver traditional Windows desktops to our touch-based client devices, the user experience is horrible. The buttons are too small, clicking requires awkward pinching and zooming and panning and scrolling, and typing obscures half of the screen which is already much smaller than what the Windows desktop applications have been designed for.

Users know how great native touch-based apps are (whether they're platform native for the local device or whether they're web apps tuned for touch-based inputs). So if we try to deliver a remote Windows desktop app to a user on a touch-based device, that user will use our app for about a week before crying out, "This sucks!" and going to the device's app store to find a more appropriate app. Unfortunately this is typically the point where we lose control over the user. A user who thinks VDI-based Microsoft Word sucks on an iPad will try to find iOS Word (which doesn't exist) and instead end up with something like QuickOffice. Then they'll realize that QuickOffice doesn't hook into our official VPN and SMB-based file share, but it does hook into Dropbox… And by this point, we've now lost control of that user's computing environment, and our Windows desktop-based environment that we painstakingly built with app virtualization and user workspace management and traditional Windows apps and browser shortcuts is completely useless!

The solution? MDM, MAM, BYO, new security, identity management, cloud-based app integration, service delivery management...

Of course there are ways to deal with this new reality of end-user computing. We can deploy mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) products to manage whatever devices the users want to use. We can implement BYO programs to enable users to work with whatever types of laptops and devices they want. We can reconfigure our firewalls and VPNs to enable a consistent user experience from anywhere. We can deploy modern file syncing products with encryption DRM to ensure that our users have the files they need on any device running on any platform. We can install identity management solutions which link internal user accounts to cloud- and SaaS-based applications so users only have to login once anywhere.

And of course, we can use the various flavors of desktops virtualization to deliver our traditional Windows desktop applications to users in a way that's appropriate for their current device and usage scenario.

In our book The VDI Delusion, we argued that the way to be successful with desktop virtualization was not to create a desktop virtualization strategy, but instead to create a "Windows" strategy. If you figured out how to manage Windows, then it doesn't matter whether you deliver it to a desktop, a laptop, or a VDI session.

Still, we had a separation of roles between people who cared about desktop virtualization versus those who cared about the consumerization of IT. But now we realize there is no separation. The consumerization of IT affects every practitioner who's responsible for delivering Windows desktops (since those Windows desktops will continue to be an ever-smaller percentage of the overall use cases). And those who focus on the consumerization of IT need to think about desktop virtualization since so many of today's critical business apps are locked up inside Windows.

In 2012, it's not "consumerization" versus "desktop virtualization." It's not even consumerization and desktop virtualization, because these two things are not mutually exclusive of each other. Instead, they're both pieces of what we may now call "end user computing." Desktop virtualization is about delivering all types of applications, data, and working environments, and consumerization is one of the pressures that affects how we deliver that environment.

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Agree - so will you be merging the CoIT site with this one in recognition of this fact?!


Spot on!

Consumerization of IT has been driving demand for desktop virtualization for the past few years, because there is no better way of delivering Windows apps and desktops to the devices that IT has to support.

Its still early though and plenty of room for newer and (hopefully) better ideas.


Right on, B.  I tried using my iPad and XenApp to work on some Word and Powerpoint docs during BriForum London and it made me want to kill myself.  I ended up downloading QuickOffice and used that instead.  Providing a native experience is essential to user satisfactiion.  Consumerization solutions should enhance the user experience, not take away from it.


Brian, excellent points all about the challenges IT teams are finding themselves facing.  In considering all of the possible combinations of operating systems (XP, Win 7 32- and 64 bit, Win 8 32- and 64 bit, Unix, Linux, Mac, etc.) the combinations simply looking at the desktop, alone, boggles the mind.  When you throw in the iPhone, BYOD and all of the other trends, it’s no wonder that IT leadership is facing such a complex puzzle to solve.

The benefit of this is awareness that businesses are run by IT – if you think that’s wrong, try running one without IT!  As each executive wants a different device or way to access their data, it only spirals the problem out of control because there really is very little standardization these days, which to your point, was how it used to be in the old days of delivering the Windows operating system to a desktop.  There was less drift, less consumerization, and the world didn’t revolve around the user like it does with today’s workforce.  And even more with the digital native generation.

So, how to evolve this approach is even more important because of the platforms, devices or ways of reaching the data.  Application Readiness - the preparation and usage of the applications used - is one of the most  important items for every IT leader to consider.  If IT makes a platform or other change, the applications, themselves, are often thought of after it’s too late -- and the mass hysteria has begun to spread.  Flexera Software’s answer has always been to establish the Application Readiness process for testing and remediation first, and approach the migration to whatever or from whatever with careful consideration and thought.  

Toby Martin, Director of Product Management, Flexera Software.


Great post, thanks for covering this topic.  I work at a technology company that develops software license management solutions, and one additional area that I see constantly overlooked by IT departments relates to the licensing implications of this shift toward mobile computing.  When we were delivering only a Windows desktop and Windows applications to the user the easiest method to track software was by that particular Windows device. As a result, software manufacturers developed licensing models to be device-specific. However, in today's mobile market we are delivering applications to the user who is much more likely to access these application from multiple devices.  It begs the question as to how companies are managing their license positions as so many more devices are being added to the asset pool.  It will be interesting to see if/when we see a shift from device-based licensing to user-based licensing within the ISV community.