The rise of virtualization in the workplace has made us question the need for operating systems to be installed on our computers, just so we can use our software. And the rising proliferation of cloud-based software that can run in our browsers, demonstrates that we don’t even need great computers (or sometimes even good ones) to run good software.
But while we’re in a questioning mood, perhaps the way we run virtual desktops in the workplace deserves some fresh scrutiny. Specifically, if the real purpose of client-side devices, including the mobile kind, is to give us access to our services hosted elsewhere, then what is the desktop really for?
The Desktop as the Problem
“One of the fundamental realizations we came to is that, the problem is actually the device,” declared Amitabh Sinha, co-founder and CEO of Workspot, in an interview with CMSWire. “People want access to the apps and data, but they really don't care if it's for Windows OS, iOS, Android or even a Mac device.”
Sinha is a veteran of Oracle, Informix and most recently Citrix, as well as a software company founder once before. It was at Citrix that Sinha spent nearly six years working on virtual desktop projects, including XenDesktop — rated by some analysts as the market share leader.
For Sinha’s new company Workspot to compete effectively against XenDesktop, it needed to distinguish its service in an obvious way. You might say this way would be pretty obvious: Workspot left off the desktop part.
“We re-imagined it from an end user perspective,” said Sinha. “What would an end user want? They’d want the fastest, easiest way to access their apps and data.”
Virtualization: The Other Problem
Workspot is a kind of application virtualization system, and is certainly not the first in that regard. Microsoft demonstrated the concept back in 2007. The idea here is that an application can be installed and run on the server, with its interaction with you delivered to your device as a service.
This way, the IT department can manage how you access each application, as well as the file system and the resources it holds, much more directly. Again, Workspot didn’t invent this concept, but it does deliver it in a novel way.
First, Workspot eliminates the appearance of the conventional desktop on both the client and server sides. In its place is a control panel that’s accessible from a touchscreen tablet device, but whose general organization can be intuited by anyone who’s used a smartphone in the last half-decade. It’s simpler, and it provides direct access to the tools you use and the documents you’re working on.
Think of the things you commonly use a desktop for, and then remove the useless metaphor.
“If you click on SharePoint,” explained Sinha, “it’s actually talking to the SharePoint server. The end user’s desktop is not part of the equation here. We’re going directly against the apps the user is trying to access.”
Second, although Workspot provides its management functions through a cloud-based portal, the applications themselves are hosted on your own network, and documents and resources reside there too — all behind the firewall. Workspot does not actually touch the assets on your network. Instead, it operates a gateway linking those network assets to your client devices.
This way, apps (the Web kind) and applications (the client/server kind) are equalized. A C/S app like the electronic health record keeper Epic, a CMS, a Web-based service such as Salesforce, a Windows application like Excel, a SharePoint portal, a Mac OS app like Photoshop, and an Android or iOS app like Evernote, all share the same workspace.
A self-provisioning service in Workspot’s cloud gives employees a portal (not so much an app store as a menu) with which they can select the apps they need to use for their workspaces. But they’re not “installed” anywhere as a result. So long as they exist behind the firewall, and either have their own URL or can be assigned one through Workspot’s admin tool, then if the admin has designated that an employee or group of employees have permission to use it, there it is.
Third, as Sinha explained very carefully, Workspot communicates with the office network by way of a single, secured, encrypted VPN portal. Since Workspot does not need to touch the apps itself, its role is merely to provide the access channel. As a result, Workspot asserts, admins can provision access to already installed applications or to client/server software for groups of users in under an hour, and the users can install the Workspot client in a few minutes.
Control as a Solution
Back at Citrix, Sinha told us, his engineers were bothered by a lack of client-side instrumentation. Customers complained not only about poor performance, he said, but no way for users to resolve their performance problems for themselves. Admins couldn’t solve their problems either, because they had no visibility into their users’ desktops.
So developed a method to start gathering telemetry on end user performance. That method shows up in Workspot, including a way for both admins and users to pull up audit trails of their own usage patterns — a feature even sophisticated operating systems such as Windows currently lacks.
Sinha said he believes Workspot has managed to avoid what he perceives as the pitfall of VMware: a kind of trap which forces organizations to install and utilize software using “the old, Siebel model of enterprise software — the old, install-a-bunch-of-things-in-the-data-center model,” as he calls it.
“We’re working on a very new model, which is the Salesforce model: building it as 100 percent cloud architecture, versus as an on-premises architecture.”