As CEO of Molten Technologies, an independent virtual desktop specialist, I often find myself enthusing about VDI, especially as a service, vs the traditional fat-client PC model and I have heard every push-back in the business (and some that ought not to be). In this series of articles, I will expose the most common and a few of my favourite rarer ones. This particular article is an example of the latter.
I know this is hard to believe, but I was talking to a senior IT manager from a large multi-national enterprise who appeared genuinely concerned about how his staff (and possibly himself) would handle iTunes if we moved them onto virtual desktops. You may laugh (I actually did as I recall), but the concept that the corporate laptop is a perk to be used for personal as well as business ends is more widespread than I had realized. In my opinion, however, it is out of date and has no place in today’s enterprise IT strategy to be replaced by a more subtle approach.
First, let’s deal with the raw technical facts. iTunes can be made to run on a virtual desktop and it can synchronize with local devices. I know this, because I have tried it (for purely journalistic purposes, you understand). Your administrator needs to have set you up in such way that your session will map to local drives and devices. This is precisely the opposite of how I usually recommend Enterprises set up their virtual desktops, but this is about “could I” for a start, we will come to “should I” in a moment. Performance is interesting when synchronizing with a local device (like my iPhone) because it is now happening over the internet, but it works as long as you have a decent internet connection (to be fair, I am on fibre and have not tried it over lesser connections).
Second, (in the style of Chandler Bing from Friends) “oh-my-god why?”. I get the potential for good technology to be an attractor for new staff and a retention tool for existing staff, however, there is an alternative to opening up your devices and networks to this sort of abuse.
A well set-up, performant, virtual desktop is a perfect way to segregate work from personal life without having to carry two devices. Inside the virtual desktop you can allow secure, controlled access to your corporate network and outside can be an unmanaged device of your choice.
VDI therefore supports a “Bring Your Own” approach, allowing staff to use their Macs, iPads and Androids at work. So if you really must have access to iTunes at work, then you can run it on your own device on the guest network (and I will leave your manager to worry about whether you are doing so on his time or your own).
This is a step in the right direction for many technologically sophisticated employees because they can now use their beloved personal computers (and I mean PC in the literal sense) in a work environment while neatly keeping their personal and business life separate (including associated data-loss risks and viruses). If you want to go a step further to attract the right talent, you could offer a stipend to staff to encourage them to buy their own or even buy certain groups a trendy tablet device. In either case, my strong advice would be to leave ownership of the resulting device with the employee and responsibility for management with it. If you give access to their work life through a virtual desktop rather than locally on the device then you can leave the device both unmanaged and untrusted.
The model is changing from late nineties and the noughties (I love that term) where the best technology in the house came from the employer as a perk-laptop through a frustrating phase where we all had brilliant tech at home and work was still making us use clunky, heavy laptops into a brave new world where we can carry whatever technology we like (or even carry none and use what comes to hand) and still have secure, performant and convenient access to our working environment wherever we go.