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Dell’s Plan for the Consumerization of IT

2.1.tabletsmeanbusinessThanks to trends like Bring Your Own Device, previously closed business computing environment are being broken wide open with multiple forms of devices running very different operating systems, all bringing new challenges for IT. As part of our series, in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®, I took a look at what Dell is offering as it’s analysis of these trends, and plans for helping businesses deal with and thrive under the new environment.

In a 15 page paper on the subject, Dell outlines what it sees as “Five Trends Shaping the
Future of Enterprise Mobility”. The look towards social networks, already a dominant force in employees’ personal lives, as changing behaviors in the office, forcing a part of this consumerization. On Facebook, people expect to know what everyone is up to at any time, and easily keep track of several hundred relationships with minimal effort. There’s every reason to believe that as people get used to this behavior with their friends, they will expect to be able to maintain intercompany communications with the same ease, speed and flexibility, something traditional computing just hasn’t been good for.

Another trend influencing the bigger picture is the rise of flexible working arrangements and environments. Companies are getting smarter and realizing that an employee that can work anywhere and anytime is an employee that can work better. Employees need to be able to get things done every hour of the day and in every corner of the earth, meaning they don’t want to be tethered to their desktop PCs, and their managers shouldn’t want that either. If your workers are willing to take a tablet to lunch and get work done while eating a sandwich or during a vacation or medical leave or while watching the kids, there’s no smart reason to stand in their way, and in fact companies need to do more to make it easier for employees to do so.

The rise in powerful mobile devices is changing how we handle everything and is certainly changing our working habits. In a perfect example, one of my fellow managers gave birth this past week, having a wonderful baby boy at 2 AM. Five hours later, she was emailing her team instructions on how to handle some minor tasks from her hospital bed, before the team was even in the office! Hopefully, she eventually had some rest.

The point is that employees are already tethered to their mobile devices and enjoy using them for everything. The more they can work on them, the better for them, the company, and the people who rely on them. Mobile device growth continues unabated both in terms of the number of smart devices and their capabilities. On my latest phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, even if I’m just watching a movie on it, I can also answer my email at the same time in a split-screen mode, bringing a very obvious form of work-play balance in a neat 5.5 inch package.

Employees who can and want to take advantage of these options are often your hardest and most capable workers, and the most important goal of IT should always be to enable the company’s stars to be exactly that. Evolving business models require companies to be able work innovatively, so a company that doesn’t embrace these trends may very likely fall behind one that does. And lastly, employees expect their company to give them the options they need to succeed. Every time I interview a prospective hire, and hear about the frustration they had trying to work in their company’s antiquated IT environment, I know that’s a company failing on all of these counts.

So, what recommendations does Dell offer to companies that agree that they need to move forward and embrace the consumerization of IT? There are nine, which I’ll summarize here:

  1. Articulate a clear technology philosophy and set a consumerization strategy that follows that philosophy.
  2. Tight-fisted security and anti-social media policies often have the opposite effect, driving employees to circumvent security controls and socialize unprofessionally. Better to work with them than against them.
  3. Stop preventing employees from using their own devices, starting by encouraging them to use their smartphones for work. Smartphones are the fastest growing category, and the first place you should direct your efforts.
  4. Supply employees with tools and apps designed to make it easier to get work done on their devices.
  5. Try out giving field workers and executives tablets and seeing if it works well and replaces existing devices. Encourage other employees to bring their personal tablets.
  6. Develop clear philosophies on cost sharing of such device initiatives with employees, and pay close attention to when the business case can and cannot be met for paying for such devices.
  7. Invest in desktop virtualization where appropriate, since it allows all those disparate devices to conform when needed, and provides many advantages.
  8. Don’t lose sight of software licensing restrictions. If your employees use software with harsh restrictions, each additional device could require you to re-purchase software, adding significant costs.
  9. Don’t use end user stipends.

I found this last point to be of particular interest. The paper points out that end users aren’t particularly good at picking devices, especially since they value mobility over business capabilities. Stipends also allow for an infinite number of user-chosen configurations and support headaches.

I agree, and propose an alternative: More limited stipends. Rather than not implementing such a program, IT needs to come up with a device category right for the company, or for different types of employees. I see in our firm the proliferation of iPads, which have proven generally worthless for our particular business needs. In a company like ours, where powerful software and complex productivity are key, it would make sense to offer stipends on Windows tablets only. As a manager, I’d want my people on something like Dell’s Latitude 10 Tablet, featuring the Intel® Atom™ Z2760 processor, which does all of the fun things an entertainment or media tablet like the iPad can do, but also does the job when real work needs to get done. In another company, where simpler needs make more sense for consumer IT devices, I might encourage an iPad-only stipend, thus cutting down on IT support costs. Every company needs the right strategy here.

I encourage you to read the paper, and share your own conclusions. I think Dell has made some excellent ones and provides any IT and corporate decision makers with a great starting point towards making these important decisions.

This is a paid post in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®.

April 29th, 2013 Posted by | General | no comments

A Look at Dell Wyse’ Cloud Computing Solutions Featuring Intel® Technology

I’ve long used Wyse PocketCloud, a great (free) app for remote access to your Windows or Mac PC from Android and iOS devices, to get work done with nothing but my tablet. It’s the best designed app I’ve seen for tablet remote access, with a downright innovative control scheme and better performance than other solutions I’ve tried. It’s my go-to solution for simple remote access, and when setting up employees in our organization, I always encourage them to use it.

What I didn’t know until being asked to learn more about it for our ongoing series (in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®), is that Wyse produces a lot more than PocketCloud. Wyse has all of these more advance cloud client computing solutions featuring Intel® technology that go beyond the simple get-to-your-remote-PC app that I knew about.

Wyse makes hardware, in fact, the kind of thin clients that can in many cases replace the kind of standard PCs companies like mine usually stock. Many are small boxes, the size of (and looking a lot like) your router, except that it provides access to a fully featured and powerful PC environment via the cloud without the power and hardware challenges of actual PC hardware. That tiny box has connections for four USB ports, two monitors, audio, and other peripherals, while drawing 7 watts of power and using practically no space at all, changing how you look at the desktop PC.

In the IT environment I deal with every day, I can see the very real advantage devices like this can bring. With thin client access to desktops, besides saving space and energy, you wind up with systems that can be more easily administered and managed in one place, while being accessed from any place. An employee can utilize the same environment from any desk in the office, as well as the desk at home, on the road or other means creating opportunities through flexibility. Also, for some employees doing more complex tasks, where you can never have enough computing power, the cloud servers deliver a lot more capabilities, and simpler means to increasing those capabilities than trying to add power to individual desktop PCs.

Wyse also offers thin client laptops, and even a netbook that can get up to 8 hours of battery life while accessing the same full-power system environment. This gives you the same portability and battery life of much maligned and underpowered netbooks without the drawbacks of their slow processors and limited ability to do pretty much anything. Also interesting, from a security perspective, is that since the system is all in the cloud, corporate data is extremely safe since none of it is on the machine.

With so many end users switching from laptops and desktops to tablets at home, it makes sense to offer more flexible cloud client options as an alternative to the desktop PC. Dell has only owned Wyse since last year, but I can imagine it would be a good idea for them to offer these same corporate solutions as a means for families and students to get full-powered PCs as needed, pulling their power from the cloud. Given time, Dell can apply what they know about designing good hardware and mobile PCs to Wyse’s already well-working designs, and put together a solution good not just for the office but the post-PC world at home.

Right now though, the focus is on businesses. Businesses that invest in such cloud client solutions can find it makes managing and securing those systems easier for IT, more reliable and simpler for employees, and downright cheaper when implemented in a way that’s right for every business.

This is a paid post in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®.

April 29th, 2013 Posted by | General | no comments

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How Modern Software Improves Modern Hardware

Since dual core and 64-bit processors started going mainstream, computer users have had more power than they know what to do with. In fact, they’ve had more power than their software knows what to do with. To truly take advantage of major advances in modern processors, modern software is required, all of which makes the upgrade cycle much more interesting.

Previously, software and hardware advances were less interrelated, and an advance in one did not advance or require as much the other. Sure, you might need a faster processor to run a faster version of Windows, or a new game to push that new graphics card to the limit, but these were questions of pure speed, not capabilities. It’s analogous to the difference between a faster car and a self-driving car. A faster car runs faster everywhere, but a self driving car is just a regular car until you have roads that allow and support the use of cars that can drive themselves.

The speed race in processors and other pieces of hardware ended years ago. If it hadn’t, Intel® would be releasing a 15 gigahertz Pentium 4 by now. Instead, you can buy an off-the-shelf PC today that runs at the same basic speed a PC released in 2002 could have. The newer PC smokes the old one because while both processors might be running at 2.2 GHz, the modern one isn’t one processor, it’s many. A 64-bit processor can run instructions 4 billion times as large as a 32-bit one. A dual core processor is almost like having 2 processors, and a quad core is twice that. Add in multi-threading, and you have a maching that for all practical purposes might as well have 4 or 8 2.2 GHz processors.

None of this means anything without the right software. Install an old version of Windows on the newest, fastest Dell with a 64-bit quad- or six-core chip, and you might get nothing more than the power of a single logical processor, not the 8-12 logical processors you paid for and would have gotten with a more up-to-date release. As a result, upgrading your software will often upgrade the hardware because the powerful hardware you bought years ago pre-dated the advancements in software required to take advantage of it.

Since we are in the midst of a series examining different modern IT issues, it’s useful to point out that it used to be that aging software in a corporate environment was the norm, but that trend has strong reasons to change. Older hardware is better capable of running modern software than at any time in the past. Windows 8′s system requirements are “If you could run Windows 7, you can run Windows 8 faster”. “If you could run Windows Vista, you can run Windows 7 faster”. Efficient operating system design by Microsoft means that a PC from 2006 could run Windows 8 in 2013, some without any upgrades. Business computers are in fact the most likely to have been more powerful than average when purchased seven years ago, and more likely to have survived until now, to be able to make the move to the new OS.

The fact is that while everyone knows that newer hardware is faster than older hardware, many software developers have been doing such a great job writing apps that, with each upgrade, run faster than the previous version. Sometimes it’s a new feature that makes use of the software more productive, but more often these days it’s better written code and better use of modern hardware and software capabilities that makes that newer software so much more awesome.

We’ve had amazingly fast computer hardware for a decade at this point. 2013 hardware is faster than 2003 hardware, but 2013 software can run faster on 2003 hardware than 2003 software ever could and draw less electricity while doing it. We’ve had dual core processors for years, but modern software knows what to do with it. We’ve had 64-bit processors since the 90s on desktop PCs (and the 70s in other cases), but if you aren’t running a very up-to-date version of your favorite software, it isn’t taking advantage of it. In fact, until a couple of years ago, it was common for systems with 64-bit processors to ship with the 32-bit version of the OS installed for compatibility reasons. Thankfully, that trend is almost dead.

Businesses have more reasons to perform upgrades, since they can then do more with the hardware they already have. Windows 8, or the latest Office or Photoshop can put both cores on your CPU to work (or all four cores or more, as it were). They can serve up 64-bit instructions to that CPU many times faster than a 32-bit one would have been. A new OS, in turn, adds APIs and features to your computer, while new software takes advantage of those additions so that they, too, can run faster. All of which is why it once you put a price on productivity, it can often be more expensive to keep the older, slower version of critical business software than absorbing the cost of the next version.

It’s extremely likely that whatever machine you are using right now, the software you are running isn’t taking full advantage of its capabilities, and in some instances, the software needed to take advantage does exist yet. For this reason, it’s important to look at PC hardware as an investment that can grow over time. By picking a processor with features that haven’t been fully utilized yet, you are picking a computer that will only get better with age, like a fine wine.

This is a paid post in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®.

April 29th, 2013 Posted by | Adobe, Applications, Corporate, General, IT Series, Mobile, Office, Sponsored, Tablets, Vista, Windows, Windows 7, Windows 8, XP | no comments

IT’s Challenges in An Evolving Mobile Device Landscape

Ten years ago, managing IT in a company was simple. Okay, to be fair, it was incredibly complex, with enormous tasks facing system administrators, who had to configure complex computer systems, often with out of date hardware, major security concerns, and inadequate tools. IT has never had it easy, but there are very different challenges today, and one of the biggest questions modern IT departments now face is how to manage the myriad devices users bring into the corporate environment.

A lot of the more complex traditional challenges of IT, including corporate servers and security, have been greatly simplified by evolving and more powerful tools and cloud solutions, and that outdated hardware we all knew and loved has mostly been replaced by cheaper and more than adequate PCs. Since nature abhors letting anything become too easy, the void left by those challenges has been filled by smartphones, tablets, and whatever other strange devices users decide to plug into the company network.

It used to be that IT could declare mastery of at least the hardware on every desk. Every PC could be similar, every access point could be locked down, and if you wanted email, you might be lucky enough to get a Blackberry. The huge evolutionary leap forward taken by smartphones (and the lack of participation by the old standard Blackberry in those innovations) meant that a huge percentage of users now have devices in their pockets that rival those on their desks, and are upgraded every 18 months. While certainly some organizations are still fighting that development, forward thinking ones know they can take advantage of all that power, if they can meet those challenges head on. Plus, who wants to tell the CEO he can’t use his shiny new iPhone?

With smartphones breaking down the device firewall, other dominoes have fallen. Laptops outsell desktops now, with tablets pacing to outsell laptops in the near future. Wifi networks are ubiquitous at modern offices, making it easier to bring those home devices to work and get some more productive use out of them (or play Angry Birds during lunch). This means employees can be more efficient, taking their entire corporate server to meetings, to lunch, to offsite events, and not be tethered to a desk, leading to more productive meetings, more active and mobile workforces, and more possibilities for where and how work gets done.

While all of this may sound like a bright future, and for the average employee, it is. The average IT department, however, faces new questions every day on how to support the transition from a secure device monoculture to an omni-diverse free-for-all, where not only can employees have many different devices, but any employee can walk in with some new and odd device and demand it work with their usual workflow. In this four part series, we will examine some of these challenges, and with the help of some suggested solutions from our sponsors, IDG, Dell and Intel®, show how modern IT departments are and will continue to handle these challenges and allow users to take advantage of this new world.

April 8th, 2013 Posted by | Corporate, General, IT Series, Mobile, Sponsored, Tablets, Windows, Windows 8 | no comments