Understanding the advantages of tablet workspaces

home screen2The days have long been over when IT could dictate what kinds of endpoint computing devices should be in their end user’s hands. But the notion of “bring your own device” (BYOD) has taken hold in the past few years means having tablets and smartphones perform truly useful business-related work. Now the particular endpoint, whether it is a desktop or a mobile, no longer matters. Indeed, mobiles are being used more and more as the main endpoint browsing device and as the default computing device.

There are some big benefits for IT with BYOD: they don’t have to invest time in their “nanny state” approach in tracking which users are running what endpoints. Or have to research which mobiles will be blessed by the corporate purchasing department. Instead, they can free up these staffers to improve their apps or deliver better service to their end users.

For these reasons, BYOD has been well received. Users don’t want to wait on IT to finish a requirements analysis study or go through a lengthy approvals process: they want their mobile apps here and now. However, the small business market has been largely a poor stepchild and not much of a beneficiary to the BYOD revolution. The SMB IT manager, where he or she exists, doesn’t have a lot of great choices to support improving the productivity of their tablet users. The challenge is that users these days want something more than just processing emails on their mobile devices: they want to be a full participant in sharing files, co-editing documents and presentations, and running corporate apps that in the past have been largely geared towards Windows endpoints.

The IT manager is faced with a series of options to support these new and more advanced tablet users. Each solution makes some compromises in terms of document fidelity, overall security, collaboration features and ease of access. Document fidelity is defined as being able to work on common Windows tools such as Word, PowerPoint, etc. on a tablet and see the same fonts and features as you would see on a traditional Windows PC. Overall security means having policies that can restrict who has access to particular files and apps on the mobile devices, or completely sandbox a business environment from one’s personal app collection. You also want to be able to collaborate on documents among multiple authors, so that they can see in real-time what changes their colleagues have made to their documents. Finally, ease of access means being able to obtain particular files without having to go through many steps or multiple and complex authentication methods.

Over the past several years, numerous vendors have tried their hand at fixing these issues and there are a number of products and services that can be combined together. There are cloud-based storage services or office app suites, custom connection apps that allow tablets to access, transfer and view files and remote terminal sessions that can bring up Windows desktops and their apps. There are also various mobile device management products that can sandbox email and app access.

One other solution involves creating an entire workspace on a tablet, sometimes as a Web service. I recently had a chance to do some custom consulting work for such as solution from NComputing called oneSpace, which compliments these products in a way that you can access both network file shares as well as cloud apps, and do so in a way that seems natural for a tablet or touchscreen user. You can see a short screencast video introduction to how this works here. Workspaces could be the future for corporate tablet usage.

NComputing’s oneSpace improves tablet productivity

NComputing’s oneSpace combines the benefits of tablet style navigation and gestures with fully functioning Windows and SaaS applications, internal web apps and portals, and on-premises and cloud file shares in a single policy-controlled environment that is secure and separate from a user’s personal tablet apps. We tested it on both Android and iOS tablets in June 2014.

Usage of the oneSpace app requires a license to a oneSpace service.

Price: $33/user/month


The new open compute servers are here

bad_neighboursThe PC server market has been a fairly boring one for the past several decades. Sure, they contained things like specialized Xeon CPUs and lots of memory modules and could attach to big storage arrays. But the for most part, buying a server meant having just something bigger than you had on your desktop. Those days are about to change with the new servers available from Rackspace and the Open Compute Project.

To show you that this is far from a new idea, do you remember the Tricord? I am not talking about the thing carried around on Star Trek. Instead, this was a server unit made in the middle 1990s. It came with eight CPUs, could hold 3 GB of RAM and nine half-height drives, along with lots of redundant power supplies, controller boards and other high-end features. All this went for $70,000. That’s right, they weren’t cheap either.

Nowadays the notion of a 3 GB PC is what you would find as a minimum desktop configuration to run Windows, and most servers have hundreds of GB of RAM installed. But again, the design of a PC server hasn’t really seen much change. Until now.

Facebook started the Open Compute project several years ago, in the hopes that they could encourage some innovation for the kinds of hardware that they were building for their own data centers. These customized servers were stripped down models that were designed to run in the cloud, not on your desktop or even in your own data center.

The project saw some major milestones this week with several announcements at the Gigaom structure show. There is an opportunity for anyone to have their own cloud-oriented server, as announced from Rackspace this week at the event.

Why is this important? It represents a big moment for servers, taking steps to finally move beyond the original PC architecture that began in the early 1980s. It is a way for Rackspace to offer an entire server that previously was only available as a compute or storage instance for cloud customers. It is also a way to get around the “bad neighbor” problem that faces many cloud apps, where another greedy server instance can hog server resources and make life miserable for your own app.

The servers are from Quanta and called OnMetal and come in three different version that are focused on CPU, storage or RAM. If you have to build an Internet service that is going to need a lot of firepower, you might want to take a closer look.

The self-actualized cloud

One of my favorite moments from Psych 101 (apart from playing with my lab rat in the Skinner box) was learning about Maslow’s level of needs hierarchy. 

Maslow came up with the idea that all of us start out with needing basic things, like food and shelter. As those needs get satisfied, we move on to others, until we get to the top of the scale, which he calls self-actualization. This is the ability to accomplish whatever one can, like the US Army says where you can be all that you can be.

I started to think what that would mean for cloud computing (I know, I am a total nerd). What would a completely actualized cloud look like?

There is a great analogy if you think about it. As IT departments move into the cloud, they start off with basic services, such as file transfer, email, and simple storage. As these needs get satisfied, they realize that they can put more and more stuff into the cloud, and start running applications, doing offsite backups, handling more hybrid situations between cloud and on-premises servers, and so forth.

Of course, psych 101 breaks down here a little bit. Not every IT department goes through the hierarchy the same way. Some stop at one level or another, because they have saved enough money with their cloud, or have other obstacles that they can’t necessarily remove to go further. Some have heavy legacy data center investments that they can’t rid themselves from. You get the picture.

But then there are some organizations who are born straight to the cloud, without having ever run their own data centers and can design a more actualized environment for their clouds. In a report that I am working on for Gigaom, I am talking to quite a few of these enterprises. They span the gamut from the smallest startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. Some are 100% “cloudy’ while others are moving quickly in that direction.

With one IT manager that I spoke to, he referred to the people espousing the old way of doing business as “server huggers,” which I thought was a great characterization, recalling certain environmentalists of my past. When I was toiling in the IT fields back in the olden days, we referred to the mainframe-centric folks as “mfers” which I am sure is going to move this essay right into numerous spam filters but I couldn’t resist.

The point, and this goes back to psych 101, that just because you are actualized doesn’t mean all your friends (or work colleagues) are, and you have to deal with the fact that their needs are most basic.

But my other point from my research is that I don’t know of too many companies that are reducing their cloud footprints or building bigger data centers to recapture some of their cloud servers. The cloud just makes sense on so many levels, and lights up so many places on the Maslow cloud pyramid.

Webinar: Moving to PCI DSS 3.0 compliance in the cloud

Today I moderated a panel for Redmond Media on this topic, with experts from Amazon Web Services, CoalFire and Vormetric. Whether you are running PCI compliant workloads in the cloud today or if you are considering moving your Card Holder Data to the cloud, you need to know about the changing regulatory and compliance structure that the new DSS v3 standards will bring about. You can connect to a playback recording here.

Network World: Virtual machine security still a work in progress

Trying to protect your expanding virtual machine (VM) empire will require a security product that can enforce policies, prevent VMs from being terminated or infected, and deliver the virtual equivalents of firewalls, IPS and anti-virus solutions.

CaptureWe last looked at this product category nearly three years ago, testing five products. At that time, we said that no single product delivered all the features we desired. That’s still true today even though the market matured some. This time around we tested three vendors who were in our previous test — Catbird, Hytrust and Trend Micro – plus a newcomer, Dome9. All represent solid approaches to improving your VM security, but coming from different places.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to test lots of other VM security technologies, which I have listed here.

You can read my review of these VM security products for Network World here. And you can view a series of screenshots of the four products here.

Continuum blog: Is OpenStack Ready for the Enterprise? Maybe.

A lot has happened in the past year with the open-source cloud computing initiative OpenStack: The builds are more sophisticated with more mature components, there are more distributions available, better VMware integration and training programs have also blossomed. But does this mean that OpenStack is completely enterprise-ready? Perhaps, or perhaps not, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

You can hear more about OpenStack and read my article, posted in the Continuum blog, here.