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Arm you say? Running IGEL OS? With Workspace ONE??

Yep!

My view (stated probably too much in this blog) is that our job in EUC is to make tech as invisible as possible for the end user. For too long, humans have had to put up with fat, bloated operating systems sitting on awesomely powerful devices, simply to get access to what actually amounts to low resource-intensive apps.

A lot of the time these days, these apps aren’t even doing a great deal locally, as most of the processing is done in the ‘cloud’.

The Digital Workspace is one such cloud-enabled solution to getting access to apps and services. What if we could almost dispense with the requirements at the user-side (User-End Computing? I think I’ll trademark that)? Well, we can, by shrinking the OS and the device to its bare minimum.

Introducing VMware Workspace ONE running on IGEL OS on a Raspberry Pi 4-based NComputing RX420(IGEL) device:

Employee Experience & Human Bandwidth

Information is my drug of choice. I absorb it from multiple different sources: Wikipedia, BBC News, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and others. To be honest, I don’t remember a great deal of it, but I hope that it helps to shape my world view and along with critical thinking, enables me to make the right choices in my personal and professional life.

I hate anything that gets in the way of absorbing information. A flaky internet connection, Windows updates, a faulty or poorly formatted website. Even worse, a badly written piece that makes the easy absorption of information more difficult than it needs to be (oh the irony).

This is why I’ve been looking into technology that will help me to ‘mainline’ all that lovely information straight into my brain. Surely, there’s a more efficient way to consume info?

Me eldest son has inattentive-type ADHD, which means that he is very easily distracted. I have many of the same traits. So, if my information source isn’t engaging and frictionless, I’ll abandon it quickly.

Information Theory applied to humans

Turns out that technology is not really the issue here. In a world of multiple petabytes of data, with internet connections in excess of multiple Gbps, we’ve simply started to run up against a much more fundamental limit, out own human bandwidth.

Our brains have evolved to provide us just enough information to survive. This includes evading predators and finding foods and viable mates. A lot of the decisions we make are based on small amounts of key information from our senses, with the rest supplied by a ‘model’ of the world generated completely within our own heads. In fact, evidence suggests that our brain has already created this model of the world, and just updates this model based on limited information from the senses.

So, how much information are our senses sending to our brain at any given moment? We actually know the answer to this. All in, it’s roughly 11Mbps. That’s not a lot, when we consider the rich, detailed world most of us appear to live in.

Even more surprisingly, our brain also seems to be further compressing and reducing the already limited amount of data from our senses. In fact, tests based on average reading speed suggest that the actual amount of information we register consciously could be as low as 50bps. That’s right, 50bps!

If the above really is the case, then we need to be protecting this most precious resource – our attention – by any means possible.

Digital Employee Experience / DEX / EUEM

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Our main job in IT is to get information into the hands of humans, wherever they are, in the quickest, most reliable and most secure way possible. To do this, we need to remove as much technological distraction from a user’s line of sight as possible.

In fact, when we’re distracted from a task, it can take an average of 23 minutes to recover our attention and get back to our previous level of focus.

What are our options here for keeping our busy bees… busy with work, and not distractions?

In IT, we should probably start with eliminating any annoying tech problems. At the moment, probably chief among them is how frustrating it can be to have a slow or laggy Zoom or Teams call. Imagine IT could pull back realtime performance data from every device, even home workers, and understand network latency, CPU utilisation and application patch status.

Then imagine that IT could proactively update a network driver, or roll out a patch to Teams, or change a Zoom setting to make better use of the available network.

Finally, imagine all of this happening in the background, without the user having to report a problem to IT.

THIS is Digital Employee Experience Management, and it is the future of EUC. This is also something key vendors have available now, from VMware to ControlUP and specialists such as Nexthink, Lakeside and Qualtrics. Even Microsoft have recently got in on the act.

I used to be an IT Manager, and I was pretty bad at it. My usual excuse is that I’m a visionary, not a manager. These sorts of statements are why I’ve turned off comments on my blog…

Anyway, one of the things I noticed as an IT Manager was that I very rarely got a call from users saying: “Hey Ben, you’re doing a great job!”. This may have been because I was doing a crappy job. Or it may have been that human nature is not to notice when things work, only when they don’t. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Our users may not notice a lack of distractions and an improvement in performance and reliability, but businesses will love the productivity gains and general improvement in user sentiment.

Wrap Up

So, from a technology perspective, how can we ensure that users are maximising their productivity, minimising distractions and being their best version of themselves? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a password-less toolset that makes sign on as invisible as possible
  • Use a Digital Workspace. Abstract the user’s productivity space from device, location and ecosystem
  • Consider an Enterprise App Store. Provide users with the bare minimum of apps they need, and then let them self select the rest
  • Make the endpoint invisible. Remove as many distractions, bells and whistles as possible. It shouldn’t matter what device the user is using, as long as they have access to the apps they need, when they need them. Yes, this is a shameless IGEL OS plug.
  • Pre-emptively fix experience problems before they become a productivity problem. Is your EUEM platform telling you that Teams isn’t performing as well as it could? Fix it before it impacts productivity.

While network bandwidth is increasing all the time, human bandwidth is something we can’t realistically change right now. Over the coming years, this is going to become one of the biggest issues in computing. Check out Brian Roemmele’s fascinating take on this.

In the meantime though, let’s do what we can to keep our users awesome! And productive. And not shouting in vain at their devices…

What does the OS of the future look like?

I’ve worked in End User Computing for what feels like a very long time. I’ve come to realise that EUC is different. It’s different because it’s the only branch of IT that should be more concerned with removing technology than introducing it.

Whoa, what? Yup. You have to remember that the humans who use enterprise tech on a daily basis aren’t actually interested in IT. They don’t care about the late nights spent keeping the lights on, the cloud, or our backup and recovery regimens. They only care about getting access to their business information, and the apps and devices that make that happen. Our job in IT is to remove technology from their line of sight, so that they can get their jobs done with as little distraction as possible.

In line with this, and I probably shouldn’t say this, seeing as I work for an OS vendor, but I believe that an operating system should be invisible. At its core, an OS should broker access to applications in the most reliable, performant and secure way possible.

An OS of the future should be like an F1 car. To get the best performance out of an F1 car, every piece of excess weight is ditched. Everything is lightweight. The reason? F1 constructors have a simple mission: Ensure speed, handling, reliability and safety. Anything that doesn’t fit this mission is jettisoned. You won’t find a media system or air conditioning in an F1 car.

Traditional operating systems have been closer to trucks. They have everything a user could ever need onboard. It’s only with the latest release of Windows 10 that the frankly pointless ‘3D objects’ folder will be removed. Did you ever use that folder? Me neither.

One of the first things most enterprises do when provisioning Windows 10 is to either create a custom image with as many features disabled as possible or create a provisioning package that does the same.

Where are we on this journey to a future OS?

We’re starting to see a pivot towards this future OS, and it’s happening quickly.

Lat year, for the first time, a lightweight OS outsold one of the big two operating systems. In 2020, ChromeOS outsold macOS in almost every quarter.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a big reason for this was the fact that a LOT of people needed access to cheap laptop-type devices as quickly as possible. ChromeBooks fit that bill to a certain extent, especially for consumers.

There’s a deeper reason here though. Over the past few years, the global app ecosystem has started to shift from ‘thick’ applications towards thin, lightweight and agile SaaS apps. In this new world, a thin, lightweight, agile OS makes sense.

Windows was never designed to be lightweight. Think about where it came from though. The first iteration of Windows in 1985 was all about providing a GUI to make use of a mouse that had been rolled out 2 years before. Understandably, this wasn’t an OS built to make the most of the internet age. It wasn’t until Windows 3.11 in 1991 that networking was even introduced. Windows 95 was the first ‘connected’ Windows OS with limited internet connectivity, but it was a product of its time. All iterations of Windows since that first one way back in the 80s have carried the baggage of the ‘do everything locally’ model.

The last time Microsoft released a lightweight OS, is failed and was discontinued soon after release. That OS was Windows RT. It was the right OS at the wrong time. It was small, with a modern build methodology. It failed because it relied on modern and SaaS applications, at a time when SaaS apps themselves hadn’t quite reached maturity. The fact that it didn’t support Win32 meant that it didn’t have a place in the enterprise either.

Since Windows RT, internet bandwidth has increased massively, and more and more apps have moved to SaaS and subscription. Whereas previously SaaS apps were the poor relation to traditional ‘thick’ apps, now in many ways they are their equal, and most future development effort is going into making them even more advanced.

We’ve seen another trend emerge too along with SaaS apps, and that’s the SaaS workspace. This is embodied by the Digital Workspace. A true Digital Workspace is built around providing access to any app, anywhere on any device.

But what about thick Windows apps?

An interesting concept I came across at VMware was that there is actually an easy way to ‘SaaSify’ Windows apps. First, let me apologise for one of the greatest examples of butchery of the English language ever. Second, let’s think about that concept a bit. We’ve been virtualising Windows apps for a long time, via Citrix & VMware and now Microsoft. However, what we’re doing when we virtualise them is simply making them SaaS applications.

To consume the new reality of cloud-based and SaaSified (sorry, sorry, sorry) Windows applications, you need an OS that is optimised for these types of apps.

This is where the leading lightweight OSs, like IGEL OS and ChromeOS come in. They are built for the internet age, for presenting access to the apps that really matter to the end user. They have been built with the understanding that users are really not interested in the operating system, that they want to use their applications on any device, from anywhere.

The Future is Hedgehog shaped

IGEL OS takes this concept a step further. Unlike ChromeOS, IGEL OS started life in the enterprise, and it shows. Security and enterprise-level manageability are built into its foundations. It has unparalleled integrations with the big VDI vendors, including Citrix, VMware and Microsoft, to ensure that Windows applications are always available, without the overhead of running those apps locally. When it comes to extensibility, there are over 100 local integrations with leading enterprise software vendors, from ControlUP & Veridium to Zoom & Teams.

Another key benefit of IGEL OS is that it isn’t tied to specific hardware. As long as the device matches certain minimum spec, such as CPU and RAM, it will work on most x86-based platforms. Extending this is the announcement made earlier this year of IGEL’s first Arm-based implementation, in partnership with Ncomputing.

The new world of SaaS applications is here. It is only going to grow over the coming months and years. To make the most of these lightweight, agile apps, you need a lightweight and agile OS. You need IGEL OS in your enterprise.

My honest opinion on Citrix vs VMware

Since joining IGEL, I’ve been asked several times, (by people who should know better!), about my thoughts on these two EUC giants. I also realise that I have to be VERY careful when answering questions of this type, as, in the words of Family Guy, IT’S A TRAP!

However, seeing as there aren’t many of us who have worked for both vendors, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and decided to write a short brief on the strengths of both, while avoiding anything that looks like I’m favouring one over the other. And don’t worry, I’ve run this through friends and ex-colleagues at both tech titans and they’re cool with it…

What they have in common

First off, they’re both AWESOME companies. Between them they have created whole EUC markets and forged a path that others have followed. I have a strong belief that EUC doesn’t get the focus it deserves in the tech industry, and both Citrix and VMware have been instrumental in raising its profile.

Ok, let’s have a look at Citrix

Citrix’s core strength is that they get the idea of WORK, which is what EUC is all about. The first time I heard the greatest EUC tagline of all time was at a Citrix Kick Off in Orlando: “Work is not a place, it’s something you do.”

This abstraction from a technology conversation into one that makes sense for actual human beings is quite a difficult thing to do for most tech companies, but Citrix have this nailed.

Citrix have led the EUC field since the late 80s and have become synonymous with the whole field of remote working. In fact, Microsoft’s offerings in this space have their roots in a licensing deal with Citrix struck in 1997.

It’s this heritage that means so many of the world’s largest businesses use Citrix as a foundational piece of their EUC estate, whether that’s via Virtual Apps & Desktops or through their much-loved NetScaler solutions.

Another key strength that Citrix has is their broad embrace of the wider EUC ecosystem. In my experience, Citrix has always understood that a comprehensive EUC solution requires many best-of-breed partners, from analytics to endpoints. When I was at Citrix, it was common to work with a stack of EUC leaders such as AppSense, Atlantis and IGEL to ensure the customer always had the best overall solution for their needs. Citrix is the glue that holds many of these ecosystems together, and the customer is better off for it.

How about VMware?

VMware is a shining light in terms of technology and innovation. VMware has built an EUC offering that covers all of the bases and leads in many of them. VMware has pioneered the Digital Workspace, almost single handedly creating the concept and the market, while others have followed their lead.

VMware’s hybrid multi-cloud strategy is a huge boost for its EUC division, meaning that VMware’s cloud offerings are truly built for the cloud and available in all major public cloud providers. VMware’s VMC platform allows native VMware virtualisation technologies to run on Amazon AWS tin in AWS datacentres; there are similar offerings from Microsoft (Azure VMware Solutions) and Google. This makes VMware’s EUC solutions easily transportable between the major public cloud providers.

VMware has also recruited many of the biggest names in EUC, including Brian Madden, Shawn Bass and Ben Ward (see what I did there?), which is a massive vote of confidence in the overall EUC message. That message has also evolved to take in the latest trends in EUC, including Digital Employee Experience Management, Zero Trust and Intelligence. It’s a constantly evolving platform.

Who wins?

You can probably tell from the above that I’m not about to make a recommendation about whether Citrix or VMware are ‘better’. In my experience, Citrix has a core of very dedicated customers and partners. Many workplace strategists have built their careers on Citrix, and many technology partners have done the same. For some of the world’s biggest enterprises, Citrix’s solutions are core to the way they do business.

VMware has a much broader portfolio of solutions. I’ve found that for many businesses that already use VMware technology, either at the virtualisation layer or further up the stack in networking or storage, using VMware’s EUC offerings just makes sense. Build on top of this the many customers that AirWatch had before VMware acquired it, and many businesses see no need to stray outside of VMware.

Summary

Over the past year, and for all the wrong reasons, End User Computing has finally been thrust into the public consciousness. It is the interface between an enterprise and its employees. It is the driver of success for many, many enterprises, and it has shown itself to be an indispensable toolset for every business in the world.

Every vendor in the EUC space brings something different to the table and has its place in the enterprise. Choosing which ones make sense can be tough, but the fact that there is so much choice is testament to how important the field of EUC is and how a thriving ecosystem is good for everyone. Go Citrix! Go VMware! Go Microsoft! Go IGEL!

GO EUC!

So, what’s the hottest EUC trend in 2021?

I decided to put this question to the public vote, and I’ll be honest, the result didn’t surprise me.

We’ve just been through the most disruptive year since the 1940s, and that’s bound to shake up IT priorities. One of the biggest outcomes of the pandemic has been the massive shift to remote working.

I’ve personally seen customers rapidly roll out Virtual Apps & Desktops projects in super-quick time, along with adopting cloud strategies they’d previously put off. I’ve also seen a renewed focus on security, with Zero-Trust being seen as critical for workers now operating from their kitchens.

Why didn’t the results surprise me? Well, Employee Experience has been booming over the past 12 months. Just look at the exec moves in EUC recently. Jeff Mitchell, previously Global VP of Sales for EUC at VMware, made a move to Nexthink, the DEX leader last year. Earlier this year, long time veteran of Microsoft, Brad Anderson, moved to Qualtrics, another leader in this space.

What I didn’t expect was for DEX to be so far out in front of IAM. DEX leads by a country mile. Also, it’s easy to feel sorry for UEM and Virtual Apps & Desktops. However, it’s important to bear in mind that this is simply a survey of the hottest EUC topics. UEM and Virtual Apps & Desktops still make up the majority of EUC strategies and the EUC installed base.

This has been a fascinating insight. I think I’m going to have to run some more LinkedIn polls! In the meantime, keep a look out for the video I’m creating that explores the above in more detail.

EUC Licensing Simplified – VMware Horizon

VMware Horizon has undergone a LOT of changes in version 8. Some of the older technologies have been EOL’d, so say goodbye to Composer and Persona Manager. With this change though, some of the previously Enterprise features have now dropped into Standard, meaning that Instant Clones and some features of Dynamic Environment Manager are now available for all.

There are some notable omissions too; vROPs for Horizon is no more, with instead a new partnership announced with ControlUP.

Also, perpetual licensing is being phased out in favour of subscription. The below graphic calls out Term & Universal licensing, the two main methods for licensing Horizon 8. Universal also includes the ability to use Horizon Cloud on Azure, Horizon Cloud on Azure VMware Solution, Horizon Cloud on VMC on AWS and Horizon Cloud on Google Cloud VMware Engine.

As always, if you want the animated Powerpoint version of this, give me a shout!

EUC Licensing Simplified – VMware Workspace ONE

Software licensing can be an absolute nightmare to get your head around, especially when you need to bolt together solutions from different vendors. I’ve played with multiple different formats for displaying licences, but by far the best is the one below. This is the first in a series of licensing posts which will include VMware Horizon, IGEL OS and Citrix Workspace.

If you want a Powerpoint version of this or any of the other licensing overviews, get in touch and I’ll send you the link!