How the software-defined workspace is reshaping enterprise client computing

The way we work is changing rapidly
The way we work is changing rapidly

As desktop computing becomes more software-defined, new tools and capabilities are needed within the tech team. We spoke to Tyler Rohrer, co-founder of Liquidware Labs, to find out how businesses are moving from PCs to workspaces to exploit new cloud, virtual and web-application models.

Rohrer's thoughts and answers will also provide insight for tech pros who are looking to evolve their internal services, boost security and control over desktops, and use new technologies in the most cost-effective way.

TechRadar Pro: There has been a lot of discussion about software-defined networking and the software-defined datacentre, but what exactly is the definition of a software-defined workspace?

Tyler Rohrer: For decades desktop innovations have happened inside of the hardware device. We've seen increasingly faster and cheaper chips, more sophisticated architectures, and the addition of touchscreen and other interactive technologies. While this has made end-user devices indispensable to users, the proliferation of devices has resulted in significant challenges when it comes to managing end-user environments.

This includes controlling how application and internal systems are accessed depending on where, how and when users try to log in. It also includes the growing worry that hackers will exploit weak spots via user systems to gain a portal into the enterprise. And as more and more staff become mobile, it has become more difficult for administrators to ensure users have a consistent desktop user experience at a level that maintains their productivity.

In order to develop a response to these issues, administrators are turning to "virtualising" the components that traditionally have been "inside" of end-user devices and maintaining these components as discrete assets inside secured repositories in the datacentre.

These assets include all user profiles, settings, and user-authored data, as well as applications, applications data and application configuration. This allows the administrator to reduce the requirements of the end-user devices to only the OS and basic hardware resources (CPU, memory, graphics, network), essentially leveraging thin or zero client devices to perform work.

However, this approach puts much more emphasis on the software architecture of these desktop systems, hence the term "software-defined workspace." The software-defined workspace typically incorporates technologies such as user virtualisation (also called user profile and user environment management), application virtualisation, remote hosted application delivery and application layering.

TRP: When we think about new desktop models, we tend to think of VDI or the new types of cloud-based desktops coming to market. There hasn't been an overnight switch to these models despite their OPEX benefits – why is that?

TR: These technologies have certainly been responsible for ushering in a new mind-set around end-user computing. In the enterprise space, change can take time and whilst there hasn't been a wholesale move to VDI for all organisations, what we are seeing is increasing adoption and an evolution that is well underway.

There are a number of factors coming together to make virtual desktop environments possible for more organisations – for example new solutions that optimise infrastructure such as storage in a virtual environment, and those that enable bandwidth intensive applications such as medical images to run really smoothly over virtual sessions, along with a wider market acceptance of the cloud model.

What is interesting is that increasingly enterprise client devices are thin clients (thin client devices or PCs used as thin clients) so the move away from the PC device-centric view of desktop computing is definitely a mainstream movement. Microsoft's decision later on last year to offer new user-based Windows licensing models, and not just device-based licenses is testament to this.

TRP: So focusing on the PC versus VDI battle is wrong, as actually many organisations are already basing their client computing estates on being able to use multiple types of platforms and delivery options?

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.