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Virtualizing the Desktop: A stepping stone towards the Unified Workspace?

Last week during Interop Las Vegas, I was able to witness and participate in all sorts of conversations about virtualization, and its effect on the way we deploy, deliver and consume applications and services.

Virtualization itself is not a new topic, but given the way our environment has been shaping lately, it is becoming more and more relevant. In this new world we all carry multiple devices, we are always on the move, and the definition whether the app we are using is running from the cloud or from our devices is increasingly irrelevant.

Users do not care about the technology, or the role of virtualization or cloud, as long as they have access to the applications and data they need, whenever they need it. We sometimes think the users should care, but in reality, it is IT that should care, and not the users. And that is a big distinction.

This of course is not a surprise, but I perceived a sense of impatience and even annoyance from some of the users that I was able to question about this matter. I got a really clear message that whatever is the future of the desktop–or the workspace as more and more people refer to it, should be delivered to them soon.

As for the important characteristics of this workspace, from the users’ perspective:

  • Access to it has to be transparent. They must have an ‘on-demand’ connectivity environment that allows them to have secure access to the data and/or applications they need to complete the tasks at hand, without worrying about authenticating every time, on the device of their choice. Solutions such as Cisco AnyConnect and the Cisco Identity Services Engine provide these capabilities, and clearly there is pent up demand for such a solution deployed broadly across the enterprise.

  • Content and applications should be adaptable, on demand. Many users don’t really care if the application they are using on the device of their choice is identical across all their devices, as long as it has similar functionality, adapted to their device (such as touchscreen technology instead of point-and-click apps for touchscreen devices, and vice versa).  And the content, particularly bandwidth intensive content such as video, voice and even large attachments, should be adapted on the fly to the amount of bandwidth and screen real estate available, so it is optimized for consumption. Cisco is also focused on creating that optimal experience for the user on any device at any time, with several solutions offering media transrating and transcoding that could be leveraged here.


  • Last but not least, that workspace has to be mobile. And mobility in this regard is not a feature that you add to the workspace; it is intrinsic to it. The new workspace has to be mobile by definition. This means in addition to being compliant to the two requirements noted above, the delivery of the workspace with  all its capabilities has to be enabled on demand, or as a service. And for that to happen, beyond mobility, the tech industry needs to deliver better integral and systemic orchestration and management capabilities, that would allow IT not only to create virtual instances of applications or even desktops, but to tie the user to its background services like security, identity, location, device authentication, etc. in one click… we are clearly not there yet.

To summarize my learning from Interop Las Vegas, I would say that just like with other technologies, Desktop or Workspace virtualization is a journey, a very interesting one. Users seem to be ready and the technology foundation is already available, but the real question is if IT is ready. The delivery of the unified workspace requires breaking silos within many IT organizations, in the same way convergence did over 10 years ago.  And just like with convergence, the savings, increased productivity and the capability to enable new and exciting services to all users, so they can work their way, is in front of us. It is a journey all right, but we can start that journey today.

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  1. Roberto – great post, thanks.

    To take it one step further, the “Unified Workspace” will provide a consistent user experience across all popular OS’s and devices. Which means that it will most definitely be different from the current Microsoft-only enterprise desktop environment (and associated constrains) we have today.

    This is quite refreshing.

  2. Nice 🙂