Are you meeting your employees' tech needs? Workspace virtualization can help. Employees are demanding more from their devices, and IT staffs are struggling to meet individual expectations. Workspace virtualization lets small businesses that want cutting-edge technology for their workers but have a limited IT budget better fulfill users' tech expectations while preventing IT staff from becoming overwhelmed.
What is workspace virtualization?
"Workspace virtualization is the ability to abstract a user's workflow and untie it from the constraints of the physical desktop," said Joe Stone, network engineer at Boice.net, a networking and collaboration solutions provider. This means that employees get the same working experience, regardless of their device or location. "A user's desktop, applications and data can be available to them anywhere because it is no longer dependent upon a single workstation or operating system," Stone said.
One example is desktop virtualization, in which a user's full Windows workstation can be run from the data center rather than from a single PC, Stone said. "The desktop experience can be accessed from almost any physical device," he said. Such is the case at a hospital or clinic, where a doctor can receive a patient's record in his office, close his session and resume it from a tablet in an exam room, Stone noted. "The very same session that was started in the office can be picked back up right where it was left off, even though the location and device used to access it have changed," he said. [Read Related Article: Virtualization vs. Cloud Computing: What's the Difference?]
Similarly, workspace virtualization can extend beyond desktops to all the devices that a small business uses.
"You could [virtualize the entire office space by] using laptops, high-speed Internet, video cameras and VoIP [voice over Internet Protocol] phones," said Michael Thompson, also a network engineer at Boice.net. "An employee could be sitting at their kitchen table, but through the use of technology, have access to everything that they would normally have access to in the office," he said.
Workspace virtualization can also be used by employees out in the field. For instance, most Boice.net engineers are out in the field every day with just a laptop, cellphone and, when available, an Internet connection, Thompson said. The tools they rely on include virtual private networks (VPNs); externally available email through Microsoft Exchange's Outlook Anywhere protocol, which is accessible via Webmail, cellphones and Outlook; instant messaging client Jabber; and Web conferencing, desktop sharing and online collaboration software WebEx. "These tools allow us to stay in contact with the main office, as well as other engineers that may be able to lend a helping hand," Thompson said.
What are the benefits of workspace virtualization?
Workspace virtualization offers several benefits, primarily greater IT efficiency, reduced costs and a better employee experience.
Greater IT efficiency
Workspace virtualization provides greater efficiency for IT administrators because it streamlines the management of devices while meeting employee expectations.
"Workspace virtualization centrally manages the key elements of a user's computing experience," said Sean Donahue, senior director of global alliances at RES Software, an IT solutions provider. It ensures that users have the right mix of IT services based on key elements, such as their location and devices, he said.
It also simplifies IT management for all users so IT personnel don't have to tend to individual machines. "By centrally managing the personalization, data and settings separately from the underlying operating systems, devices and delivery platforms, IT is able to reduce the complexity often associated with managing users," Donahue said.
Workspace virtualization can have a major impact when it comes to changing operating systems (OS). For instance, with Microsoft soon ending support for Windows XP, companies that have workspace virtualization in place have likely already migrated successfully, Donahue said. "That's because one of the largest challenges of a migration is restoring a user's personalization and settings, which, in many cases, must be manually reconfigured when changing OS or devices," he said.
However, with workspace virtualization, when a user logs in to a new device or updated OS, all of his or her settings and customizations will be applied automatically, Donahue noted. "To a user, the migration is seamless, and because of that, the barrage of service-desk calls often associated with a major migration project are extremely limited because the experience is familiar and users can continue working as usual," he said.
The same holds true for other infrastructure changes, thus making the process much faster and more cost-effective, Donahue said.
Workspace virtualization can also lower IT costs for small businesses. It offers not only a platform for centralized management of many resources, but also standardization of equipment and services, Thompson said. This results in reduced IT-personnel overhead, as they no longer have to support as many desktop or laptop machines, which can be taxing on a small IT staff, he said.
Workspace virtualization also lets businesses have a mobile and agile workforce, which can reduce the cost of office space, Thompson added.
Better employee experience
Workspace virtualization also benefits small businesses because it improves employees' satisfaction with the company's technology, including the devices themselves and the benefits of anytime, anywhere access.
"Workspace virtualization allows your workforce to work more efficiently and in a manner that more closely resembles the way they use technology in their personal lives," Stone said. "People have grown accustomed to instant access to data and applications from anywhere at any time, and can grow frustrated when they don't have the same access when it comes to their jobs."
How does a business know if it needs workspace virtualization?
Although workspace virtualization offers many benefits to small businesses, it's not the right solution for every company. A small business's decision of whether to employ workspace virtualization depends on individual requirements, such as the number and type of users, and IT capabilities.
"Complexity is a major driver for implementing workspace-virtualization technologies," Donahue said. "In most cases, as a small business grows past a few hundred users, meeting those users' expectations can grow more challenging."
There is also the issue of remote workers, for whom businesses may be looking at desktop virtualization solutions that offer flexibility, he said. "In most cases, the added personalization and security benefits that workspace virtualization can offer for these deployments make the investment worthwhile."
IT strategy is also increasingly being driven by the need to keep users satisfied and productive, Donahue said. Workspace virtualization can help businesses that fall into this category. "IT departments that are having trouble keeping up with the demand from users can use workspace virtualization as a springboard for improving how IT services are managed," he said.
This is especially the case for small businesses with limited IT staff and budget.
"Many smaller companies don't have dedicated IT staff to deal with the daily issues of traditional physical desktop deployment," Stone said. "There are many desktop or software-as-a-service options available to small businesses that remove the support burden from the organization and turn it into a predictable service fee that is easy to budget for. Small businesses that have a mobile workforce and little to no internal IT support are perfect candidates for these options."