Virtualizing the User

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Preparation for Successful Cloud Delivery

The cloud has exploded as the next breakthrough technology most people are considering for their IT service delivery. An IDC report released in June 2010 estimated that in 2009 cloud-based services accounted for $16 billion of the approximately $2.5 trillion in global spending on IT, and that number would rise to $55.5 billion by 2014--representing 12 percent of all spending on IT. While still in its infancy, cloud computing shows extreme promise in providing IT departments with a more flexible and cost-effective way of delivering services to their enterprises.

However, similar to desktop virtualization, cloud computing on its own, without the right technologies accompanying it, cannot be fully realized.

In an environment where the corporate desktop consists of the combination of accessing device, outsourced OS and applications, internal applications, and user settings, the management of user-based policy becomes a crucial enabler to the successful implementation of the dynamic desktop environment. Currently most organizations repackage applications to include settings specific to the business, and often this is required multiple times since the various departments have differing needs. These settings can enable or disable features, assign resources such as databases and file systems, incorporate language differences, etc. The process of repackaging is of course time-consuming and expensive to the business. The role of IT then becomes managing the delivery of the applications, figuring out how these applications work together, and most importantly what the user experience will be in this world of multiple outsourced desktop components.

Now, as cloud services are included into the mix, the potential complexity of the combined solution escalates but the crucial nature of the user experience cannot change. For example, how will the enterprise ensure that the user is able to access the mixture of applications (whether cloud or local) without needing multiple sets of authentication details? And once within the applications, will relative time zones be accurately mapped between the applications and will the applications actually integrate together? Should we be concerned that the same dictionary is used across all applications regardless of how it is delivered? There are many such questions that you can bring to light when considering the implications of the technology in your own environment -- just think of what the user experience will be like. Will it be simple?

One solution for this problem is user-based policy, which allows these settings to be made on the fly as applications execute, eliminating repackaging and providing a far more efficient way to configure applications for users. This is a critical precursor to cloud-based delivery of applications into organizations, acting as just another reminder of how critical the user experience is to the cloud's success.

Additionally, organizations will face the "many-to-one" challenge where services are being delivered by multiple cloud services providers. For example, in a traditional PC or the virtual desktop, there exists a single point of integration of all applications in the client OS. In the future model of multiple cloud-based services, this single execution point no longer exists. The implication for the user is that the outsourced applications will not work together, such as applications not being able to use data from one application in another or use other applications. One example is .doc files not opening in Word from e-mail attachments, when the Word applications and the e-mail applications could be easily supplied from different vendors' services.

In order to address this "many-to-one" problem, a new infrastructure is needed that spans all the delivery services that come together for the organization, department, role and user. There are already multiple solutions for the single sign-on solution to help with the authentication challenge, and I foresee a couple of vendors looking to help with the policy-driven aspects to bring together some of the application integration pieces.

We have already seen vendors announcing support for the cloud, but there are still many areas that have yet to be addressed, including the problems mentioned above. I believe that these issues will come to the forefront as cloud computing becomes more of a reality. And, as seems to be a common theme in my posts, the user will play a vital role in determining which technologies will be the most effective for enterprises.

Posted by Simon Rust on 10/26/2010 at 12:49 PM


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