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Citrix Workspace brings contextual computing to application access

The new Citrix Workspace will give users access to apps -- and let IT enforce policies -- based on their device type, network, location and other factors.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Citrix's addition of contextual computing to workspaces aims to simplify users' application access, but IT has some concerns around complexity and the cloud.

The new Citrix Workspace provides access to employees' web, mobile, software as a service (SaaS) and Windows desktop applications all in one place. This access is all contextual, meaning the portal presents different apps to users based on the device they're using, and IT can enforce different security policies based on the device, network or location, for instance. It isn't easy to keep tabs on all of that contextual information, said Nicolas Ignoto, a Citrix architect at a large bank in New York.

"To identify all the context for all your users is a challenge," he said. "You have to really talk to them and know what they do. When you start to have a lot of different contexts, that becomes difficult to manage."

Inside Workspace's contextual computing

Workspace is supported by the new Citrix Analytics Service; the company announced both offerings here at its annual user conference, Synergy. The technologies gather and analyze data regarding what device the user is on, what apps they need, where they access them from, what their security needs are and more. Armed with that information, IT can understand what policies to put into place.

When users access Workspace, they see a homepage that shows all of their resources. Depending on what device they're on, they can choose from Apps, Desktops and Files tabs to find the resources they need. For instance, if the user is on a Microsoft Surface tablet, the portal will show them their mobile apps. They can also access any SaaS apps, such as Salesforce, for instance, which will open in Citrix Secure Browser. Citrix also announced that Secure Browser will be able to run on Microsoft Azure.

Taking advantage of contextual information would be especially useful in business environments, such as manufacturing, said Mike Nelson, an infrastructure architect at an insurance company in the Midwest. That type of organization could require different authentication methods when workers are in different locations within a warehouse or at different sites, for instance.

"I've already seen calls for this," Nelson said. "This is big."

As for individual file access, Workspace integrates with Office 365, so users can open and edit files directly. Plus, Workspace uses Citrix ShareFile to allow users to share and collaborate on documents. Documents could live on OneDrive, SharePoint or even a file share, because ShareFile supports all of those storage services.

Workspace raises cloud concerns

Citrix Workspace is available only for Citrix Cloud services, a management console that allow organizations to deliver and manage XenDesktop, XenApp and XenMobile from the cloud. But not all organizations can or want to embrace the public cloud.

"The whole cloud-first thing, that's not a global thing," Nelson said. "That could be a deal-breaker for some companies. Believe it or not, people are still wanting to hug their servers."

Ignoto's company, for example, has to comply with strict regulations that don't allow them to host or manage data from the public cloud.

"For legal reasons, we just can't do it," he said.

It's unfortunate, because Ignoto's company uses XenDesktop and other Citrix products and would be interested in the Workspace portal if it was on premises, he said.

"Workspace is going in the right direction," he added. "It gives you more tools to secure your workspace."

An 'easy button' for identity management

This is critical, as businesses wrestle with multiple identity platforms.
Mark Bowkersenior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group

Citrix Workspace also federates identity to make application access easier. Different applications often have different identity management tools built in, requiring users to sign into multiple apps in multiple ways. Workspace provides single sign-on, so users can log into the portal once and then access any apps directly from there without having to sign in again.

Identity federation also makes things easier for IT professionals, who don't have to deal with identity management features or tools from multiple applications and vendors.

"This is critical, as businesses wrestle with multiple identity platforms," said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. "Integrating with various identity platforms simplifies user logon, strengthens authentication and enables businesses to enforce a set of common policies across multiple applications."

Nelson agreed.

"Some organizations are having a hard time figuring out which ID management tool to use," he said. "This is kind of an easy button."

Workspace will be available in all Citrix Cloud services later this fall, the company said.

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