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Digital workspace platforms provide a set of tools that can improve the end-user experience and simultaneously simplify management for IT, but deploying them may involve wholesale changes to an organization's back-end infrastructure and management processes.
Before an organization deploys a digital workspace, it must consider its existing management tools, subscriptions, licensing agreements, delivery methods and other factors. IT departments must determine if it is worth uprooting an existing management strategy for the benefits of workspace platforms.
Why consider digital workspaces?
What differentiates digital workspaces from other methods of delivering desktops, applications and data access to users is their one-stop shopping nature. On the user side, workspaces provide device-agnostic access to full desktops with applications. On the IT side, they provide a single management console for all devices, desktops, applications and more.
Workspace platforms can replace desktop and application virtualization products, but they can also fulfill the roles of unified endpoint management, identity and access management (IAM), UX monitoring, and other crucial tools and technologies that IT professionals need to manage all aspects of their deployment.
Jon KelleyUniversity of Arkansas
If an organization, for example, prefers an existing IAM tool instead of the workspace's IAM tool, it can run the existing tool alongside the workspace. This flexibility is a crucial element of the workspaces for some customers.
"The [workspace] features exist for you to use, but the vendors aren't forcing them on you," said Jon Kelley, divisional engineering lead at the University of Arkansas.
Kelley recently helped the University of Arkansas transition to VMware Workspace One and found that the ability to maintain some existing tools and processes was a major selling point. For some workspace deployments, however, the opportunity to leave existing back-end management practices behind was a blessing.
C&S Companies, an engineering firm based in Syracuse, N.Y., was having issues with its on-premises VDI. Despite spending tens of thousands of dollars on its VDI, the organization's end users experienced UX issues, particularly with computer-aided design (CAD) applications.
"The users running high-end CAD software are on those apps almost 100% of their day, so they'll recognize anything down to a half-second lag," said Eric Quinn, CTO of C&S Companies.
Frustration was a major reason that he chose to run Workspot's digital workspace platform instead, he said. C&S Companies had a staff of experienced desktop administrators, but they didn't know the intricacies of back-end server management. Quinn had to hire a consulting firm to even get a proper diagnosis on the VDI.
"The user experience was always the limiting factor with our on-prem VDI, and we never got to where we wanted with it," Quinn said.
The ability to quickly access data across different endpoints throughout the day is one of the hallmarks of virtual desktops, but the virtual desktops logon and load times aren't always as quick as organizations would like. For example, healthcare clinicians moving from patient to patient must access health records quickly and in multiple locations.
"The end-user experience requirements are so important with [workspace] solutions," said Andrew Hewitt, analyst at Forrester Research.
What challenges does transitioning to a workspace present?
Transitioning to a workspace platform can present a number of logistical challenges that IT departments must factor in before they begin, from learning curve issues for users and admins to management process issues for IT.
An organization transitioning to a digital workspace will likely have to rework its licensing agreements. Even if an organization doesn't have to reevaluate its licenses, it probably should. Some enterprise-level licenses that most workers need, such as the Microsoft Office productivity suite, are good candidates to stay at an enterprise level. IT should reevaluate the need for applications that a smaller percentage of users require, Kelley said.
Software vendors may try to charge based on how many users have access to the applications rather than how many actual users there are, so IT could renegotiate for a better licensing deal with the right data.
"A third-party application helped us track our actual usage of our applications, so we could show them that only a small percentage of users who had access to the application were using it," Kelley said.
As long as IT controls its number of concurrent users by limiting access, it can actually save on some licensing costs.
During the switch to a digital workspace, IT professionals may have to rebuild their desktop images. This isn't an issue for organizations that run nonpersistent desktops because they deploy the same desktop image to users and don't save any changes. If an organization has a complex deployment with numerous desktop images for different user groups, this could get a bit messier.
Some vendors support transitioning existing desktop images to the workspace, but in some cases, this isn't optimal.
"We wanted a clean break for the desktop images, so we don't carry over any garbage or bloat in the transition," Quinn said.
For Quinn's deployment with only four or five images, the process wasn't too painful, but organizations with a lot of desktop images face an uphill battle. Once IT admins create the new desktop images, they can upload them directly to their workspace provider and wait for approval.
There aren't any existing shortcuts to bypass this manual process, but organizations can address this issue with additional spending.
"The only thing I've seen that can make the image building process easier is relying on a managed service provider to build those images for you," Hewitt said.
IT must also start fresh with its list of users and applications. Again, if a workspace platform deployment isn't especially complex and users require the same subset of applications, then this won't be a major problem. But, if an organization, such as a university, has to change application access more than 10 or more times per year based on the status of students enrolled in classes or programs, this can snowball into a major task.
Kelley built the workspace's app access configurations for University of Arkansas students based on enrollment data from the Blackboard learning management system. Kelley has to adjust the access multiple times per semester based on the latest enrollment data.
"If we were in a larger environment, we could have granted broad app access to everyone, and that would have been a lot easier," Kelley said.
The university use case is a bit of an outlier, however, and many organizations won't have to deal with the volatility of students enrolling and dropping courses from semester to semester.
"In [Kelley's] case, they need to build that access out with some manual effort, but most enterprises have a longer span of time over which they're making those configuration and access changes," Hewitt said.