LABS@WORKCOMMENTARY Decline of the desktop The bleak future of the physical desktop is foretold in ossified management tools.CA MERON STURDEVANT
he more I worked with the latest version of
Microsoft’s System Center Configuration
Manager, the more I felt I was walking
through a soon-to-be-abandoned factory.
It’s not that SCCM 2007 R3 is an orphaned project. Nor am I predicting the death of the desktop.
However, it’s clear that new user computing
paradigms are being built even as SCCM is
patching up the foundations of the old ones. The
once-green fields of physical desktops—and the
seemingly endless train of maintenance tools
needed to keep these systems functioning—have
a distinctly bleak and wind-blown feel these days.
Even after more than a decade, provisioning,
maintaining and ultimately
decommissioning a physical
desktop or laptop remains
a tremendously time-consuming and costly process.
Because of application decisions made before the turn
of the century, nearly all Windows desktop systems run in
such a way that users have
administrator access to the operating system, an
almost laughable risk exposure in today’s world.
While advances in user-access-control, antivirus
and anti-malware products have patched over
some of the more egregious problems of unbridled
user rights, keeping desktop systems in good
working order is still a labor of Sisyphus, whose
punishment was to push a heavy boulder uphill,
watch it roll back down and repeat the process.
It’s almost a guarantee that a desktop PC will
go out of spec quite early in its youth. The reasons
range from the need to accommodate necessary
line-of-business applications that came on the scene
after the desktop’s deployment, to the accidental
or unauthorized changes that users make on their
own. The notion of a PC reaching retirement
without a configuration problem is unrealistic.
Between the advances in virtualization and the
growing use of cloud-based resources, the very idea
of a PC-centric workload is coming into question.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is making real
advances in the way the user operating system, application and data are delivered, stored and protected.
(For a great idea of security and simplicity, go to
e WEEK’s Pano Logic review at tinyurl.com/64982dm.)
In a virtual desktop world, most problems that
SCCM 2007 R3 attempts to solve are squashed before
they can take root. In an organization where the
desktop OS and data are stored and managed from
a central location—and refreshed from a gold, IT-approved and supported image at the start of each
workday—the very real problems of remote patch,
update, user control and malware are vastly reduced.
Though VDI reduces friction in daily operations,
there are still significant
such as data center storage
costs. The more complex,
customized desktop is significantly more difficult to create
and deliver in a virtual format
when compared with servers.
The cost savings from
more efficient resource use
that were easy to realize in server virtualization
are correspondingly more difficult to achieve in
VDI—at least, until IT operation costs, remediation efforts and data loss are factored in.
Microsoft SCCM and the other well-established
tools of the trade do a fine job of managing legacy
PC systems. Today, there are plenty of IT employees
who are familiar with how these products work and
who use them to contain support costs. And IT
managers will likely need this type of mostly physical field-maintenance platform for many years.
But virtualization and cloud computing are on
the horizon. So static desktop systems have far
fewer years ahead of them than behind them. ´
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR CAMERON STURDEVANT CAN BE
REACHED AT CSTURDEVANT@EWEEK.COM.
‘THE VERY IDEA OF A PC-CENTRIC WORK- LOAD IS COMING INTO QUESTION.’
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