Traditional v Hosted Desktops
A white paper for UK SME owners
This white paper has been written for UK SME owners and decision makers who are not necessarily IT experts. It will be of particular benefit to small business owners.
The choice between the two infrastructures is easier for a start-up business that has nothing invested in traditional IT. Consequently, we will be mainly looking at existing businesses that have already made an investment in equipment, staff and training for a traditional IT set-up and whether a move to the competing cloud-based infrastructure is beneficial and whether there are any pitfalls.
This white paper attempts to compare the benefits of the existing traditional IT infrastructure used by most small to medium UK businesses today and the very latest incarnation of cloud computing, the hosted desktop.
Cloud computing can offer many theoretical advantages, but practical business owners are naturally only interested in the end result — will it make our business more efficient, cheaper to run, make capital investment lower, benefit our customers or our employees, reduce IT downtime, reduce or remove the need for a specialist IT department within the business. Also what is the ROI on a hosted desktop infrastructure?
So the challenge in the UK was to take the advent of cloud computing and put its advantages in the back pocket of every UK business owner. How do you get from the theory to everyday reality?
The answer turned out to be the relatively simple concept of the hosted or virtual desktop. Take the complexity of an IT infrastructure including servers and desktop PCs and put the power, processing and storage requirements in the relative safety and security of a remote data centre (the cloud) and leave only the minimal computing requirements physically in the office environment: a cut-down PC called a “thin client”.
However, there are three problems that will hinder the successful adoption of hosted desktops in a small to medium-sized business organisation:
- Getting non-technical, decision-makers in UK SMEs to understand the concept of the hosted desktop
- Getting those same people to see hosted desktops as an opportunity to improve not only their IT function, but also expand and improve the business geographically and in terms of the quality of its employees and service delivery to customers
- Overcoming IT inertia — the considerable investment in existing IT infrastructure means they are less likely to move to a hosted desktop solution even where you achieve points 1 and 2
So let’s take a look at each of these in turn:
An analogy may help here. In the 1980s and early 1990s companies didn’t provide desktop PCs for employees. The computer was usually centrally located in an air-conditioned room and employees worked on dumb terminals that were no more than a means to interact with the central computer, by keyboard and monochrome monitor. The central computer had all the processing power and did all the work and data storage. Remote sites usually accessed the main computer via expensive leased lines.
With the arrival of the networked desktop PC, data was still stored centrally on file servers, but processing was now done by the computer on the employee’s desk. Once broadband speeds increased remote offices could communicate with centralized servers via VPN (virtual private network) not leased line.
With a hosted desktop model, essentially the computers in the office are once again reduced to the role of dumb terminals, with the memory and computing power, processing and data storage all being carried out in the cloud, or in reality, a highly secure and resilient data centre. Even the mail and file servers can be held in the data centre. Communication is done via the Internet.
However, unlike the 1980s, today’s hosted desktop user has full access to a customisable, remote Windows OS environment and can install and run apps and interact with it from a laptop or PC from anywhere in the world and use the full features of a traditional PC environment.
Many non-technical business owners see IT and its costs as, at best, a necessary evil or even burden on the business. They take on costly finance to fund large capital expenditure on servers and find they have to employ IT staff rather than the extra sales people that the company may need.
Unsurprisingly, owners rarely investigate what IT can do to help the business beyond easily understood administration and accounting functions. Consequently, IT only really becomes an issue when it fails to do its job or begins to hinder the development of the core business in its daily activity.
An example of this SME attitude to technology is the fact that 1.5 million UK businesses still do not have a website in 2010. (Source: http://www.gbbo.co.uk/partners/faqs). Clearly, UK SME owners who have no internet experience cannot see the benefit of a website and, therefore, do not want to spend more money on an opportunity, created by technology, they cannot perceive or understand.
This is the background to the problem that hosted desktop providers face breaking into the UK market. Owners see hosted desktops as a further IT expense not an opportunity to improve their business. They will be reluctant to adopt them unless someone convinces them of the varied overall benefits to their business that the hosted desktop opportunity presents them. We will look in detail at the benefits of a hosted desktop system shortly.
A further problem for the expansion of hosted desktops is one of IT inertia.
Given the attitude that IT is merely cost to the business it is natural that a “why fix it if it isn’t broken” attitude will be the opening position of many SME owners. They will not even consider the hosted desktop because they have a considerable investment in an existing traditional IT structure of desktop PCs and servers.
But is this inertia a sensible attitude?
It is certainly an understandable one, and the facts support the idea that this will be the prevalent view: Tammi Reller, the CVP of Microsoft Windows has revealed that nearly 74% of the present day workplace PCs run Windows XP and the average age of a PC is 4.4 years!
A hardware replacement occurs, often not because the PC is broken, but because it is under-powered to run an application or the next generation of OS. The facts stated by Reller make sense and it is reasonable that SMEs would not want to undertake what they see as unnecessary expenditure and so SMEs end up not upgrading the OS.
By not upgrading they lose the associated benefits (including the ability to run the latest versions of critical apps) and the PCs get older and more unreliable and the repair costs mount as you try to keep your fleet of elderly PCs operational.
So perhaps this isn’t the way to go — can the hosted desktop model offer a cost-effective way overcoming this inertia — by offering a way of updating and upgrading hardware and software in a timely fashion without breaking the bank?
Hosted desktops can solve this issue as the virtual desktops can be allocated more resources (RAM and CPU power) to enable them to run the latest Windows 7 OS, with all the end-user benefits that brings. When the OS is updated in the future you merely allocate more resources to the desktop if they are needed. The result is that users are always able to update the virtual hosted desktop to run the latest versions of those critical apps. The need to spend hundreds of pounds on a new go-faster PC is replaced by a small increase in the monthly cost of the hosted desktop to reflect the extra resources being allocated.
The reverse is also true: if an employee leaves you can cancel the hosted desktop and that means no wasted, expensive software licences. Scalability is a great benefit of the hosted desktop model.
Now it is time to take a look at some more comparisons of the two infrastructures.
Let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives of both solutions.
24/7 remotely supported: — hosted desktop providers obviously employ highly skilled teams of IT engineers to maintain their own infrastructure. In the event of a problem or failure it is their technical support team that will be on call to deal with it and the company owner is unlikely to realise there has ever been an incident. Furthermore, economies of scale mean that hosted desktop providers can often offer 24/7 end user support as part of a contract. That means even small businesses can access highly trained analysts for technical support.
Cost-effective: — there is little comparison between the cost-effectiveness of traditional IT infrastructure and hosted desktops. The capital cost is largely borne by the hosted desktop provider. The consumer only has to purchase cheap thin clients, and even that is not necessary as old PC’s can still be used until they naturally need replacing or the business can lease the thin clients from their hosted desktop supplier or purchase them outright. Thin clients, as well as being more cost effective, have a longer life due to no moving parts, typically 6-7 years.
Traditional IT is often not cost-effective due to inefficiency in supply and demand. Expensive and powerful IT equipment is purchased and then underused where the specification is incorrectly drawn up and unused software licences are a problem for many SMEs where changes in staff numbers or working practices subsequently occur. The resources given to a hosted server can be reduced rapidly, or even the number of servers can be similarly reduced, resulting in cost savings for the hosted desktop user. Similarly you only need to pay for hosted desktops and applications actually being used.
Affordable: — the hosted desktop’s affordability means it is ideal for start-ups. They usually have no investment in IT and thin clients and applications can be included in the monthly charge for the hosted desktop. The technical support that is also usually provided with the hosted desktop service means that the start-up can focus on their new enterprise while preserving capital and enabling easy budgeting.
Easily budgeted: — companies using a hosted desktop find it easier to budget as the IT costs are moved from the balance sheet to the current year’s P&L.
Users are charged at a fixed cost per month and so the IT budget is now predictable. Gone are the days of having to quickly find several thousand pounds to replace a server and having to write off the cost over several accounting periods.
As software is provided as part of the service you will find the same budgeting benefit applies to these costs too. This can be applied to application software as well as to the operating system.
Ease of IT management: — Where a SME decides to maintain its own IT department their day-to-day tasks are simplified because all the hosted desktops can be managed from one central location. It makes it easier for an SME’s IT department to manage dozens of PCs very quickly.
Enterprise-class IT: — the hosted desktop is inevitably run on the finest hardware available, it has to be in order to meet the speed, capacity and reliability demanded by its users.
Few SMEs have the IT budgets that allow them to run enterprise-class servers, switches and SANs. The hosted desktop is akin to driving a Bentley for the running costs of a Mondeo.
Familiarity: — the hosted desktop experience is exactly the same as working on a desktop PC, so employees feel at home immediately. Minimal training is needed and the employee can customise the settings of the hosted desktop.
Indeed such is the familiarity factor that demonstrations of hosted desktops often lack the “wow factor” simply because they look and behave so normally and the user experience is completely natural!
Flexibility of infrastructure: — traditional IT is too inflexible for most small businesses.
Many of them face seasonal fluctuations in demand or in the early years their demand may simply be unpredictable and so their need for IT is equally uncertain or cyclical.
They want IT services available when they need it, not when they can afford it. Equally they do not want expensive IT kit sitting around idle when trading conditions have changed detrimentally.
Some of the monetary benefits that stem from the flexibility of a hosted infrastructure were touched upon under cost-effectiveness, but essentially the world of the hosted desktop is one paying for what you want to use when you want to use it.
We will look at flexibility of location later — see Location, location, location.
Green computing: — hosted desktops are more environmentally friendly than traditional infrastructures in several ways:
- Purpose-built thin clients consume much less power than traditional desktop PC’s. Interactive comparisons (including servers) can be made here: http://www.eu-energystar.org/en/en_008.shtml
- Although traditional PC’s are becoming more efficient each year, this is being offset by the average age of a business desktop PC being over four years old.
- Servers work best when running cool — most IT departments run air conditioning for just a few servers, whereas hosted desktop servers run in data centres where the energy usage for cooling is spread across thousands of servers. Hosted desktops allow small businesses to run without air conditioning at all.
- Many businesses leave their servers and air-con running when the business is closed — wasting money and energy for up to 16 hours a day. Data centres, however, incentivise through energy charges, server owners to minimise power usage at all times.
- Servers used by hosted desktop providers are the latest in design, including energy efficiency. As an example of the progress that this means; in 2009 LevelUp Networks introduced HP ProLiant servers and each new G6 server uses 40% less power than the previous G5 model, which introduced in 2006, and is up to 100% more energy-efficient in performing its tasks.
- In contrast, the high cost of servers means many small businesses are using servers that are highly energy inefficient due to their age. When did you last upgrade your server?
High-availability: — this essentially means that the hosted desktops and servers are going to be available when you want them.
No more down time; no more frustration when you want to access files on a server, but the server “has a problem” or the “network is down”. Hosted desktop systems have up-times of typical 99.99%
There are two ways this is achieved:
- a) By the use of high availability technology like VMware or Hyper-V together with high-availability server clusters.
- b) High availability is a compound benefit comprising reliable, enterprise class equipment being used in all parts of the network infrastructure and the equipment being housed in multiple, air-conditioned, highly secure, threat-resistant, UK data centres. For example, a UK-based, Tier 2 data centre will have to guaranteed availability of 99.741% as a minimum.
As part of the high availability benefit we need to look at the use of UK data centres in a hosted desktop solution: Premium hosted desktop providers in the UK use data centres situated in the UK or in other politically stable countries like the USA.
However, there are a number of data centres appearing in Third World countries where labour and power is cheaper than in the industrialised West but sociological and political conditions mean that they are not suitable for a solution that effectively puts all your data and IT infrastructure at the mercy of that country’s events. You may find cheap hosted desktop providers that compete only on price, using these overseas data centres in future.
A further benefit of UK centres hosting your virtual desktops is that they are subject to an independent tier grading system that allows you to rely on the data centre systems to deliver what they promise in both services and security.
More details on data centre classification can be found here:
Highly-resilient: — the hosted desktop model is highly-resilient compared to even the best traditional IT infrastructure.
This concept of high resilience may be unfamiliar to business owners and others working outside of IT. What it means for a business owner is that if anything should go wrong, there are multiple systems in place to take over the malfunctioning hardware or software’s functions to ensure no data loss or service downtime.
In practice, depending on the severity problem there may be no disruption of service at all e.g. a hard drive failure — the information is available instantly from RAID drives in the SAN, or one of a few seconds — for example, where a full hosting server goes down and the managing high-availability software redistributes the workload of the damaged server to redundant capacity in the server cluster that is on standby for just such an emergency. Those replacement server resources may be in a different data centre in another city.
It is this failover characteristic that is one of the real benefits of using a hosted desktop solution and it should not be underestimated, particularly when few UK SMEs have IT disaster recovery plans.
Consider the same scenario under a traditional IT set-up. Though it can cause difficulty when an employee, especially a key one, loses IT function for several hours if their PC goes wrong, what would happen if there were a total loss of IT services e.g. the servers went down?
Have you analysed the cost per hour of a total IT failure to your business?
IBM stated in 2002 that an estimated 40% of enterprises that experience a severe disaster will go out of business within five years. In the US in 2001 the Gartner Group estimated that an outage at a bank costs between US$ 60,000 and US$ 250,000 PER MINUTE.
But despite that view regarding the effects of IT disasters and outages, most SMEs simply cannot afford the expense of 100% redundant server and data storage capacity. Moreover, few SMEs have an IT department large enough to deal with a total server failure in a timely fashion.
In the event of a replacement server being required as part of a disaster recovery it could take days for the replacement to be purchased, and provisioned — that is assuming the small business has an in-house IT capacity. If the SME relies on emergency cover from a local firm as and when needed that could add several days to the solution as it assumes they would be capable of providing the technical specification for the replacement server.
Finally, the above response to the traditional IT failure assumes two things; firstly, that the SME has the money or can raise the finance to acquire a replacement server; and secondly, that the data on a lost server was backed up to a place of safety that survived whatever IT catastrophe that occurred in the first place!
In contrast to these serious difficulties, the hosted desktop provider would have solved the problem, (that the user probably wasn’t aware had occurred), at zero cost to him in IT engineering time or capital purchasing.
Some of the considerations mentioned here may be more properly considered under a disaster recovery plan — these are not a standard part of a hosted desktop model, though they can usually be added on at a reasonable cost because of the nature of the hosted desktop service already being provided. Nonetheless, the failover feature of the hosted desktop model also means that disaster recovery is infinitely less likely to be needed than under an in-house, traditional IT network used by the majority of UK SMEs today.
Security: — we look at security in more detail later.
Scalability: — Hosted desktops can be provisioned or decommissioned from your infrastructure very quickly. This is ideal where a company faces a strongly seasonal demand and, for example, wishes to take on extra telesales staff at Christmas.
Simplicity: — from the end user’s perspective the hosted desktop can be accessed via a standard Internet browser. End users can also use a small client app that can be set to automatically log on to your remote hosted desktop when you boot up the PC or thin client. In this latter case the hosted desktop becomes almost invisible to the user.
From the business owner’s perspective IT becomes simpler too as most UK hosted desktop providers include 24/7 remote IT support for their users. They will, of course, maintain the network too, so they will alleviate the SME of the need to apply software upgrades and security patches.
In many cases, small businesses will be able to remove the cost of a dedicated IT person from the payroll and larger businesses will be able to save on salaries too as they will need less-qualified IT staff and fewer of them to carry out the remaining IT functions of the business.
Location, location, location — versatility & utility and business survivability — work from anywhere: — whether you are using your desktop PC at work, your netbook on holiday, your laptop in a coffee shop, your Mac in your home office, or your smartphone on the move, your hosted desktop is waiting for you just as you left it.
This versatility makes a normal working life more pleasurable, but it also makes a crisis less hassle or in extreme cases may even mean that your business survives rather than goes under.
In the winter of 2009 and 2010 many businesses allowed staff to work from home on their hosted desktops rather than risking a dangerous journey to work through ice, snow and freezing temperatures on rural roads.
This is also a matter of more than just convenience for a company’s employees though. Employers in the UK owe a duty of care to their employees and may incur a liability where an employee has an accident on their way to work in conditions where the authorities advised making essential journeys only but they claim they felt pressured by their employers to turn up for work.
A more extreme case, where the hosted desktop model would have helped tens of thousands of people, occurred in April 2010 when the volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull closed the airspace of seventeen countries and suspended transatlantic flights. The knock-on effect lasted nearly three weeks with people stranded all over the world and amongst other considerations, unable to work. For a small company losing a key player for that length of time could have meant a major loss of income or serious delays to projects, contractual penalties, even lay-offs.
However, with a hosted desktop those key players would merely have had to find an internet connection to go back to work — a hotel bedroom, an internet café or a hot desk at local managed office space, for example. Anywhere with an internet connection will suffice for a virtual desktop.
The same versatility would also save the day where the SME itself was affected e.g. its premises are destroyed or rendered unusable by fire, flood, or theft of the IT equipment. As the hosted desktops and data are safe in the data centre, the whole workforce can be back in business, working on their own hosted desktops in minutes instead of weeks. Inconvenient but not catastrophic!
Improve your business: — Hosted desktops can improve small, regionally-located businesses by enhancing their ability to attract high-quality employees to the organisation from outside their natural recruitment catchment area.
The hosted desktop enables these new employees to work from their current location without having to uproot themselves or their families, and the SME gains an employee they could not have previously considered and does not face relocation expenses.
As we shall see later, the technological ease-of-use and reliability of a hosted desktop solution over current remote networking solutions (VPN) makes this even more of a workable solution for the SME.
Graphically-intensive apps: — Hosted desktops can be unsuitable for some graphically intensive applications such as 3D rendering. Though the next generation of virtual desktops is addressing this and as broadband speed and capacity increases this limitation will be overcome. From a practical point of view these types of applications are fundamental to a limited set of businesses and many in the creative industries choose to use Apple Macs for those types of apps anyway. (Those Macs could also still access a company’s hosted Windows desktop environment to access the company’s file servers or use Outlook or Access for example).
Internet connection: — the single point of failure of a hosted desktop system is that it requires internet connectivity. The user needs to connect to his desktop, which is stored in a data centre, via the internet. How to connect is very flexible — you can connect via broadband, 3G or any internet connection. You can connect to a hosted desktop via an iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone for example, using Wi-Fi with some hosted desktop providers.
You can access your hosted desktop from wherever you can connect to the internet — so you can work on trains, coffee shops, hotels, and hot-desking
In the UK most offices would be adequately covered by a standard broadband connection with one or more 3G wireless routers as emergency backup. Some ISPs are just beginning to offer such bundles.
- Where the hardware is up-to-date, desktop PCs can offer unrivaled speed for the end user.
- Desktop PCs are better equipped to run graphically intensive applications like 3D rendering — unlike hosted desktops.
- Inertia – because the current IT infrastructure exists, works and is in place, it takes a proactive IT department to oust it in favour of a hosted desktop system in spite of any advantage that the hosted desktop may seem to have.
Remote working: — In order for remote workers, home workers and multiple offices to work they need to connect to the business’ main servers. This is done by a VPN. The VPN method has inherent problems that make it unreliable and inefficient and often requires the constant attention of IT staff to maintain the tunnel i.e. the connectivity, between the business and its outlying offices, remote workers and sometimes customers.
Both systems use broadband to remotely connect. It is a characteristic of broadband internet connectivity that the upload speed is much lower than the downdown speed. A VPN requires lots of data to be downloaded, before it can by utilised by the user, then uploaded back to the server. This is slow and can involve a large volume of data traffic.
A hosted desktop will typically involve a much smaller encrypted upload of only around 96 kbps, as it only uploads keyboard entries and mouse movements. It does not have to download data for the end user to work on — the data is processed within the data centre, on the hosted desktop, and is never sent to the user’s physical desktop PC — the hosted desktop only sends screen updates to the end user’s machine. This is quicker, more reliable and more secure and involves much lower traffic costs.
IT staffing costs: — normally they require the cost of one or more onsite IT members of staff whose principal function is usually keeping the network going through IT support and application of patches and upgrades. However, few IT departments have either the time or role of enhancing the core product of the enterprise.
Resistance: — resistance to hosted desktops from existing IT and support staff that see their jobs as being outsourced. Traditional IT staff in an SME, who should be natural supporters of an enhanced, ground-breaking IT product, may become its biggest critic out of self-interest.
Inflexibility: — it is costly and time consuming to add extra computing resources to a traditional IT network, particularly a server. If the new item is wrongly specified it can result in too little extra computing power or over spending on redundant computing power or storage.
Risk: — the SME takes all the risk in a traditional set-up. It spends thousand of pounds on hardware and software and essentially hopes that they have got a multitude of purchasing decisions right in terms of compatibility, performance and utility of the software and hardware.
Frequently, specification and procurement decisions are made by in-house IT staff that, despite being competent at their job of maintaining an IT network, do not necessarily have the skillset to effectively determine the requirements of a new server for the company.
Costly IT errors are common-place because very often the decision makers have little practical knowledge or experience themselves and rely on advice from.
Contrast that with a hosted desktop system where the worst case scenario is that you adjust the contract and available resources, with as little as one month’s notice.
Even where the correct decisions are initially made the risk of hardware and software obsolescence falls firmly on the shoulders of the purchasing company rather than a third party, such as a hosted desktop provider.
IT maintenance: — an IT infrastructure is only as good as a business can afford.
Frequently after a small business has an IT system installed professionally they will then maintain it themselves to reduce costs. For small businesses this may the owner himself or the local computer shop, called in to fix things as they need repair!
Poorly maintained systems lead to downtime, hacking and wasted man hours that could be used on the business itself.
The maintenance of individual PCs is very time consuming for small businesses, unlike the more centralised processes of a hosted desktop solution.
Trailing edge technology: — As a traditional IT network ages it brings less benefits to the SME as it slows down, data storage fills up, it struggles with traffic generated by the increased number of users and changes to their daily level of activity (e.g. social network use is increasingly commonplace during a working day now).
If the SME has the money it can attempt to keep its network updated but bottlenecks will keep occurring. The demands on a hosted desktop provider means they are constantly utilising cutting-edge technology and equipment and have redundant capacity to massively increase resources on demand and avoid any bottlenecks on a network. By using a hosted desktop you break the traditional IT upgrade cycle.
Hidden costs: — unlike the clear monthly costs of a hosted desktop solution, many costs of a traditional structure are hidden or at least unclear, unpredictable and unquantifiable. Examples include the lifespan of hardware or the current version of critical software; repair and replacement costs and the on going costs of IT support staff e.g. salaries and training.
Security: — we look at security as a separate issue later but, physical and network security can be a major problem for small businesses, particularly if running Windows.
Leaving aside the vulnerabilities of a physical location to events such as theft and fire, the nature of a traditional IT infrastructure means laptops are always a weak point as they are forgotten and stolen with alarming frequency. A laptop that uses a hosted desktop carries no data on it to be stolen.
SMEs have trouble maintaining the security of Windows IT systems due to the large number of updates and machines and a relatively small number of IT staff. It can take days even weeks before vulnerabilities are stopped by application of an important patch to every machine.
Hosted desktop providers have to make security upgrades the top priority and there is a more centralised management function under a hosted desktop solution.
Non-resilient: — a traditional IT infrastructure is vulnerable in a disaster scenario. Fire, flood, vandalism at a company’s offices or theft of computer network can devastate a small business. It is complex and expensive to have a fool-proof backup and disaster recovery plan for an SME using a traditional network, unless they outsource it to a dedicated managed service provider.
However, even in these circumstances where the data is backed up and safe, how long will it take to specify, procure and finance, say, three servers and twenty desktop PCs? Then you have to provision them, update, patch, install application software and reinstall databases, Exchange data, etc.
A hosted desktop provider in these circumstances could despatch twenty thin clients, with the connection app pre-installed. The hosted desktop provider guarantees they’ll work out of the box with their system. Relatively little finance would be needed up front compared to the traditional solution.
By the time they were delivered the next day, the SME could simply log back onto their VDI solution.
Capital intensive: — as has been made clear throughout this white paper, the initial and on going capital expenditure requirements of a traditional desktop infrastructure is a problem for many small businesses. Unpredictability of IT expenditure can make budgeting difficult and in the case of urgent needed financing, has to be under-taken at short notice. Moreover, the accounting treatment of capital expenditure is usually less favourable than that of rental payments treated as expenses.
Energy intensive: — traditional desktop PCs use as much as three times the power of a hosted desktop thin client. Servers are power hungry too, especially where they are properly housed in an air-conditioned server room.
User access: — traditional desktops limit a user to one machine. Clearly they may be able to access the server from a laptop, or work from home on the family computer using a VPN, or other remote control technology. But what about files, notes, emails, web page bookmarks that are made during the course of that work? They usually exist on the computer you were working on at the time, which means people have to be highly disciplined and transfer those documents and files from one computer to another to make them available at all times.
In contrast, a hosted desktop user may use three physically-different computers in three or more locations i.e. at work, at home and a laptop (or even a PDA) but, the user is always using the same desktop on each occasion with full access to their documents, notes, apps and bookmarks, giving them a full “in office” experience.
Having completed our comparison of the positives and negatives of the two types of desktop we are going to take a closer look at the issue of security surrounding the two desktop models.
One of the big questions raised about cloud computing when it first appeared was about security in the cloud. How do I know where in the cloud my data is stored?
The truth is that with most of the cloud-computing companies, your data (and desktops) may well be stored in the cloud — but it is very likely to be a small private cloud. The pioneering hosted desktop companies in the UK own their own server clusters, SANs and switches and store them in top quality data centres, so they know very clearly where your data is physically stored on the internet.
Nevertheless, many businesses are saying they feel their data is safer under a traditional IT system based at their place of business than in the cloud.
Is your data really safe with you? (This includes printed documents e.g. conveyances, wills, contracts, accounting records, medical records, etc., which could be scanned and stored digitally in a data centre file server).
|Do your business premises have a working burglar alarm?|
|Did you change the code after your last employee left?|
|Is it directly linked to the Police?|
|Do you know who holds a key to your office?|
|Do you have a working fire alarm?|
|Is it directly connected to the Fire Brigade?|
|Do you have a gas fire-suppression system in place?|
|Do you have visitor verification by onsite personnel?|
|Is your server room air-conditioned?|
|Are only authorised personnel allowed in the server room?|
|Does your server room have swipe card access? Is it lockable?|
|Do you have a UPS in the event of a power failure?|
|Do you have diesel generator power backup?|
|Are your data servers stored in a lockable cab?|
|Is the front of the cab locked?|
|Is the back of your cab locked?|
|Is your data residing on a SAN with failover disks?|
|Is your SAN replicated?|
With a hosted solution, the answers to all of the above are generally ‘Yes’.
As you can see, data centres offer a physical environment resistant to offline threats that is more secure than that almost any SME could afford to create.
That means your data is more secure in the data centre than in your office where it is subject to threats of fire, flood, theft, water-damage, vandalism, or the predations of disgruntled employees.
If you think the risk is real enough to insure against, shouldn’t you also consider taking active precautions to prevent them actually happening?
Online threats from hackers and the like also play on the minds of business owners and it is accepted by IT professionals that no system is 100% secure.
However, the majority of SMEs in the UK would probably be better off relying on the firewall, anti-hacker, server upgrading and patching processes and practices implemented by a hosted desktop provider’s team of highly qualified IT professionals than those provided by their own in-house IT team.
Can you say, categorically, that your firewall and server software vulnerability patches are definitely up to date today, and that will remain so?
The future is clearly with the hosted desktop solution. It’s only weaknesses are already being addressed, especially internet connectivity which is becoming more widely available in the UK and at faster speeds and lower costs as each month passes.
The positives of the hosted desktop model — it brings cost-effective, affordable, easily budgeted, green, secure, scalable, 24/7 remotely supported, reliable, high-availability, highly-resilient enterprise-class IT to businesses of all sizes — its future is clearly assured.
The traditional desktop will live on in areas of the UK (and the world) where broadband connectivity remains problematic due to climate, physical geography or other factors. But, there is little to commend it in the face of the hosted desktop assault. The traditional desktop is highly capitalised, highly managed, inflexible, non-resilient, difficult to support in small companies and energy-hungry in a world of rising fuel prices.
The only question is when will you bite the bullet and move across to the hosted desktop model — before or after your competitors?
Failover: the ability of a system to automatically switch over to a redundant or standby system in the event of a failure of some part of a computer, server or network infrastructure. Clustering technology is often used together with high-availability software such as VMware or hyperV to ensure minimum disruption to end-users.
Fat Client: This is the normal PC or laptop that a consumer or business user could buy in a high street store. It has enough computing power, RAM and hard drive space to run its own Windows or Mac desktop environment. A fat client can act as a thin client and run a remotely hosted Windows desktop
SME: abbreviation for small or medium-sized enterprise (under 250 employees). There were an estimated 4.5 million UK businesses at the start of 2006. 99% of these were small businesses (under 50 employees) and they provided 47% of the UK private sector employment and 37% of turnover. There are only around 6,000 firms that have 250+ employees.
Thin Client: a desktop PC with just the minimum requirements needed to connect to the remotely hosted desktop. Primary benefits are that they are cheap to buy and are green, with very low power consumption. Thus saving money on both the capital and P&L accounts. During the transition period from traditional to hosted desktops, existing desktop PCs can be used as thin clients to connect remotely to a hosted desktop. This use of existing PCs saves money on the capital budget but loses out on power savings.