A growing trend in technology firms is Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC or BYOPC). Of course organizations such as Microsoft, Google, Citrix and Cisco are embracing this -- which is to be expected. However, as workforces become increasingly mobile, and virtualization methodologies are further adapted in enterprises, BYOC will inevitably grow.
In the simplest terms, Virtualization is about decoupling. In server virtualization (vSphere, XenServer, HyperV), we decouple the server OS from the server hardware. With application virtualization (XenApp, AppV), we decouple software programs from the OS. With SAN and NAS storage, we long ago decoupled data storage from operating machines. With the advent of client hypervisors, we will being doing the same with PCs. All of these pieces are decoupled to create a more robust and flexible infrastructure. It is only logical, then, to decouple the enterprise organization from the desktop machine itself.
How it Works: Although the exact details will vary for each organization, the policy should detail minimum requirements (supported Operating Systems, anti-virus, support, etc) in exchange for a set IT budget or allowance. Beyond the basic standards, the employees are then free to buy or upgrade a system of their choosing. Citrix's BYOC pilot program provides for a $2,100 stipend every 3 years with certain constraints. A link to their case study is provided at the end of this article.
- Employee Empowerment - Allowing users to select their own systems gives a sense of ownership. This aids in usability, support, and overall happiness. I know many IT employees who have better units at home than at the office and are sometimes frustrated by this. I've been in more than one environment where employees use their own equipment in addition, and sometimes in lieu of, corporate machines. This can support more than just power users, too. Apple enthusiasts can bring their MacBook Pro, Linux guys can get their Ubuntu on, even casual users can splurge on a new laptop bundle from Dell or HP. This allowance can also serve as an enticement for recruiting and retention.
- Reduced Costs - By giving users their OWN systems, the users are more likely to understand and support their own equipment. With OEM provided service and warranties, it also effectively out sources desktop support. This allows the organization to focus on items such as infrastructure and security, less on daily break/fix and maintenance.
- Flexibility - Users now have maximum flexibility for both professional and personal computing since they are one and the same. Being able to support BYOC also means being able to support a mobile workforce, so if someone is sick, they may be able to work effectively from home, thus maintaining company productivity.
Why Support BYOC
Along with the benefits previously listed, BYOC may be necessary to support the following scenarios:
- Mobile Workforce - due to the nature of a global economy and the current economic slowdowns, companies have benefited from a mobile workforce. This can reduce travel, relocation, and office expenses. It can also provide flexibility for the road warriors who are in the field or on client sites. Embracing this mobility creates an agile workforce.
- Re-purpose old equipment - a common cost savings point for VDI in general is the ability to re-use or re-purpose aging and obsolete hardware. Maybe that old P3 with 1gb RAM won't run Windows 7 effectively. However, as long as it can run the necessary client-side tools, you can connect to a virtual image and upgrade without changing the client hardware.
- Thin Client computing - other environments are ideal for thin client systems. Education, health care, manufacturing, to name a few industries, have already adopted thin clients as a way to reduce costs and standardize computing. These are commonly used for task workstations.
How to Do It
There are multiple ways to provide that flexible, agile, decoupled delivery as part of a BYOC adoption. Here are the most common ways, no one method is necessarily better than another. It greatly depends on each environment, and most environments will provided multiple options.
- Application Hosting - this is your basic Citrix XenApp (Presentation Server) or Terminal Services hosted application. The Applications run on central servers in a multi-user environment. This provides the greatest user-density and centralized administration but requires real-time connectivity.
- Application Streaming - common with XenApp, AppV, and a myriad of other providers; application streaming allows deployment of applications from centralized reposity. Depending on the methods used, this may be available both online (connected) and offline (disconnected). This decentralized the operations but maintains a central point of administration.
- Remote Desktop Services - is your classic Citrix or Terminal Services desktop. Instead of providing individual applications, an connection is made to the server desktop. From that central point, all availale applications can be accessed. This is generally used in a multi-user environment.
- Virtual Desktop - similar to Remote Desktops, except Virtual Desktops are typically used on a one user per machine basis and is a common way to deploy Windows 7 or other PC-based operating systems from a common image. Applications can be locally installed or streamed to the desktop image.
- Client-side Hypervisor - is a Type 1 or bare-metal hypervisor (such as VMware ESX or XenServer), but running on the client PC instead of a server. The advantage is to not only run multiple operating system, or even to have a personal and a work persona. The biggest advantage, in my mind, is to have a standard corporate image(s) which can be deployed and run locally.
Obviously, there are drawbacks, or everyone would have adopted this a long time ago! Some of the issues to address are:
- Supporting Home Systems - once you allow users to buy/use their own systems, you are on the hook to support them. It will not matter if they have a 3 year, 24x7 4 Hour support contract, they will still expect YOU to solve their problems. Of course, instead of one manufacture/model/OS to support, you now are faced with hundreds. Policy may dictate they contact the OEM, but most likely, you will get called first. On top of that, what happens when they can't work at home... it become IT Support's problem.
- Cost of Infrastructure - this is biggest hurdle most companies will face. A solid BYOC program requires that you can support and enforce whatever standards (such as anti-virus) have been put in place as well as being able to maintain the delivery architecture (secure remote access, application delivery, etc).
- Security - the biggest risk is security. Not only anti-virus, but information security. Making sure that sensitive information and corporate secrets say secure. Granted, this is a concern for a normal network infrastructure, but even more so when you hand local system control to the end users. Nothing is 100% secure, but you better make sure your policies are clear and enforced.
Related Notes and Articles
- Citrix BYOC Case Study
- Rick Rohne's Article on Client-Side Hypervisors
- My CEO Life Article: Bring Your Own Computer to Work
- IT World Canada Article: Enterprise bring-your-own laptop programs cut costs, risks