The term user-installed applications (UIA) is essentially a convenient title for a requirement. However, like most requirements it cannot be defined in 3 words. Unfortunately, because there isn’t any standard definition as to what UIA actually means, a lot of unqualified conclusions are being drawn and subsequently there is a lot of debate as to how it can be solved without a real understanding of what the requirement actually is. When I say the word ‘unqualified’, I mean that IT administrators that would essentially have this requirement may not have yet thought about it in any great depth. Why should they? Isn’t there enough to worry about with an upcoming migration from XP to Win7, and a desktop strategy that will invariably include some form of physical PC to desktop virtualization migration…. and what about offline… oh yes, client hosted virtualization, but where is the technology.. and so on. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of assumptions, expectations and risk to manage, a lot of TCO to prove. Ergo, UIA may not seem like the most obvious pain point in your desktop strategy, but as some recent articles have pointed out including a recent one I wrote on desktop strategy risk, this will be a requirement that needs a solution.
Brian Madden has written a couple of articles on this recently. One describing a 2 VM solution to the requirement, which was quickly followed by Gabe Knuth describing a more elegant merged 2 VM approach with a vendor solution, and another article extolling the reason why admins cannot afford to ignore UIA. It has been widely agreed that the 2 VM solutions are a workaround at best and would introduce many overheads. The cost probably wouldn’t be worth the benefit and the solution is limited anyway. The main problem is that there was huge assumption as to what the user-installed applications requirement is.
User Installed Applications are not leisure applications that will distract from corporate life. They are personal productivity applications that will enable the user to accept their desktop solution without any loss in productivity. So what exactly are personal productivity applications? They can be any application or plug-in that is not part of the corporate build, not delivered by IT, but is essential for the user to be efficient in their everyday work. But if they were essential, then surely there would be a business case associated that would enable IT to justify delivering it? Maybe but maybe not. It depends on the circumstance. Here are a few scenarios where user provisioning of applications needs to occur, and this is by no means an exhaustive list;
- A user requires an office plug-in. They are not aware of any other user requiring that plug-in, but they certainly need it. IT would find it hard to justify packaging up a whole new office app to cater for that single plug-in for that single user (that they know of). Gartner predicts that organizations typically require 25-40 users demanding an app before it even gets to the *back* of the list of apps to be packaged. Each app could take in the region of 5-20 days to package and deliver, considering discovery, packaging, sequencing, testing, deploying.. obviously dependent on the complexity of the app. This puts that user at the back of a long queue they are unlikely ever to get the front of. This user is not alone.
- A mobile consultant is at a remote customer location and is required by that organization to install and start using their chosen collaboration software immediately on their notebook. IT would no doubt have the business case, but let’s consider that this needs to happen immediately. The consultant has to install and use tools on demand. They cannot wait for IT to deliver it.
- A digital native i.e. anyone typically under the age of 30 who has grown up with technology and uses it as though it is an extra limb who joins an organization and will offer a huge amount of productivity and benefit to that organization if they are allowed to use technology in a way that is natural to them. The apps that this user may use may seem suspect to a digital immigrant i.e. anyone over 30 who had to learn technology and has conformed to a standard set of corporate delivered apps. But rest assured, digital natives will be hugely productive if they are allowed to personalize their working environment with their productivity applications. IT simply would not be able to keep up with their demands. And let’s face it, digital natives will only ever increase in percentage in your organization. If you can’t cater for them then you will be in real trouble.
OK, that may set the scene. Personal Productivity Applications could be anything, whether a standalone app or a plug-in or perhaps even a cloud app. They need to interact directly with the corporate desktop and cannot be isolated in anyway. They need to be available on any device, online or offline, over any desktop delivery mechanism, physical or virtual. This means that application compatability, interoperability, persistence, availability and on-demand are the key attributes required. But this is all in the users favour. Is IT supposed to just rollover and let their datacentre deteriorate as users install what they like after all the hard work they have put into making it efficient with their desktop virtualization strategy? Reading some articles, such as that by Daniel Feller, then that definitely seems the concern. What about security, introduction of malware, distracting applications such as games etc?
This is where the solution needs to include policy management. Something that will allow IT to decide who gets the ability to install apps, which apps they can or can’t install, whether apps should be quarantined, whether apps should be pre-authorized. IT should be able to instantly remove apps or stop processes and list individual users apps or list the users that have installed the same app. IT should be able to enable multiple users to access an app that another user installed. This is all about entitlement. This is where user-installed applications become managed user-applications. IT have all the control and can maintain their datacentre. Users have the flexibility to do their jobs in a virtualized desktop without the need for local administrator privileges. Everyone benefits. The desktop strategy meets its TCO targets, the user accepts the solution, the risk is managed by fine-grained policy control and user rights management.
AppSense User Environment Management technology is delivering this nirvana. There is more to come. Much more. This solution to the user-installed applications requirement is nearly here.