Lose your laptop and not worry about data on it !

Rangers lost to Boston Bruins on Saturday night.  I just can't stop wishing for '94 all over again...

As I travel around the world I am constantly asked by customers about our strategy for VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). While the VDI market itself is relatively young (albeit growing very rapidly as various technologies are establishing an edge for themselves in different aspects of VDI), a key element of the entire picture is not just data locality (which is largely a function of ever-expanding bandwidth) but the means to service access itself.  That is to say that the user of the desktop is now being more and more challenged to essentially be decoupled from the actual personal computing device and, instead, be associated with the application execution environment - ala "The Desktop".  Assumptions of data security/integrity and device access being postulates, the ever-growing need for workers to be mobile - mixed with the notion that "thin is in" to reduce cost by driving lower power consumption and reduce software operation/licensing costs - has many financial institutions investigating various alternatives. This trend is more noticeable now, as many of these companies are struggling to deal with the global economic downturn that has left many of the weaker financial players either on the sidelines or, in a better case, - acquired by stronger financial entities. This is happening now, at a time when security, operational and compliance demands are at extremely high levels. Mergers and acquisitions are a natural outcome in times like these and as financial services firms merge - newly acquired employees will need to access back-office applications from current office locations in order to maintain employee productivity across all parts of the organisation. The need to onboard newly acquired employees securely and efficiently, to provide them access to back-office applications reliably and productively, without having to undergo a costly cross organizational network integration, has never been a higher priority for the financial services market segment. 

Now, if you've been around the industry for a few years, you've probably heard a thing or two about Sun's contributions to this space - how Sun's motto that "The Network Is The Computer" actually gets translated to something meaningful for "The Desktop". Sun's innovations in this space go way back at least 10 years ago - when the research and development work of Sun Lab's engineers had culminated in a first product release of the Sun Ray unit (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Ray for a quick history tidbit).  One of the crucial elements of this products design is the Appliance Link Protocol (ALP) - that is responsible for the best in-class user experience - particularly demonstrateable across wide area networks (where the user's physical location is quite a distance away from where the user's desktop might be) - and the levels of patience are directly proportional to network latencies of the day.

The Sun Ray device is ultra-thin (it doesn't have an operating system and is completely stateless) - its operating as a display engine for all of the data processing that happens in the data centre. The actual bits that get sent from the data centre to the device are compressable and yield a very amenable and competitive user experience especially in  high network latency environments.  Having a Sun Ray device on your office desktop or at home does not solve today's mobility dilemma. While it is true that Sun - as well as a growing list of other companies are - is offering some of their employees a "Sun Ray at Home" program, the moment you have to travel on a train, on a plain, on a bus - is when you wish you had your "desktop" with you.  And while iPhone can deliver email and let you look at you calendar, .pdf's and spreadsheets, its just not your "desktop". So - what do you do? 

Most of us have a laptop - and while we are asked not to keep company sensitive data on our laptops - how many of us outthere really heed such advice ? How, then, do we access our applications and associated data that is managed centrally for us? We run a local OS and access that data remotely. Now what would happen if the laptop got lost or stolen? Simple - the data that we had on the laptop's hard disk is now in the hands of someone who will likely go prowling through it. Is that what we want? Ummm, no.

So, what do we do? "Elementary my dear Watson" - we move to offer an access layer on the laptop that connects you to the backend.  Then, with a broadband card available for $0 with a 2-year contract from Cingular (for example),  you access your data.  This isn't news - Citrix have done this sort of thing already.  There's a price tag associated with that, of course - and depending on where you're coming from and what you're happy to settle for this may be exactly what you're after.  But if you have a Sun Ray environment deployed what would really be interesting is to run a piece of software that gives you EXACTLY the same look and feel as if you were connecting from a Sun Ray device.  To give you that enhanced level of crossover, mobility and device indepdendence. The ability to maximize the ROI of the existing PC laptop/desktop gear that you'd invested in and have plenty of - and as you look to evaluate where Sun Ray can be deployed in your organisation, your users realise that all of a sudden they can connect and RESUME  their  session at a point EXACTLY where they'd left it the day prior - when they'd left the office for that important client meeting just hours prior.

Oh, and when they're back at the office - just have them insert the personalized secure smart card into the Sun Ray, authenticate, and resume the session EXACTLY where it'd been left off while accessing it on the laptop with a 3G modem in the airport! The increased productivity and cost savings presented by an opportunity to decrease desktop management challenges (and associated licensing costs) is only the beginning.

Sound cool? You bet it FEELS cool, too!

(Oh, maaan, I didn't even mention ZFS and solid-state disks in this context!)


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Isaac Rozenfeld has been a Principal Product Manager for Oracle Solaris; responsibilities have included bettering the portfolio of networking and installation technologies - all with a focus on easing application deployments

You can follow Isaac on Twitter @izfromsun


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