Have Laptop, Won't Travel
CHICAGO -- Surprise, surprise: Mobility, it turns out, requires actual
mobility. That means that employees on the go need secure access to applications from anywhere, without
having to lug around a heavy laptop. (It also means their companies need to be free of the expense of supporting those laptops.) This realization is giving rise to "portable personality solutions," according to Leslie Fiering, Gartner research vice president, who discussed the subject at the Gartner Wireless & Mobile Summit 2008 here this week.
In Fiering's formulation, "portable personality solutions" call for a user's applications, profiles, and pertinent data to be constructed in a form that can be downloaded to smaller devices -- such as a so-called "flash" drive, small portable hard drive, or even an iPod -- that are much less expensive and are easier to carry to remote locations. "People want solutions that don't tie them down to a particular device," Fiering told the audience.
The desktop virtualization market is maturing quickly, Fiering added. Workers are finding laptops too cumbersome to carry; yet they still need the ability to access back-end systems, data, and applications in order to work efficiently in remote locations. Companies such as VMware, Citrix, and RingCube are currently providing limited solutions and other firms, including Microsoft, see potential profit opportunities.
With even keychain-size flash drives storing 16 gigabytes (GB) for the price of a few rewritable CD-ROMs, and portable hard drives holding 250 GB for as little as $140, there are plenty of devices to choose from. In making the decision, a firm should consider how the device will be used. If the employee needs to access only data, then a flash drive might be enough. If the user needs to access full personal settings and have several applications at her fingertips, she might need an 80 GB iPod or portable hard drive. Whether the user can find a readily available PC with a USB connection is another consideration. If the user needs to be able to work with applications while not connected, a storage device with more capacity is warranted.
Despite the enthusiasm for portable personality solutions, Fiering told the audience, before they can expand beyond controlled environments, many concerns must be resolved: the security of the storage devices themselves and of the data residing on them; security of the PCs used for access; application-licensing considerations; and others. Yet even the limited uses to date show great promise due to the reduced cost and ease of carrying the smaller storage devices. "Portable personality solutions certainly result in a great reduction in costs," Fiering declared, adding that, in a few years, "they could become central to what you're doing."
Take, for example, Toronto-based Octagon Capital -- the full-service investment firm had previously provided its brokers with fully equipped desktop PCs and laptops loaded with full software. Unfortunately, not only were the laptops very expensive ($3,400 CDN each), but support for them cost 1.4 times as much as support for a comparable PC.
The company's technology department learned that when using the laptops, the brokers were usually in locations -- at home or visiting a client site -- where a PC was readily available. So the company purchased for brokers MobiKEY, a USB-based device with only the minimum software needed to establish a secure remote session to the broker's base machine back at headquarters. By not having to purchase an additional laptop for every single broker, Octagon reduced capital expenditures on computer equipment by 45 percent. The USB devices themselves were one-fifth the cost of the laptops.
There are other success stories as well, but almost all have been in controlled environments. Fiering recommends that firms only add portable personality solutions on a limited basis for the next few years, because of the major limitations surrounding security, compliance, licensing, application compatibility, and information protection.
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