What is End-User computing?
End User Computing (EUC) encompasses user access to enterprise applications and data anywhere, anytime, using one or more devices to access virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) located either at the enterprise’s premises or in the public cloud. EUC provides support for a broad range of client devices including traditional PC, tablet, smartphone, or thin-client terminal device. EUC devices can either be provided by the enterprise or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) owned by employees or other users.
Typically, EUC requires enterprise infrastructure to run the applications and manage the virtual desktop ‘sessions’ created when a user logs into the system. That back-end infrastructure includes servers, high performance storage such as flash to contain the desktop session images, and sufficient storage and networking infrastructure to handle the number of total and concurrent sessions expected to operate.
With 75 million Americans currently working from home, some IT industry analysts believe the EUC and VDI are increasingly important to enterprise IT, and some believe today’s desktops will cease to exist as we know them, replaced by thin client devices entirely.
There is no doubt that EUC adds tremendous value during the current pandemic, when many employees have no physical access to their previous work computer installations. Knowledge workers have become highly mobile over the past decade, sales professionals have always relied on some form of remote access to enterprise systems, but now employees in every area from CAD/CAM designers to developers to line of business users are finding the need to access enterprise resources from home or other remote location. To serve this need, IT relies on EUC and VDI to deliver on-premises like performance required for the user experience to be satisfactory, regardless of which device they are utilizing at the moment.
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Why is end-user computing necessary?
There are both technological and societal factors that are driving the need for EUC in the enterprise. Here are five major drivers cited by Forbes:
1. Mobility: The new normalEven before Covid-19 forced many from their place of work, it had become more common for knowledge workers to work from a remote location – especially their home, and from multiple devices. This not only put pressure on IT to support company-owned laptops and smartphones from remote locations, it also made endpoint management considerably more complex, as remote users added BYOD devices including tablets into the mix.
2. OS Migration woesMany organizations have struggled with the Windows 7 – Windows 10 migration, whether due to hardware incompatibilities, users who resist change, or budgetary issues. Now, even Windows 10 users are experiencing OS updates that can take hours to complete and stymie users as to what is happening to their machines. Since the OS migration will never end, eliminating the need to push upgrades altogether is a powerful reason to adopt EUC and VDI. Since the only OS that really matters is on the application server, users can utilize laptops or devices with back level OSs installed with few issues. Only patches that repair security holes that could impact the enterprise need be addressed, so users need not fear multiple OS updates every year that could impact the way they use their devices for non-work tasks as well as enterprise applications.
3. Application software refresh costsApplication software licenses are complex to track and often grow more expensive with each passing iteration. Eliminating client software license upgrades can save the enterprise money, however the major benefit is not having to ensure that the client hardware used for EUC access has the capabilities to execute the application code with the performance needed to keep users happy. By relegating application code to the application services in the VDI environment, licenses can be better controlled, and execution environment better understood, since it is all in the data center.
4. Endpoint SecurityThere is no better target than a mobile endpoint. It can pass hands between multiple users, is easily lost or stolen, and is beyond the reach of corporate networks and policies. However, to keep those threats away from the data center, all EUC devices should have security embedded into the OS, be inoculated against viruses, and provide support for multifactor security features such as biometrics or requiring a text be sent to a trusted number before the device is authenticated.
5. EUC Management ConsiderationsBefore EUC, each new endpoint added to IT management headaches. But as the number of EUC users and the number of devices they employ both increase, IT must rethink end user support and EUC provides a good model for reducing the IT management burden.
Enterprises can outsource EUC management with desktop as a service (DaaS) and cloud workspaces to further alleviate their management burden, as Forbes demonstrated with Johnson & Johnson, who are planning to deliver 25,000 Amazon workspaces for consultants and employees to use globally.
What are the benefits of End-User computing?
There are many benefits to end user computing including bottom-line savings, efficiency gains, and mobility enhancements.
From a security perspective, EUC has several benefits. First, sensitive data never resides on the end-user device; it is always accessed from the application server. Even if a device is lost or stolen, access to corporate information is limited, assuming that proper device access controls are in place and network application credentials aren’t on a sticky note on the back of a smartphone. In this manner, devices need not be considered as part of a backup or disaster recovery plan, since no business-critical applications or data reside on the device itself.
From a mobility perspective, EUC frees employees and users to bring their own devices (BYOD). With the exception of engineering workstation terminals, employee owned devices are typically more than adequate to access enterprise applications and provide a satisfying end user experience.
This solves a few problems for the business. First, for the most part the providing and provisioning client devices becomes a user problem, not an enterprise IT problem. In fact employees prefer to choose their own devices, especially when it comes to smartphones.
The same goes for device support; what was once an IT problem now falls on the shoulders of the retailer or carrier who sold the device to the end user. IT involvement is for the most part limited to dealing with logging into remote desktop sessions and application performance or functionality issues.
Finally, overall management burden is reduced when all functions from application installation to user provisioning to OS upgrades happen in a single place. IT can focus on the business of creating revenue-positive applications rather than pushing OS updates to a fleet of Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android phones, tablets, and laptops.
How do you manage end-user computing?
Although organizations adopting EUC typically have a geographically dispersed workforce, managing an EUC environment does offer some advantages over traditional IT. Most notably, since applications and the virtual desktops that represent user sessions all reside at the enterprise or its cloud partners, the need to push application or OS upgrades to each individual user has been greatly minimized.
However, EUC/VDI requires some significant assessments and operational changes from design to deployment. Here are key considerations for managing an EUC environment.
1. Centralize application deployment
There are a great number of applications running in a typical business. All application code should reside on application servers either in the data center or in the cloud, so they can be served up to user sessions on devices anywhere, anytime. This also enables better monitoring and management of the performance and availability of specific applications enterprise-wide.
2. Prepare for changing job roles
Just as adopting EUC/VDI impacts where applications reside, it also will impact the roles and responsibilities within IT that support those applications and their availability.
The enterprise will need to architect which applications need be migrated when, by identifying application use patterns and the interrelationships between applications and user groups. Users can be grouped by the applications they use, data they access, or department they belong to – or a combination of these factors.
IT and executive management must determine whether to build or buy new IT infrastructure to support the EUC environment. Once the decision is made, engineering must acquire and configure the environment, work with cloud providers to project requirements and growth, or develop a hybrid IT strategy that encompasses both on-premises and cloud components.
Once infrastructure is established, applications must be packaged either into VMs or containers and thorough testing performed to gauge performance and scalability. Finally support organizations and processes must be crafted to capture trouble ticket information and perform root cause analysis.
3. Know thy users
Take the opportunity to assess application usage and determine how important each application is to the constituent user population. For many users the transition to EUC environments can be challenging as end users learn how applications perform on different EUC platforms.
Utilize this transition as an opportunity to replace aging, legacy applications with modern applications more closely matched to the way business units operate. Most importantly, ensure every user is offered a level of training consummate with their applications and experience, to help ensure a rapid uptake of EUC solutions. Otherwise, employees may seek work-arounds such as non-sanctioned personal applications that can present security holes and create more work than they save.
4. Shake out the bugs first
As with any major initiative, testing is critical to success. Test metrics should focus on application performance, the overall end user experience, server and storage utilization, and security impacts.
Rolling out a test with a small group of test users will also enable IT teams to determine what tweaks to the configuration might be necessary to optimize performance and utilization of EUC infrastructure, and determine what education may be necessary for both IT and user communities to ensure users are satisfied with their EUC experience.
Finally, once data is collected and tuning information applied, broader rollout can begin.
5. Prepare for all-EUC ahead
The end of the pandemic will not mean the end of EUC. Many organizations are evaluating the benefits of EUC and determining that it may be the default computing model in the near future. Since important assets, data, and applications all reside in the enterprise, EUC is inherently more secure, and the ability to use any device, anywhere is a boon to productivity and user satisfaction.
Organizations should expect to think of EUC as a platform for the long haul, upon which to base new applications and resource allocation, while improving overall IT agility.
What are the challenges of End-User computing?
For all the benefits of adopting EUC, there are risks to watch for. First, since every user requires connectivity to the data center, any loss of availability of either the data center itself (whether on-premises or cloud-based) or the connectivity to the data center will result in downtime for a considerable number of users.
From a user experience perspective, rapid growth in the number of concurrent users can lead to a poor experience as the number users scales upwards, unless there is adequate room in the infrastructure or at the cloud provider to support such growth. Increases in latency or sluggishness can rapidly lead to user frustration and the desire to seek work-arounds for the enterprise application at hand.
Complexity always leads to more risk, and so as EUC applications themselves become more intricate the opportunity for problems in performance, security, or availability will grow, for instance to ensure data entered and created on EUC devices has not been compromised in any way.
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