My colleagues and I have spent the last four years studying the links between technology, human performance at work, customer experience, and the financial performance of companies. One fascinating insight we’ve learned is that what separates the highest performing people in their work from others is their ability to reliably focus their attention, bringing more of their cognitive resources to bear on their work each day than their colleagues do. It’s not easy in our distraction-rich, techno-charged world.
There’s plenty of research that proves that happy employees are more productive, but Drs. Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer made an important discovery in 2010 that turns conventional wisdom about where happiness at work comes from, upside down. The most powerful source of happiness at work isn’t money, free food or recognition, but rather getting things done; making progress every day toward work that we know is important. The more conducive our work environment is to staying focused, and the better we are at suppressing the sources of distraction within ourselves to get our most important work done, the happier we will be at work. And, the effect is even stronger for work that requires creativity and problem solving skills.
Unfortunately in our workforce technology research, technology distraction isn't on the list of things leaders are concerned about. It should be, because the most pernicious sources of distraction employees face are the ones that lie beyond their control - the distractions that originate from the technologies their employers require them to use, when there are no alternatives.
With server-hosted virtual desktops (VDI), you take something that used to be a few centimeters from someone's fingertips - their Windows desktop - and move it sometimes thousands of miles away, and you expect them to be okay with that. It’s possible, but choose your technology vendor wisely, because the project’s success will hinge on the end user experience.
It’s not easy to give users an equal or better Windows desktop experience with VDI than they have with their local PC. If they rely on videoconferencing to collaborate with their colleagues, the VDI system has to work with their local webcam and it has to handle the video stream properly so they don’t get choppy voice and video. If they use a tablet, your VDI vendor’s tablet client has to be good, with intuitive touch gestures. There may need to be a way for them to install software, and they may need to use the system over a 4G/LTE network link while traveling.
To do all of these things and more across a wide range of work styles, devices, applications and networks requires sophisticated, expensive capabilities. If you choose your vendor primarily on cost, the solution you get may not have what you need to deliver an acceptable user experience - especially if your business needs change.
Bill Gates said "People everywhere love Windows.” Whether or not you agree, the fact that Microsoft Windows remains the de facto standard for business productivity after nearly 3 decades, suggests that many still do. But as the sales figures of Microsoft’s competitors suggest, people everywhere love lots of other things too. And one of the reasons they love them so much is that they like to get things done, and sometimes that means getting away from the office to a quiet place, or using a technology that isn’t constrained by corporate policies and controls, so they can be freer to experiment, grow their skills and develop their ideas uninhibited.
Technology managers I speak with are aware of this, but they’re justifiably paranoid about security, costs, and complexity. So the result of these conflicting forces coming together is inspiring rapid innovation in a mosaic of technologies that Forrester collectively calls digital workspace delivery systems. It involves many vendors, including Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Dell, nComputing, Amazon Web Services, Fujitsu, AppSense, Moka5, and more. The goal of our work is to help companies develop their capabilities for delivering satisfying Microsoft Windows desktop and application experiences to a wide range of users, devices, and locations.
When I was maybe 2 years old, my mother lost track of me in a Toys-R-Us store. After a dozen stressful minutes, she finally found me - holding a Fisher-Price airplane. And so began my love affair with airplanes and aviation. So as I looked through the break-out schedule while attending NVIDIA’s GPU conference two weeks ago in San Jose, California, Gulfstream Aero’s session on transforming manufacturing and field service with desktop virtualization caught my eye. It didn’t disappoint.
There are 2 reasons why I liked this session so much and why I think it’s worth sharing with you:
It’s a nice example of technology that makes the work easier for employees, and helps them improve the customer experience directly.
It’s also an example of how a technology that’s not necessarily a money saver (in this case, VDI) shines when it enables workers do something that would be difficult or impossible any other way.
This morning Citrix announced the acquisition application mobilization vendor Framehawk for an undisclosed sum as the battle for high performance for corporate Windows apps on mobile devices rages on. Here’s my take:
It's a good acquisition for Citrix and in turn for I&O pros for 3 reasons:
Some of Framehawk's technology will be additive to Citrix's enterprise portfolio. Specifically, Framehawk's framebuffering protocol - called Lightweight Framebuffer Protocol, or LFP - is designed for mobile carrier networks like 4G/LTE where there is often highly variable latency, loss, and jitter. Citrix will add it to their arsenal alongside HDX to improve the end user experience of server-hosted Windows applications on mobile devices for XenDeskop App Edition and XenDesktop.
It will be a boon for DaaS providers' customer experience. Citrix is in the business of building a Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS) platforms for service providers. One of the barriers to the success of DaaS in the enterprise, and a potential source of value for service providers, is the user experience on mobile devices over mobile networks. Another player to watch the remote desktop/app protocol space for mobile networks is RapidScale.
It's a competitive take-out play as well. Delivering Windows apps from the datacenter to both corporate and employee-owned desktops, laptops and mobile devices is what Citrix does - it's their place in the technology universe. Framehawk's technology approach, while expensive, has some advantages. Citrix was probably starting to see them in more deals as competition.
In Barcelona this week, VMware announced that it is acquiring Desktops-as-a-Service provider, Desktone. This is a market I've been watching for several years, and I think this is good news for both Desktone and VMware customers. On one hand it provides an alternative for VMware prospects who are unsure whether they want to make the investment in ramping up an in-house VDI initiative, and it provides a scale-out option for existing VMware View customers who may be loathe to make additional capital investments to expand their capacity. With Citrix also developing their own homegrown DaaS infrastructure offering for service providers, this move further legitimizes the DaaS market.
Forrester has been tracking the rise in interest in DaaS specifically in our Forrsights surveys of IT decision makers for the past 2 years, which gives us a unique view into the market. In Figure 1 below, we can see the rise in IT decision-maker interest in DaaS relative to on-premise hosted virtual desktops, and see that year-over-year growth of DaaS interest is strong. The market accelerated in part because Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers see it as a way to monetize their existing infrastructure investments.
Winning teams delight in the 'doing', not the 'winning'
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chuck Noll was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his leadership was my first glimpse into what separates teams that win from teams that don't. My favorite quote from Noll exemplifies his view both simply and eloquently: "The thrill isn't in the winning, it's in the doing." What Noll taught his players, including Terry Bradshaw, 'Mean Joe' Green, and Franco Harris, is how to delight in the joy of doing, over the joy of winning. Why? Because the 'winning' won't come unless your passion comes from the 'doing'!
This is why I'm so excited about the explosive trend of BYOD and consumerization of IT on so many levels, from cloud computing to tablets. Workers are putting the joy back into the 'doing' parts of their jobs by exploring different ways of working, and using technologies that often exceed what even the best IT organizations can generally provide. It's also why I think we'll see a rebound of Hosted Virtual Desktops (also known as VDI) through 2013 and beyond. But first, let's look at the data:
IT interest in VDI appears to be on a downward trend
Forrester's annual survey of IT decision-makers revealed a drop in interest and plans for VDI initiatives from 2011 to 2012:
But a shift in the IT drivers for VDI suggests it could actually be an inflection point
Driving in the snow is an experience normally reserved for those of us denizens of the northern climes who haven't yet figured out how to make a paycheck mixing Mai Tais in the Caymans. Behind the wheel in the snow, everything happens a little slower. Turn the wheel above 30 on the speedo and it could be a second or two before the car responds, and you'll overshoot the turn and take out the neighbor's shrubs.
Hosted Virtual Desktops are a bit like driving in the snow. Every link in the chain between the data on a hard drive in the datacenter and the pixels on the user's screen introduces a delay that the user perceives as lag, and the laws of physics apply. Too much lag or too much snow and it's hard to get anywhere, as citizens of Anchorage, Alaska after this years' record snowfalls, or anyone trying to use a hosted virtual desktop half a world away from the server will testify.
NVIDIA Brings Gaming Know-How to HVD
Last week I spent a day with NVIDIA's soft-spoken, enthusiastic CEO, Jensen Huang who put the whole latency issue for VDI into a practical perspective (thanks Jensen). These days, he says, home game consoles run about 100-150 milliseconds from the time a player hits the fire button to the time they see their plasma cannon blast away an opponent on the screen. For comparison, the blink of an eye is 200-400 milliseconds, and the best gamers can react to things they see on screen as fast as 50 milliseconds.
I’ve been getting a number of inquiries recently regarding benchmarking potential savings from consolidating multiple physical servers onto a smaller number of servers using VMs, usually VMware. The variations in the complexity of the existing versus new infrastructures, operating environments, and applications under consideration make it impossible to come up with consistent rules of thumb, and in most cases, also make it very difficult to predict with any accuracy what the final outcome will be absent a very tedious modeling exercise.
However, the major variables that influence the puzzle remain relatively constant, giving us the ability to at least set out a framework to help analyze potential consolidation projects. This list usually includes: