Is now the time for anyplace, anytime, any device computing?
As we increasingly see the world through a constellation of intelligent, network connected, digital devices, its time to consider anyplace, anytime, any device coming to the forefront as a requirement for business systems.
If we consider the timelline of computing since the 1960s, we see the market's attention shift from workloads hosted by centralized systems to distributed computing, to client-server computing to highly distributed, multi-tier workloads and now we're making a move back towards where we started.
We're now facing a world in which customers, staff and company partners all expect to be able to communicate with the company from anywhere, at any time and using any device they happen to prefer regardless of whether it is a smarphone, a tablet or some future device we haven't seen at this time.
If an organization has deployed applications written only for Windows PCs that communicate with Windows or Linux Servers, it becames very challenging to support this onslaught of new device access.
There are several approaches to address the requirement for anytime, any place, any device application access. They include offering applications as Web Services, creating smart device applications that access corporate data over the Internet, or using some form of desktop virtualization.
Offering Web-based applications
One of the common features of today's smartphones, tablets, laptop and more traditional desktop computers have is a Web Browser and network access. So, the first approach many companies try is creating Web-based front ends that access corporate applications and data. While this does make the corporate applications available to everyone, this approach doesn't work during the times the staff person or customer disconnects from the network or the network disconnects from them.
Another approach is a new variation on the time-tested concept of client/server computing. Laptops and Desktop PCs have long supported appications designed to provide a user interface, local processing and local storage of data for corporate applications.
Smartphones and Tablets often don't have sufficient data storage capabilities and sport a touch-based user interface that is not compatible with traditional corporate applications. Furthermore, if the organization choses this route, it is likely that they're taking on Android, BlackBerry OS and IOS developement and support. This is beyond the capabilities of most mid market companies — they just don't have the expertise, the time or the funding to chase after such a rapidly changing and evolving market.
Desktop virtualization technology suppliers, such as VMware and Citrix, are proposing a different approach. They suggest moving the Windows applications back into the data center (or data closet of a smaller organization) and accessing them from whatever device the user prefers. While this approach requires access to a network, it reduces the need to develop and deploy new applications each time a supplier offers a new device or a new version of the device's operating system is launched.
It is wise for organizations to really understand what their business requirements are. Each of these approaches might be helpful to some individuals and for some applications. There isn't a single right approach.
It would be wise to ask for advise from trusted partners, such as IBM, Citrix and VMware, for guidance on what to do now and where to go later.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.