Marc Andreesen famously said, “Software is eating the world.” Now, the enterprise PC is about to be devoured, ushering in a new age in end-user computing — the cloud PC era — transforming the enterprise desktop into a highly secure, always available, consumption-based, cloud-native utility service.
In July 2021, Microsoft announced its cloud PC solution, joining Amazon Workspaces, which launched in 2014, and many other companies, including Workspot, for which I am a chairman. Unlike complex “do-it-yourself” virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions, these fully SaaS-based cloud PC products have seen accelerating growth. And as a mentor for technology companies, and keeping a close eye on the trends and market, I believe Microsoft’s entry will speed adoption even further.
Cloud PC popularity began to rise as CIOs turned away from on-premises data centers and began to embrace the many operational advantages of using public cloud infrastructure. More and more, workloads have been shifted to the cloud as favorable economics, simplified management and strategic benefits, such as greater agility and stronger security, paved the way. IT teams are discovering that with cloud PCs, they’re able to do more with less while driving positive business outcomes, especially in a business environment with greatly elevated needs for security, agility and scalable costs.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the utility of cloud PC solutions garnered even more attention. IT teams struggled to accommodate massive numbers of remote workers, and the differences between the PC as a hardware platform and the PC as a cloud service have become very clear as a result. The contrast is stark. It can take up to six weeks to procure, provision and ship a traditional PC to a new employee or contractor. It takes just a few minutes to provision a cloud PC for your new personnel. PCs are constantly being lost or stolen, putting corporate data at risk; a cloud PC helps eliminate that risk. It’s almost impossible for IT teams to keep traditional PCs current with security patches, especially in large, distributed organizations. Cloud PCs can be patched centrally and reliably.
Today, it’s rare if an organization is not considering a cloud PC solution because of its benefits. But because the underlying architecture of each vendor’s approach has so many variables, IT leaders and solution architects should make sure they explore the enterprise-critical considerations for cloud PCs before deciding which cloud PC is right for them:
1. Open Enterprise Architecture: Every enterprise customer has made their own unique choices in terms of public cloud providers, enterprise desktop security, management tools, identity management and multi-factor authentication. The cloud PC solution selected should be able to support the choices for best-of-breed solutions you’ve already made. Most organizations don’t want to be locked into a single public cloud, nor should they be forced into a learning curve for new management tools and processes or into abandoning their existing identity and security measures.
2. High-Performance: Power users are unlikely to want to give up their $10,000 liquid-cooled workstations until you can prove to them that you have something even better: a high-performance cloud workstation that frees them from the constraints of a physical workstation. The right cloud workstation solution will keep these valuable engineers and designers productive and happy, with the flexibility to work from anywhere, while also enabling the business to hire the best talent no matter where they live.
3. Shared Usage: Call centers, university computer labs, manufacturing floors and other use cases benefit from the ability to share a PC among end users. Instead of using PC hardware or legacy VDI, which suffers from unsustainable maintenance overhead, consider a SaaS-based cloud PC that offers the ability to share desktop resources, quickly scale up according to business dynamics and eliminate IT complexity.
4. Hourly Usage: What if a developer-only needs a Linux desktop for a few hours a month? Or a software engineer needs to test their applications on different versions of Windows and Linux? Or a contractor on the finance team needs occasional access to close the monthly books? PC hardware is going to sit idle 90% of the time in these scenarios, which happens all the time in large organizations. Instead, some cloud PC solutions enable IT teams to dial capacity up and down as needed so that the business can optimize resources.
5. Complete Observability: It’s impossible to get a comprehensive picture of how PC hardware is performing because PCs are often not connected to the corporate network or are in sleep mode. Decision-makers must realize that today’s cloud computing environment has its challenges: It is not under your IT team’s control. SaaS applications, cloud security software, operating system patches and more are constantly being updated. IT needs to be able to observe the impact to their organization of all of this change being imposed upon them. Look for a cloud PC that is fully observable. Your solution selection criteria can also include access to a large, real-time data stream of end-user behavior, cloud PC performance and configuration changes, so you can use that intelligence to deliver a continuously secure and productive computing experience to end-users.
Hyperscale clouds can deliver step-function improvement over on-premises computing, in both data center and end-user worlds. Costs can be variabilized and capacity elastic. These clouds provide the capacity to deliver a global computing footprint and immediate access to security, compute, networking and storage innovations by major cloud providers. And with cloud-native infrastructure and application architectures, massive improvements in performance, availability and disaster recovery are possible.
The velocity of change in the business environment has never been greater nor more ambiguous. Digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, more frequent security/ransomware incidents and the remote work revolution require a new take on end-user computing, one that incorporates stateless endpoints, zero-trust security, end-to-end encryption and proactive experience management. Enter the Age of the Cloud PC.