How to capture real opportunities in virtual workplace

Ever since I started out in the enterprise IT industry, I've heard about two continual IT challenges businesses have seemed to battle with for years: hectic, repeated and complicated system downtime, and the short lifespan of workplace PCs, typically limited to just two to three years.

These issues have created a huge burden for corporations for decades, with seemingly no silver bullet to ease the pain. Compounding these problems is the fact that employees do not back up on a regular basis, meaning that companies are exposed to the very real risks of data loss and security issues, further contributing to many sleepless nights for the IT department.

Facing these common problems, I've traditionally seen enterprises adopt one of two solutions. Upgrade their workplace PCs more frequently, at significant cost, or hire additional IT managers to carry out regular check-ups and provide ongoing support.

Unfortunately these measures do little to alleviate the issue of dealing with hundreds or potentially thousands of PCs connecting to different servers. Nor do they account for the fact that many employees want to bring their own devices into the workplace these days. They are simply 'pain relievers' for long-term IT headaches. To effectively kill the pain businesses must rethink their IT strategy from the bottom up -- make the workplace virtual.

One of our clients, a top-tier financial institution, is already a virtual pioneer, having implemented desktop virtualization solutions to solve these IT woes. The creation of a virtual workplace allows more flexible, optimized resource allocation among different departments. It has resolved long-suffered problems of dispersed distribution in terminal and disk usage, as well as underutilized resources.

As data backups take place centrally and automatically, backup operation is no longer a headache. End users have also benefitted. In the middle of an off-site customer meeting, sales staff can now effortlessly access and display relevant materials through instant access to the company's shared system, enabling them to deliver an even more compelling and effective pitch.

This customer has successfully captured the 'real' opportunities in the 'virtual' workplace by adopting efficient, simplified and centralized desktop management. Still, many enterprises are hesitant to embrace new technology at a time when the global economic situation is in flux. Faced with a slowdown in China, weak US recovery, and the Eurozone crisis, can businesses afford to re-haul their IT systems so drastically?

In fact, implementing a virtual workplace can be straightforward and cost-effective. Moreover we've seen it drive significantly lower cost of ownership in the long term, while enabling businesses to operate faster and smarter. To create a virtual workplace and begin to reap the benefits simply embrace the 'EASY' approach.

"E"volvethe state of mind: How a workplace should be built

Fixed work desks installed with traditional PCs surrounded by cubicles have quickly become a thing of the past. Virtualization redefines the workplace by breaking away PCs or devices from the desktop and applications, enabling staff to do their job anywhere.

All IT components can now be served up to end users from servers at the backend, to any device. This simplifies IT management and radically improves flexibility and speed. With a virtualized desktop, the IT department does not need to invest in another set of workplace PCs merely because a new operating system or business-critical application has launched which requires a higher spec machine. Virtualization requires far less IT component replacement and achieves an operating lifespan double that of traditional PCs.

"A"ctivate a security protocol

Security is always a top concern for any corporation. After all, the data and intellectual property stored on your systems is likely to be more valuable than any of your physical computing equipment. Given this, some enterprises I speak to are nervous about hosting all their data in a virtual environment.

However imagine a scenario whereby an enterprise customer loses his laptop during a business trip. If the device is virtualized, all he needs to do to prevent data leakage is log out of his work account. Compare this to a non-virtualized environment where an abundance of data could be stored on the device itself, from sensitive documents to private emails.

Now the battle against data loss is as easy as setting up security protocols for data transmission, and incorporating write-protected software in portable USBs for mobile use. In a virtualized environment, as everything is stored centrally, it reduces the exposure to data loss and theft, not to mention virus attack. This in turn helps to reassure customers, enhance IT performance and reduce workload for IT managers.

"S"urge workplace productivity

Moving all workplace components -- whether virtualizing the operating system, applications, or all computing power -- into a centralized data center has the potential to transform the traditional workplace. Today, as more and more users are increasingly demanding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes, virtualization is gospel for employees who want to enjoy the flexibility of being able to immediately access corporate information anywhere, via any device.

With the support of local hypervisor-based virtual environments, users can experience the familiar desktop environment they're used to, while freeing up time spent on local backup and recovery tasks. This creates a win-win situation. As user experience and satisfaction improves, the business benefits from greater productivity and higher morale which in turn offers advantages in talent recruitment and retention.

"Y"ield results in the most cost-effective way

Ultimately all businesses are looking to save costs and increase profit margins. Compared to a traditional workplace environment, a virtual workplace can save more than 60% in energy costs and reduce an organization's carbon footprint by 80%. IT managers can make all installation and software updates centrally, at one time, resulting in additional significant savings in time and money. The total cost of ownership (TCO) when switching from traditional PCs to a virtual desktop infrastructure can result in savings of up to 35%, bringing with it a host of other benefits such as improved security and flexibility.

In view of ever-changing business needs, with more organizations introducing BYOD policies and adopting a greener approach to IT, transforming the workplace to capture these real opportunities is undoubtedly a move that will add value to the enterprise. The quest for a simpler, more efficient, more flexible working environment doesn't have to be a never-ending one; by adopting this 'EASY' approach, businesses can quickly realize the benefits of going virtual.

Derek Yiu the general Manager of Solutions and Services Business at Fujitsu Hong Kong

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