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Unisys takes services to the desktop

Virtual helpdesk, Windows slices

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Unisys hasn't been a PC maker for decades, but the company thinks it can take some of the tools it has created to manage systems, rejigger them, and make some dough selling services to manage PCs and providing PC images on its homegrown cloud.

Today, Unisys unveiled a bunch of services that have been collected together under a generic umbrella called end user productivity services. According Sam Gross, vice president of global IT outsourcing solutions at Unisys, the premise of the new services is twofold: the modern workplace has three different groups of workers who use different kinds of computing devices as they do their daily tasks - that would be Boomers, GenX/Y, and Millennials, in the lingo - and the days of workers all having more or less the same PC are over.

"The single PC vendor and the single software stack doesn't play anymore," says Gross. "But corporations are still thinking about desktops the way they did ten years ago, looking at and focusing on TCO."

The reality is that end users from different generations want to access corporate information and do their work from different kinds of devices, and that means IT has to support these devices - and do so in a constrained budget environment. The end user services that Unisys is rolling out today aims to make computing at end user devices - be they laptop or desktop PCs, or netbooks, smartbooks, iPhones, or virtual PCs running in the cloud - work better and give end users less grief.

One of the key technologies underpinning the end user productivity services being offered by Unisys is a set of monitoring tools that run atop Windows and that are tightly integrated into the vPro electronics cooked up by Intel to make it easier to manage PC hardware, operating systems, and applications. The agent software that Unisys has created doesn't just tell you that software has crashed and ask you if you want to send some data about it to Microsoft so they might help understand it. It actually monitors all of the software running on the PC to watch how the machine is performing and to feed data back to IT managers so they can do correlations across many end users to discover the causes of application crashes or other performance degradation that end users suffer through.

The idea is to gather information in real time that can feed back into PC administration and application development so the problems get fixed, rather than spending lots of time trying to have an end user try to explain what happened to a techie).

This monitoring agent software, which was developed by Unisys, is the key ingredient for the Virtual Desktop Service. Pricing for this service was not provided by Unisys. This agent software works in conjunction with vPro-based PCs and hooks into Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager tool for patching and updating Windows-based PCs. The software is also being extended to be able to monitor devices based on Windows Mobile as well as BlackBerry handhelds.

As the company promised when it launched its own compute cloud back in July, Unisys is today rolling out cloud-based virtual PC slices, with the unattractive acronym of VOaaS, short for Virtual Office as a Service. As the name implies, this service gives end users a Windows PC with the Office stack of applications for a monthly, per seat charge. Gross is being coy about pricing for this virtual Windows slice, but says that it will be competitive with any alternative out there and certainly less expensive than buying a real PC and supporting it.

The VOaaS slices available today come with Windows XP and the customer's choice of Office 2003 or Office 2007. On October 30, the week after Windows 7 formally launches, Unisys will have Windows 7 slices available, too. The slices run atop Windows Server 2008 and its related Hyper-V R2 hypervisor.

Like many businesses, Unisys is going to skip Windows Vista. The Windows instance will be accessible through thin clients, any kind of Windows PC, netbooks, and eventually will have some hooks for iPhones to get access to files and certain applications.

Another launched by Unisys today is called Unified Communications as a Service (yes, UCaaS), which takes Microsoft's Exchange Server, SharePoint, and Office Communicator applications and hosts them on the Unisys cloud. This software is hosted in a multi-tenant cloud rather than a private cloud.

The last service announced today is called Application Virtualization Services, and with this, Unisys takes your current desktop applications and preps them so they can be deployed on a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) setup of your choosing in your data center. Unisys doesn't care if you want to plunk your virtualized PC images on a Xen, ESX Server, or Hyper-V hypervisor. ®

High performance access to file storage

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