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Help - my desktop in the cloud has evaporated!

You don't want to do it like that

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Desktop If everything is in the cloud, desktop and apps, then what does support do for a living and what are the new set of challenges this presents?

On the face of it, cloud computing solves a lot of problems. Centralised computing, ease of management and update, a managed service approach that reduces the need for in-house expertise … the list of advantages goes on and on.

But is it all pro and no con? Does the cloud do everything that you need with no disadvantages? Of course not.

For a cloud approach, you need connectivity. Some companies make the mistake of adopting cloud-based applications without appreciating that the application instantly becomes unusable were their internet connection - now a single point of failure - to break. For cloud applications, this may in some cases simply be an inconvenience; for cloud-based mobile desktop services, the users' entire desktops evaporate in a puff of non-flowing electrons.

So if you want to rely on this kind of service, be prepared to spend money on resilient network connectivity, preferably with a service provider that has a diverse Internet access infrastructure.

Desktops - mobilise!

The growth of desktop mobility is among the biggest of trends in desktop management, and one that looks set to accelerate. However, it brings its own challenges. When your organisation's users start roving, alongside the more traditional desktop world, you'll find your technology needs change with the potential for higher costs.

If your salesmen and managers can't work on a Boeing 777 over the Atlantic, you're likely to hear some whining. So you'll need either to provide acceptably fast mobile connectivity (which can be expensive if you're not careful), or perhaps work with a cloud provider able to provide services such as desktop cacheing. This will give users mobility: they take the desktop out on the road then sync up with the cloud the next time they're near a LAN, WAN or Internet/VPN service.

The next concern with the cloud-based mobile desktop is its integration with your own IT universe. This problem isn't unique to desktop provision in the cloud, of course – any outsourced application needs somehow to connect with your infrastructure if you are to provide users with a global service that looks and feels like a single, unified system.

Those with in-house virtualised applications should think about think how you deal with issues such as how a user manages to print on a printer close to him or her, and then remind yourself that achieving this is made harder by handing over control of some of the aspects of the virtualised infrastructure.

Happy SLApping

Always worthy of consideration are the legal aspects of cloud computing. A cloud system in its most abstract sense is a completely opaque concept, in that you theoretically don't have to care what processing is happening where – you just define your service level agreement and rely on the provider to ensure that the application response time and availability is in line with that SLA. In reality, though, you do have to care – the most prominent and common reason being US Export Control laws.

If your company and its directors are subject to financial penalties and possibly imprisonment in the event that data flows from the US to a location that it shouldn't, you really do need to care about precisely where the data on these virtual desktops is living, where users can access it, and what nationality those users are. Of course, this isn't a problem unique to Cloud computing, but the inherent opaqueness is something you absolutely must be very wary of.

A word of reassurance, though: none of these problems is insurmountable. Companies around the world work perfectly happily with mobile virtualised desktop installations, content in the knowledge that they are sufficiently resilient and working within the law. But do give proper consideration to the total cost and hassle of ownership – start half-prepared and you stand every chance of shooting yourself in the foot. ®

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