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Meeting desktop needs

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Mobile users are different to the home worker and they're all different to a branch worker, so how do you find out what they need and give it to them effectively.

Finding out what end users want from their desktop and comparing it to what you think they need can be a sobering experience. Performance, fast access to data and the latest software are likely to be high on their list of requirements, while security and minimal management overhead will be high on yours.

But then, they have to use the machine every day and, if they're happy with it, they're more likely to be productive. So you need to give them what they want as far as is feasible within the boundaries set by budgets, company policy and legislation.

Let's establish a baseline. You need to ensure that machines handed out to end users are secure, backed up and easily restorable. Ideally, they won't be able to access the corporate network unless they meet certain security requirements, with the minimum might be running an OS with the latest patches, and up-to-date AV software.

Gold standard

You're likely to have generated a gold image that can blown onto the disk so that, if the worst happens, the machine can be wiped and re-imaged, and the user's data restored from the server - that's where your desktops store user data, presumably.

For remote or branch office users, that may not be quite so simple. They want local access to data so that they can continue working while offline. In this case, Windows' offline files feature works well and is pretty seamless, even if, for example, your servers are running a Linux back-end with CIFS on top.

Users may also want to load new versions of their software but your policies are likely to maintain a list of approved software that's permanently out of date, simply because of the time it takes to change test and approve new software, and then update the gold image. There's not a whole lot you can do about this except to make that list public, maintain it rigorously so that end users know where they stand, and notify them when it changes.

After that, it's important for users to understand that there's a cost to the business when downloading and installing new software in the form of licence fees and support. You should set up a process for requesting new software that allows you to understand users' needs without having to deal with them individually. Once approved, the deployment of an application can be automated with using one of the many available tools.

Give 'em what they want

Sometimes giving people what they want and/or need can involve infrastructure upgrades -or sometimes you may be able to think laterally. For example, it may be possible to deploy WAN optimisation technology to distribute software upgrades to users in remote offices across a slow pipe, without going to the expense of paying the monthly fee for a faster link.

Alternatively, it might be possible to meet users' needs in a different way by deploying thin client and using a virtualised desktop approach. That way, users' systems can be kept current from the centre, while the tendency of remote users to be less secure than those based in central offices disappears. Note that some users are better served by a virtual desktop approach than others, with mobile users offering a particular challenge.

Whatever your approach, care needs to be taken that the idea of the personal computer - one that's suited to the job each user is performing and which can be personalised even if only to a limited degree - doesn't vanish entirely.

Giving users what they want is never easy, especially in today's economic climate. But give them bandwidth, give them enough storage space and make it snappy, and give them access to the applications they need, and you're most of the way there. ®

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