Thin clients and thinner budgets time? | Computing

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When I was still a full- journalist at Computing, I used to cover the endpoint area with great enthusiasm.

As each milestone moved into place. HTML 5, Windows 8 and its apparently brilliant app store, the first cheap, dockable Windows tablet, the first system-on-a-stick (which I couldn’t review in the end because it scrambled and broke down on its second use), my excitement grew. Soon, I told myself, we’d either be launching an entirely cloud-based work environment off small, sleek in the office, or else plugging our carefully partitioned consumer-grade phone into our office monitors and carrying on where we left off on the train.

Curse my utopianism.

I’ve spent the last few weeks prepping a research keynote for an event we ran with Google Chrome Enterprise, the idea being to find out more about the position – both physical and psychological – the endpoint now occupies in the enterprise landscape.

I picked up some pretty good stats in the course of my research, which involved a survey of 230 UK IT decision-makers. In 2018, 23.1 per cent of the UK enterprise is using cloud-based productivity platforms across all business units, 41 per cent across some units, and only 3.3 per cent aren’t doing any of that at all. At the same time, nearly 60 per cent are now using regular cloud storage. It’s all clearly going in the right direction on an infrastructural level.

Meanwhile, 61 per cent of my respondents told me that “some of” their employees could get everything they need doing every day in a browser or cloud-based business app.

We had some excellent use case discussions from the likes of RBS and the National Theatre in presentations and our panel, hearing that cloud-native endpoints like Chromebooks now have a positive, everyday role to play in some organisations. Probably more than I’d thought, in fact. The survey picked up that 12.8 per cent of organisations now use cloud-based computers, with 34.1 per cent trialling, but the breadth of use was surprising and interesting to me.

Cost-savings, flexibility, confidence with integrating BYOD policies into cloud environments stimulated by the possibility of the endpoints – it was all there.

From simple VDI-based interfacing to full, confident immersion in a web app ecosystem, the customers we had in today are really building shining use cases.

But over the lunch break, I found myself talking to a couple of people. One was from a large local UK council, and the other was from a huge, dare I say venerable, communications technology company.

Both were as impressed as I was with the use cases on display, but both had reservations in carrying out similar work themselves for the time being.

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The main problem, they agreed, in industries like theirs lies not so much with end user firms sharpening up their tech and investing in cloud technology, but in the vendors (usually smaller ones) that build their specific-use software refusing to go to the cloud without ramping up the cost.

The problem with the public sector is that not all CIOs are going to want to make the jump to cloud, with keeping the lights on often the main issue. So if a plucky individual approaches the developer of, say, their child welfare system but there’s not enough clamour to convert that to browser-based functionality, the answer is often ‘Pay us, and we’ll do that for you’.

Obviously, there’s nothing stopping groups of public sector IT bosses coming together to preach a use case to their vendors as a unified force, but that takes time and deft communication.

And that aside, effective vendor lock-in with Windows-based thin clients is also a problem, the comms tech person told me, with big-brand, Windows-native thin clients coming at a god-tier premium next to the average enterprise-ready, non-Windows cloud laptop, but with legacy systems still so dependent on Windows, what can you do?

Anyway, overall an extremely interesting session around the endpoint was had today. While none of my dreams of simple efficiency have yet been met, hats off to Google for cutting a growing niche beyond the Windows Box, and thanks to those I conversed with for keeping my thoughts rolling onward.

This message brought to you from a hard drive install of Microsoft Word 2013, on a Windows laptop, from a CMS which doesn’t really play ball with the Edge browser.

I remain part of the problem.

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