Are Mirco Apps Changing Everything?

I come from a desktop / application background, I’ve spent most of my IT career working with one flavour or another of Citrix’s XenApp platform (I’ve been through all the name changes) and am currently employed by Citrix as a Systems Engineer in Australia.  To that end I’ve spent a lot of time working with apps; in the early days that meant hacking them as best I could to squeeze them onto a multi-user platform.  This kept me extremely busy however in reality was always a marginal activity, in that most applications were being installed onto desktops.  I saw a major change with my involvement in the launch of an “e” project in 1999; “e” stood for electronic and the company I was working with started investing heavily in creating web front ends to all applications.  The end result was that vast numbers of apps were rolled out onto MetaFrame because users wanted the full application and the business wanted to centralise. (I say business but it was in fact the IT division’s idea).  The end result for me was that I saw the business demanding fully functional applications and the impact of that project has stuck with me ever since.

I often sit with customers today and one statement I hear myself saying again and again is “do you have a desktop or application problem?” The point I am trying to highlight is that maybe we can solve the issue they have raised by pulling out the applications that require attention.  And not look at reworking their desktop strategy. After all it’s the apps that are important?

Recently I found myself again pondering this scenario and so I tweeted “It’s all about the apps, always had been always will be” and this generated a number of responses.  The first that came back was from @bramwolfs “I think it’s all about the data not specifically the apps..” Which immediately had me thinking there was little way out of this; data exists and is manipulated by apps, my focus has always been on the apps and that is where I make my money so that is where I placed my bet.  @KBaggerman highlighted a blog post titled “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion a Citrix CTP (@archynet) talking about desktops versus applications and applications versus data.  He makes some interesting points about the relationships between data and applications and the importance of data.  I can only agree however I would add that as some apps sole purpose is to collect and create data it is hard to define and almost irrelevant to consider which came first or which is more important, both are a requirement.

More interestingly he talks about user habits and the requirement of a desktop operating system, he also talks about the rise of mobile apps or micro apps; i.e.  apps created for a single purpose that do not require interaction or workflows with other applications and therefore do not require a desktop operating system.

This to me is an interesting area of development and I believe we are seeing two forces at play; the rise of SaaS and its adoption and the influence of the iPad and tablet.  Firstly SaaS is entering every workplace, I was recently  hosting a CIO round table discussion and every CIO was focused on SaaS and in fact the most interesting comment was “every app I deliver I now have to compete against a SaaS app, that is the way I have to think.” And you know what I think he was right; if you enforce a monolithic set of apps onto a workforce and it is not meeting the needs of a business unit then you can bet within days that business unit will be hunting out an alternative and swiping their credit card when they find something they like. Secondly the iPad factor, all apps on the iPad have single functions, I book my travel, check my email, look at website and knock over blocks with very upset birds.  Each app performs well and every day I use them I am breaking the habit of having to work within an operating system.  And therefore every day that operating system becomes less relevant to me.

Can we drop the operating system, no there are too many applications built for that platform. Is the desktop operating system becoming less relevant, yes however this has to be taken into context, just take a look at how many Windows 7 licenses have been sold since release.  But I do think that the mico app aided by the choice and availability on offer from SaaS vendors is accelerating change.

UPDATE  If you want  to read some interesting points head back to  “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion and join in or have a read.

Move out the way IT….

If you are like me you have spent your life in IT.  I started in desktop support, spent some time on a help desk, and then moved back into level 2 desktop support (I can’t remember the difference between level 1 and level 2 desktop support, I still spent a lot of time crawling about and plugging cables in). From there I took my fist sip at the infrastructure cup and spent time in a server team, racking and stacking.  I then went back into the help desk world and managed a team before moving into a data centre and spending my life completing server builds, working on automation projects, data centre management and builds, networking and design.

It’s a long list and I’m sure yours is similar but why bother with it at all?  Well throughout this time I saw ASP to and fro, I built a lot of web servers for application web “e-projects”, I saw outsources come and go,  services were proposed on site and off site and  I was convinced we had the data centre of the future.  Yes during this time things were changing, processes were becoming slicker, application developers were becoming more sophisticated (I should clarify – Not in the sense that they stated wearing shoes to the office – just their programming skills) and capacity, in what we could do and what the programme, hardware or network would let us do was growing fast.  However through all that I was sure we had it licked Moore’s Law was in operation and we were taking full advantage of it.

In fact I still look back at those times and think I did good work and the teams I was part of helped the businesses we worked for grow, be more productive and transform.  And that for me this is the crux of the point I am trying to make, businesses do transform, it happens all the time.  Not all get caught up in the Innovators Dilemma, a GFC crash or a failed investment.  A lot grow fast; spin off in random directions and pioneer new industries.  However to do this today in an age where information moves fast, in fact where information is instant requires an agility a traditional environment cannot provide.

For a very simple example let’s take two IT executives that are required to roll out a new CRM system; the assumption is that their business has identified this need to help them reach new markets.  Meetings are held due diligence is completed and a project team is set up to identify the business requirements. Once identified team one brings in a global software provider, partners with a large technology provider and starts the process of developing the application and planning the roll out.  Team two picks a SaaS vendor and starts.  In this instance it is assumed that the SaaS vendor has a product that meets the business requirements identified during phase one of the project.  Is it that simple; well yes it is.  Both teams have completed the correct amount of due diligence to identify the business requirements and select an application  vendor, however team two does not have to build and roll out any infrastructure or mange the application, it just happens.  This means team two is delivering on the business outcome much faster than team one, enabling a competitive edge.

Okay now I can hear the outcries because you are an IT guy like me with an IT history like mine.  What about security, what about data protection what about lock in?  Well you know what, the business outcome has been met, the business is productive, competitive and happy.

I say job done and I say move out the way IT.

UPDATE 4/4/2012

Brett Winterford  of itnews  published an interesting article titled  Death of the SysAdmin with the following video clip of Fortescue Metals CIO Vito Forte, delivered during his keynote presentation at iTnews’ Executive Summit in Melbourne.  I think it summarise this article well.

Living in a VDI Desktop – The user experience

As a Citrix employee I get a choice; not only can I take my pick of my own device http://www.citrix.com/English/ps2/products/product.asp?contentID=2311388 , for the record I have a HP Elitebook 8440p with 8 GB RAM and solid state HD running Windows 7 SP1 64-bit.  But I can also select how my applications are delivered to me; hosted, streamed offline etc.

When I first started at Citrix, over 5 years ago, I had just about everything locally installed by IT on my laptop, this was then shipped to my remote office (home) and away I went.  All apps were available as hosted applications but for me Office was installed locally and everything else, e.g. SAP was hosted on Presentation Server.  I had device flexibility in that I could get to my hosted apps from any device with an ICA client but because of the way I worked remotely this rarely happened.

Things changed as our technology changed e.g. accelerated access to mapped drives was cool, improved performance of hosted apps was always appreciated and the new version of Office arriving streamed made a difference.   A difference in that I started to add additional apps to my local pool.

Then over eighteen months ago I decided to move my full working day into a virtual desktop.  I had been using XenDesktop before but not exclusively, I would chop and change between environments depending upon task.  But it felt like the right time to move so after a quick copy of a few files away I went.

The experience has been good for a number of reasons.  Firstly as a remote employee working from a home office, I never worry about mapped drives, centrally stored content or the device I am working from.  It’s not unusual to find me outside having pinched my wife’s Mac book working on a document in our garden; it’s a pleasant place to be and my laptop stays docked.  As I navigate through tasks launching multiple applications the interaction is familiar and easy and from a user experience point of view I have few complaints.

Do I still use my local device, sure over the year and a half I have dropped into a local browser to run video content and a presentation or two.  Outside of that it’s really the personal stuff that I use locally, I access Facebook via my local browser, I have a local Twitter client and Skype for family calls when I am away.  My work desktop is thousands of kilometres away and to be honest I’m keeping it that way.

Cloud Architecture is Different

During the day two Super Session at Citrix Synergy Barcelona, Sheng Liang, CTO of the cloud platforms group at Citrix, took the stage to discuss a number of interesting concepts.  One that stood out for me was when he highlighted differences between cloud architecture and enterprise architecture.  He stated that cloud architecture is different from enterprise architecture and that this  fact is missed by many.  At first glance this statement falls into the obvious category however like most simple concepts they only become obvious once stated and laid out in front of you.

I visit server rooms and data centres on a regular basis and it is becoming common for these to be described as company X’s cloud.  However if the environment has been built using the same principles and architecture as the last data centre then the environment will never scale correctly or offer services the way a true cloud can.

Sheng Liang outlined five areas of consideration:

  1. Enterprise architecture scales up server clusters, cloud architecture scales out server farms
  2. Enterprise architecture assumes reliable infrastructure, Cloud architecture expects infrastructure to fail
  3. Enterprise architecture is high cost, Cloud architecture is low cost
  4. Enterprise architecture is IT Mgmt-centric (1:100’s), Cloud architecture is autonomic management (1:1000’s)
  5. Enterprise architecture uses proprietary vendor stack, cloud architecture uses open, value added stack
Its definitely time to rethink that data centre build, to think automation and to resist the urge to monitor each server CPU and IO response time.  Switches will fail, servers will overheat but services will be delivered on time at a cost never seen before by the business allowing rapid scale and mobility.
Bring it on.

Watch the session here Citrix Synergy Live