The Desktop is Dead, Long Live Client/Cloud Computing

B. Shimmin
B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Mobility within the enterprise has pushed a great deal of computing power down to the client in order to take advantage of services such as voice and video that are native to those devices.
  • But the real driving factor behind mobility, isn’t geolocation tools or two-way cameras, it’s the suite of cloud-based services that stand between enterprise systems and those devices.

When I first heard the late Steve Jobs describe the Apple iPad as a “magical device,” I was decidedly incredulous — an unusual state of mind for me, given my longstanding affinity for all things Apple. How could a super-sized mobile phone change things as Mr. Jobs suggested? As it turns out, the iPad (really, any Apple iOS or Android-based device) has somehow transported the entire industry back in time to circa 1996, when client/server computing architectures ruled the earth. Undoing more than a decade of work toward a lighter and lighter, Web-centric client model, the iPad and its ilk have pushed computing power away from the desktop and even laptop, putting it directly into the hands of an increasingly mobilized workforce.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the iPad itself or any of its magical abilities that has enabled us to move into this post-PC era. As Cisco’s Murali Sitaram recently pointed out, it’s the cloud behind the device that empowers mobility. Beating at the heart of a mobile workforce is a set of ubiquitous cloud services. Without strong cloud-borne services such as messaging, presence, line of business applications and of course voice/video communications, we would not be able to leave our desktop and laptops behind. This leaves us with what I call client/cloud computing. The idea is the same as with client/server; only it’s the location of the server that has changed.

There are many benefits inherent in the client/cloud computing model, such as the persistence of data, transience of services and ubiquity of devices, which means simply that users can jump from one computing platform to another with ease. Mobile devices are themselves highly abstracted, generic and interchangeable platforms. If an employee loses a mobile device, managers simply distribute a new one, instructing the user to download a few apps and login. Of course, in practice, it’s not that simple. As in the ’90s, IT managers must contend with some significant troubles surrounding the provisioning of those apps as well as the security of corporate data as it moves outside the corporate firewall, between client and cloud.

This is where our new model falls down somewhat. Mobile clients running native apps suffer from the same ills that befall traditional desktops, including software incompatibilities and installation/authentication roadblocks imposed by third-party app marketplaces such as the Apple iTunes store. Compounding these issues is the fact that cloud-borne services and the data they carry which don’t live 100 percent in the cloud – those tied into enterprise line of business applications, for instance – must be secured and governed with more vigor and consequence than in the ’90s, when firewalls were much less porous. Certainly such IT issues will be surmounted as we move forward, paving the way for new opportunities and their associated challenges. In the meantime, IT administrators would do well to keep an eye on the past as well as the future as they survey changing mobile landscape.

What do you think?

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