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Back to the future: The advantages of hosted desktop computing for service sector firms
Leveraging cloud computing to release efficiency and competitive advantage
Productivity in the office is now almost universally achieved through computing devices. PCs, laptops and tablets enable office workers to carry out all the tasks necessary for performing job roles in pursuit of the commercial interests of a business. Computers, peripheral hardware and software licensing all have substantial costs. When we factor in support and maintenance, the costs accrue significantly.
During the recession technology innovation played a key role in creating efficiency. Through software automation many workers were released from time consuming manual processes to be more productive. Time and geographic flexibility provided greater choice for companies as well as workers as to when and where work was actually done.
The recession saw the popularity of cloud computing soar in the shape of Software–as-a-Service (SaaS). Many of these online applications provided specialised Line-of-Business functionality for specific areas of business practice such as recruitment or accounting. There’s a very good reason for this - cloud-based computing technologies offer businesses two key financial advantages:
- Significantly reduces costs
- Shifts cost centre from CAPEX to OPEX
Reduced costs effectively allowed businesses to accomplish more with less. Shifting the cost centre eliminated much of the requirement for capital investment in the technology tools needed to ensure competitive advantage. This was especially useful in an operating environment where the supply of investment capital had been strangled somewhat.
Online, cloud-based applications that are delivered over the internet and accessed through a web browser are familiar to all. Hosted desktop technology provides the capability to do something similar with the office productivity applications as well as the operating system that we use on PCs and laptops
In this guide we discuss the benefits of hosted desktop technology and highlight key advantages that make it a good choice for service sector firms and others that may be in scope of regulation. Typically this could be employment law or by professional standards or regulatory bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), The Law Society, or the Information Commissioner’s enforcement of the Data Protection Act.
Back to the future with hosted desktop
Hosted desktop can be looked on as an up-to-date version of the mainframe and terminal computing architecture of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. A mainframe can be looked on as a server where all the processing is carried out. The terminals on the desks of users simply allowed instructions to be sent to the mainframe and to view the results.
In a hosted desktop solution, a server delivers a desktop environment including operating system and applications to each thin client on the desks of users. The software and processing all resides with the server and the thin clients simply provide the means to control the tasks and functions that are performed.
In a sense, the resemblance to mainframe/terminal computing means opting for hosted desktop is a little like going
back to the future. However, it is most certainly not a backward step!
Hosted desktop Vs. Client-server computing
The truth about the desktop PC
The trend for PCs and conventional client-server computing grew out of the desire to allow maximum power and customisation for each desktop user. Today, this is fine for advanced ‘Power Users’ that perform graphics or other processor intensive tasks. Power Users need disk storage to install big applications, fast processors and large capacity RAM memory chips to enable quick, glitch free image manipulation or similar. However, from the perspective of hardware and for the vast majority of businesses, it makes no sense to equip every office worker with a PC, because disk storage, processors and RAM all have significant costs.
Thin clients are network devices that simply control and display hosted desktop computing operations. These processes are executed on a host, the server. The server could be located in a comms room in the same building, a remote data centre in the same city or country, or a data centre in another country on the other side of the world. Thin clients require no disk storage, processors and RAM, eliminating these costs.
Specifically for the needs of services sector businesses with users that need to run more powerful applications, an advanced form of hosted desktop is available to provide the higher level of performance required. One example of this is finance firms that use trading platforms with graphing software. This uses virtual desktop technology on the trading floor and private cloud systems on the server-side.
Thin clients are considerably smaller than familiar tower or cake box form factor PCs. While it’s true relatively low specification Ultra Small Form Factor (USFF) PCs are available, they do not match the small size of a thin client.
A thin client is a compact device, similar in size to a consumer broadband router. It requires a display, keyboard/mouse and a network connection. When opting for a hosted desktop solution, the biggest question may be what you put in the space vacated by the PCs!
The cost of thin clients is significantly lower than a mid-range PC for Office suite productivity such as email, word processing, spread sheets and internet browsing/web applications. Typical reductions in cost are around 50%.
The energy consumption of a thin client is typically in the range of 3 – 9 watts. A small form factor energy efficient PC is around 50 watts. Averaged over boot up, periods of use and periods of inactivity, thin clients reduce energy consumption by up to 90% when compared to a PC CPU base unit.
More labour intensive PC software
In a conventional PC and server environment (‘client-server’ computing model), servers run server operating systems while PCs run desktop operating systems, installed on disk storage within each computer. In effect each computer is a self-contained device, configured to the network to use permitted resources such as communication tools like email and internet web browsing.
Operating systems and applications on each computer need to be installed and updated or patched when required. In the way that network administrators configure PCs and grant users permissions, it is possible to centralize control of PC software updates. This requires in-house IT administrators or external IT partners to have the correct tools and the right knowledge. Generally, it is fair to say the configuration and administrative process is more time consuming for PCs.
Simplified software of hosted desktops
Hosted desktop thin clients have no software installed. Everything resides on the server. Administration and configuration is vastly simplified. Global updates are applied by updating the server software. Hosted desktop server administration is carried out by external IT partners controlling a server residing in a remote data centre or network operation centre.
Where more advanced virtual desktop technology and private cloud systems are in use admin and management may be performed by in-house IT managers, or external IT partners.
Seamless experience for users
Thin clients offer a seamless experience for users that are familiar with PCs. The user is able to customise the look and feel of their workspace with desktop pictures, fonts etc. if permitted.
A thin client session is launched when a user logs on to the network. The server uses virtualization technology to deliver a familiar desktop with folders, files and applications just like a conventional PC. A thin client starts up very quickly. Simply turn it on and the login screen is there within a few seconds. A computer user is able to be productive straight away.
Centralized control means the user is restricted in their ability to make changes that may compromise the performance or even bring the machine down. This means greater reliability, less user frustration and more productivity.
Flexibility for firms
A user is able to log onto any thin client on the network and receive their personal desktop, complete with all authorised network resources for which permissions are allowed. Hosted desktop computing enables seamless hot desking and desk sharing as well as remote working to thin clients located in satellite offices, which may be located anywhere with a suitable internet connection - on another continent or in a home office.
For those that need to have PCs or laptops, a hosted desktop solution does not prevent them having the computer that best meets their needs. Similarly, the personal preferences of senior team members for PCs, laptops or tablets can easily be accommodated within the network design.
Software installation and file copying
Unless locked down to prevent it, PCs allow software to be installed and data to be copied from the local disk storage and file servers. Thin clients have no local disk storage and are locked by default to prevent data being copied onto external storage devices by users.
Virus and malware proof
Appropriately designed thin clients are immune to virus and malware. The firmware that enables the device to interoperate with the hosted desktop server is secure and the settings are protected by 256-bit encryption.
Thin clients with robust 802.1x wired and wireless networking connect securely to local area networks (LANs). A variety of authentication methods, including single sign-on and 2-factor authentication may be used to provide users with secure logons.
Securing smartphones and tablets
With appropriate Mobile Device Management (MDM) software, hosted desktop solutions also support centralized management of company and employee owned smartphones and tablets.
TCO as a deployed solution
Above, we compared costs in terms of PC and thin client hardware and energy consumption. How does this translate into the real world where there are additional considerations for a network solution, including monitors on each desk, software, servers, switches, routers, air conditioning and the services of a technology partner?
Typically, when deployed across an SME of 20 users, the comparative TCO or Total Cost of Ownership, including capital expenditure (CAPEX) and recurring running costs (OPEX) are:
- CAPEX – one-time costs
—Hosted desktop solution reduces investment costs by approximately 68% compared to a solution based on desktop PCs
- OPEX – annual running costs
—Hosted desktop solution reduces annual recurring costs by 33% compared to a solution based on desktop PCs
Maintenance and support benefits
Hosted desktop significantly reduces the maintenance requirement. Simplified hardware means there is less to go wrong. Restricted user capability to change settings, install software and peripheral hardware means there is little chance for users to bring a machine down.
If hardware does fail, a spare thin client can simply be plugged in and logged on to the network, something that is quickly accomplished without expert help. Centralized administration and control means easier, less time consuming management processes.
Key advantages for service sector businesses
Hosted desktop saves time and costs on IT configuration and management for your virtualized computing environment.
The key advantages for companies in the professional services sector are:
—Hosted desktop buttons down security and vastly simplifies the ability to meet many of the IT related regulatory requirements of specific areas of practice such as employment, legal and finance. It also addresses the more general scope of the requirements of the Information Commissioner’s Office enforcement of the Data Protection Act (ICO/DPA enforcement).
- Cost reduction
—Like all businesses, professional services sector firms need to operate efficiently. Hosted desktop provides significant TCO savings over PC-based network designs. When considered in terms of simplifying IT and reducing the maintenance and labour requirement, the cost benefits are manifold.
Why is HTL Support a preferred technology service provider to the services sector?
HTL Support is a specialist provider of cloud technology solutions to the professional services sector. HTL Support has the expertise and experience to help service sector companies and those supplying services to regulated businesses to meet their regulatory obligations or follow guidelines on the use of technology.
It is our confirmed belief the cloud offers outstanding opportunities for services sector firms to leverage technology so it returns more value to their businesses. A hosted desktop solution showcases this in a way that is truly compelling.
HTL Support works with in-house compliance experts or external consultants to ensure any solution exceeds interpretation of the applicable regulatory code(s). HTL Support provides the appropriate level of services required by the majority of SME businesses, whether governed by a mixture of state legislation and frameworks devised and enforced by regulating authorities or by professional standards bodies and trade associations.
About HTL Support
HTL Support is a close knit and highly professional team of technology professionals that are evangelists for cloud solutions. This is because we believe the benefits are unrivalled by equivalent on-premise approaches to provisioning business technology.
The business benefits of the cloud are regularly highlighted in the press and deliberated in boardrooms. Cloud technology is a topic about which the vast majority of business leaders are likely to have more than a passing interest.
Based in the heart of London in Canary Wharf, HTL Support was incorporated in 2009 with a clear and simple vision. We are dedicated to helping business leaders in financial service organisations find the best way of successfully adopting cloud technology in their businesses. We offer best of breed Hosted Cloud Services in our ISO27001 London data centres, and help clients to create their own Private Cloud systems in their own offices or data centres.
Our friendly and professional engineers and consultants have extensive experience, proven track records and ‘can-do’ attitudes. We offer independent advice but partner with the leading cloud technology companies to ensure seamless support. We are serviced focused; our client’s satisfaction is paramount.