Tablets: The best tools for the job

Tablets have replaced laptops for many uses because of their light weight and longer battery life, but there remain important distinctions

Since its introduction two years ago, Apple has managed to convince consumers that the tablet form factor, with its iPad, is a desirable device to carry around.

The latest market share data from IHS iSupply puts Apple’s market share at 69.6%. IT departments are not immune. Many CIOs and IT directors carry their own iPads to meetings and industry events.

Although Apple was first to market a tablet, Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note are steadily gaining momentum. In October, with the launch of Windows 8, there will be a host of new devices aiming to bridge the gap between a laptop and a tablet.

Moreover, these devices will be running a full enterprise desktop PC operating system (OS ) optimised for tablets, thanks to the latest iteration of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows OS.

Virtual desktops for charity workers’ tablets

Formed in 2004, Charityshare was established to allow charities to use enterprise infrastructure consulting without having to pay the large costs normally associated with IT. It supports The Children Society, Alzheimer Society and Age UK and provides IT services for 7,000 users across500 sites. Desktop IT is provided through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) using Citrix. Paul Mainstone, Citrix architect, says: “We have been using Citrix to add tablets. Access is available from Citrix Receiver and also from a browser.”

A Citrix Access Gateway is used as an SSL virtual private network (VPN), which provides two-factor authentication for XenDesktop and XenApps. Mainstone has defined three category of user: those whose jobs are mainly task-based and require Microsoft Office and the internet;those deemed knowledge workers that additionally require line-of-business application; and people who need full mobile access. Users are categorised by the department they belong to Microsoft Active Directory is then used to control which applications they are able to run.

Why tablets work

The tablet form-factor has several benefits over a traditional laptop in its light weight, long battery life and the instant-on capability of iPads and Android tablets. Accenture and Vodafone’s Transforming the Mobile Workforce study revealed that participants primarily used their tablet computers for internet browsing and email, which increased their productivity and enabled collaboration. The report notes that tablets are particularly suited to reading and presenting documents, but have limitations in creating and editing documents. Around half of all participants found their tablets better than laptops for checking emails, viewing or making presentations and browsing the internet.

If someone only wants to look at email and read PowerPoint slides, why use a 1.5kg laptop which can barely offer six hours of battery life when a 652g iPad is sufficient? Many people prefer their own devices to corporate laptops. A recent study from analyst Forrester reported a third of the devices used are non-Microsoft and a quarter are mobile. Many of these mobile devices will be tablets and smartphones.

So the traditional enterprise PC is going out of fashion. Staff prefer their own devices and increasingly these devices are tablets. But tablets are not well-suited to the task of creating documents and enterprise applications are not well represented in the Apple AppStore on Google Play apps markets. Virtualised enterprise desktop Virtualisation offers IT a way to deliver enterprise applications to tablet users.Citrix has a long track record of providing thin-client access software. Its Citrix Receiver software is capable of connecting Android and iOS to XenDesktop, the company’s virtual PC environment. By using XenDesktop a user can access normal desktop PC applications from a tablet as ifthey were sat on a desktop PC in the office. Patrick Irwin, Europe product marketing manager at Citrix, says: “The XenDesktop software can inspect the endpoint device and deliver services appropriately,” meaning it recognises when a user is connecting from a tablet device and provides the appropriate user interface.

“Tablets are great for mobile work. Using a tablet keyboard is great for a quick email. They are better suited to consuming content, but you can get a full Windows desktop,” he says. VMware’s View product does a similar job. But these products offer a full Windows user interface (UI) on a tablet. So while it will access Windows applications, the look and feel ofWindows is not suited to a touch UI.

Rather than offering a full Windows desktop environment, IT can use application virtualisation such a Microsoft’s App-V, Ovum principal analyst Richard Edwards explained.“App-V can be used to virtualise applications so that they don’t interfere with your configuration,”says Edwards.
While it will not take advantage of the touch user interface, App-V provides IT with a way to deliver an enterprise application on a tablet device if the app is unavailable.

Apps management

In its report, Forrester notes that while the Windows OS is still dominant on PCs, the rise of mobile devices and incremental growth in Apple’s Mac PC business means a third of all devices being used for work are not Microsoft OS devices. According to the report’s author, Frank Gillett, a quarter of devices used at work are smartphones and tablet devices. If most tablet devices are not running Windows, they are unable to run the major enterprise applications that are predominantly Windows-based, unless those applications are available in the Apple Appstore or Google Play market. If virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is not desirable, IT departments will need to develop their own native apps. A new category of application management is required that takes into account not only the identity of the user and their security credentials, but also understands the devices used and the network connectivity.

Analyst Gartner categorises this technology as workspace aggregator software, which unifies the delivery of desktops (local, fully hosted virtual desktops or published desktops),applications (software as a service,Windows, and native mobile) and data through a single user interface. Companies offering this type of software include Centrix, Citrix and VMware. In its Hype Cycle for Virtualisation report,Gartner notes: “Workspace aggregators will enable IT organisations to better manage and control access to applications being consumed by their users.”

Windows Legacy

The investment in desktop software licences for enterprise systems cannot be migrated to non-Microsoft platforms. Nor are IT departments set to support multiple devices and operating systems. It is easier to support a common OS and provide a suite of applications that have been tested on that platform. Freeform Dynamics analyst Tony Lock says: “Enterprises are used to running Windows. One of the problems with BYOD [bring your own device] is it assumes users can look after themselves. But users need support. The chances they will fix it on their own are remote. If you end up with 10-20% of the workforce using their own devices, how will you support them?”Microsoft is setting the stage for a comeback with Windows 8, which will introduce Windows-based tablets. The beauty of Microsoft’s strategy for tablet computers is that it uses Windows.

“There are many usage scenarios where you don’t need a keyboard all the time and people who do might just stick with a laptop”

Lock says: “The security policies match onto Windows as does the device management.”Several PC manufacturers have unveiled tablet devices, some with built-in keyboards. There are two main varieties: devices capable of running the full Windows OS , based on x96 processors;and those based on system-on-chip (SoC) designs using an ARM core. These SoC tablets can only run the RT version of Windows, which makes them unable to run 32-bit applications natively. The benefit of Windows RT-based devices is longer battery life; they are lighter and should be cheaper. RT will present challenges for companies running older applications, which will need to be recompiled so an enterprise will need two binary models, one for Win32 and one for Windows RT. Although Win32 applications will not run on RT devices, users can still access them if they are made available via VDI.

According to Ovum’s Edwards, the full Windows-based tablets compete at the high-end with the Apple MacBook Air, while Windows RT-based devices will compete with low-end tablets. Some, the so-called “transformer”devices, include a slide-out keyboard while others come with a docking station that includes Ethernet and USB slots, making them suitable as a desktop device.

Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, says: “I’m not convinced by the transformer-type model. Tablets with detachable keyboards – which can be left behind rather than forced to carry around –will take off more than the flip-type models.“There are more usage scenarios where you don’t need a keyboard all the time and people who do might just stick with a laptop.”

Alex Achucarro, head of mobile sales at Avanade, has been trialling Windows 8 on a tablet PC. He says using Windows 8 on his tablet allows him to cut down the number of devices he needs to bring to work, so instead of having his iPad and laptop, he now only needs his tablet with Windows 8 installed onto it. Enterprise IT is facing a problem which will only get worse. The good news is that IT will not be wholly responsible for providing desktop IT. If the experts are right, hardware will be purchased by users themselves.

But given the variety of devices and operating system combinations available, IT may need to standardise, just as desktop IT was standardised to simplify IT support. For most employees, Windows 8 may become the logical choice for supporting enterprise applications on tablet devices. Anyone using their own iPad or Android tablet for work may need to contend with VDI.

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