Monday, December 21, 2020

The future of work is happening now thanks to Digital Workplace Services

Businesses, schools, and governments have all had to rethink the proper balance between in-person and remote work. And because that balance is a shifting variable -- and may well continue to be for years after the pandemic -- it remains essential that the underlying technology be especially agile.

The next BriefingsDirect worker strategies discussion explores how a partnership behind a digital workplace services solution delivers a sliding scale for blended work scenarios. We’ll learn how Unisys, Dell, and their partners provide the time-proof means to secure applications intelligently -- regardless of location.

We’ll also hear how an increasingly powerful automation capability makes the digital workplace easier to attain and support.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about the latest in cloud-delivered desktop modernization, please welcome Weston Morris, Global Strategy, Digital Workplace Services, Enterprise Services, at Unisys, and Araceli Lewis, Global Alliance Lead for Unisys at Dell Technologies. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solution.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Weston, what are the trends, catalysts, and requirements transforming how desktops and apps are delivered these days?

Morris: We’ve all lived through the hype of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Every year for the last eight or nine years has supposedly been the year of VDI. And this is the year it’s going to happen, right? It had been a slow burn. And VDI has certainly been an important part of the “bag of tricks” that IT brings to bear to provide workers with what they need to be productive.

COVID sends enterprises to cloud

But since the beginning of 2020, we’ve all seen -- because of the COVID-19 pandemic – VDI brought to the forefront in the importance of having an alternative way of delivering a digital workplace to workers. This has been especially important in environments where enterprises had not invested in mobility, the cloud, or had not thought about making it possible for user data to reside outside of their desktop PCs.


Those enterprises had a very difficult time moving to a work-from-home (WFH) model -- and they struggled with that. Their first instinct was, “Oh, I need to buy a bunch of laptops.” Well, everybody wanted laptops at the beginning of the pandemic, and secondly, they were being made in China mostly -- and those factories were shut down. It was impossible to buy a laptop unless you had the foresight to do that ahead of time.

And that’s when the “aha” moment came for a lot of enterprises. They said, “Hey, cloud-based virtual desktops -- that sounds like the answer, that’s the solution.” And it really is. They could set that up very quickly by spinning up essentially the digital workplace in the cloud and then having their apps and data stream down securely from the cloud to their end users anywhere. That’s been the big “aha” moment that we’ve had as we look at our customer base and enterprises across the world. We’ve done it for our own internal use.

Gardner: Araceli, it sounds like some verticals and in certain organizations they may have waited too long to get into the VDI mindset. But when the pandemic hit, they had to move quickly.

What is about the digital workplace services solution that you all are factoring together that makes this something that can be done quickly?

Lewis: It’s absolutely true that the pandemic elevated digital workplace technology from being a nice-to-have, or a luxury, to being an absolute must-have. We realized after the pandemic struck that public sector, education, and more parts of everyday work needed new and secure ways of working remotely. And it had to become instantaneously available for everyone.

You had every C-level executive across every industry in the United States shifting to the remote model within two weeks to 30 days, and it was also needed globally. Who better than Dell on laptops and these other endpoint devices to partner with Unisys globally to securely deliver digital workspaces to our joint customers? Unisys provided the security capabilities and wrapped those services around the delivery, whereas we at Dell have the end-user devices.

You had every C-level executive across every industry in the U.S. shifting to the remote model within two weeks to 30 days, and it was also needed globally. Unisys provided the security capabilities and wrapped those services around delivery, whereas Dell had the end-user devices.

What we’ve seen is that the digitalization of it all can be done in the comfort of everyone’s home. You’re seeing them looking at x-rays, or a nurse looking into someone’s throat via telemedicine, for example. These remote users are also able to troubleshoot something that might be across the world using embedded reality, virtual reality (VR) embedded, and wearables.

We merged and blended all of those technologies into this workspaces environment with the best alliance partners to deliver what the C-level executives wanted immediately.

Gardner: The pandemic has certainly been an accelerant, but many people anticipated more virtual delivery of desktops and apps as inevitable. That’s because when you do it, you get other timely benefits, such as flexible work habits. Millennials tend to prefer location-independence, for example, and there are other benefits during corporate mergers and acquisitions and for dynamic business environments.

So, Weston, what are some of the other drivers that reward people when they make the leap to virtual delivery of apps and desktops?

Take the virtual leap, reap rewards

Morris: I’m thinking back to a conversation I had with you, Araceli, back in March. You were excited and energized around the topic of business continuity, which obviously started with the pandemic.

But, Dana, there are other forces at work that preceded the pandemic and that we know will continue after the pandemic. And mergers and acquisition are a very big one. We see a tremendous amount of activity there in the healthcare space, for example, which was affected in multiple ways by the pandemic. Pharmaceuticals and life sciences as well, there are multiple merger activities going on there.


One of the big challenges in a merger or acquisition is how to quickly get the acquired employees working as first-class citizens as quickly as possible. That’s always been difficult. You either give them two laptops, or two desktops, and say, “Here’s how you do the work in the new company, and here’s where you do the work in the old company.” Or you just pull the plug and say, “Now, you have to figure out how to do everything in a new way in web time, including human resources and all of those procedures in a new environment -- and hopefully you will figure it all out.”

But with a cloud-based, virtual desktop capability -- especially with cloud-bursting -- you can quickly spin up as much capacity as you need and build upon the on-premises capabilities you already have, such as on Dell EMC VxRail, and then explode that into the cloud as needed using VMware Horizon to the Microsoft Azure cloud.

That’s an example of providing a virtual desktop for all of the newly acquired employees for them do their new corporate-citizen stuff while they keep their existing environment and continue to be productive by doing the job you hired them to do when you made the acquisition. That’s a very big use case that we’re going to continue to see going forward.

Gardner: Now, there were number of hurdles historically toward everyone adopting VDI. One of the major use cases was, of course, security and being able to control content by having it centrally located on your servers or on your cloud -- rather than stored out on every device. Is that still a driving consideration, Weston? Are people still looking for that added level of security, or has that become passé?

Morris: Security has become even more important throughout the pandemic. In the past, to a large extent, the corporate firewall-as-secure-the-perimeter model has worked fairly well. And we’ve been punching holes in the firewall for several years now.

But with the pandemic -- with almost everyone working from home -- your office network just exploded. It now extends everywhere. Now you have to worry about how well secured any one person’s home network is. Do they have their password changed or default password changed on their home router? Have they updated the firmware on it? And a lot of these things are beyond the average worker to worry about and to be thinking about.

But if we separate out the workload and put it into the cloud -- so that you have the digital workplace sitting in the cloud -- that is much more secure than a device sitting on somebody’s desk connected to a very questionable home network environment.

Gardner: Another challenge in working toward more modern desktop delivery has been cost, because it’s usually been capital-intensive and required upfront investment. But when you modernize via the cloud that can shift.

Araceli, what are some of the challenges that we’re now able to overcome when it comes to the economics of virtual desktop delivery?

Cost benefits of partnering

Lewis: The beautiful thing here is that in our partnership with Unisys and Dell Financial Services (DFS), we’re able to utilize different utility models when it comes to how we consume the technology.

We don’t have to have upfront capital expenditures. We basically look at different ways that we can do server and platform infrastructure. Then we can consume the technology in the most efficient manner, and that works with the books and how we’re going to depreciate. So, that’s extremely flexible.

You don't have to have upfront capital expenditures. We basically look at different ways that we can do server and platform infrastructure. Then we can consume the technology in the most efficient manner, and that works with the books and how we're going to depreciate. It's extremely flexible.

And by partnering with Unisys, they secure those VDI solutions across all of the three core components: The VDI portion within the data center, the endpoint devices, and of course, the software. By partnering with Unisys in our alliance ecosystem, we get the best of DFS, Dell Technology, VMware software, and Unisys security capabilities.

Gardner: Weston, another issue that’s dogged VDI adoption is complexity for the IT department. When we think about VDI, we can’t only think about end users. What has changed for how the IT department deploys infrastructure, especially for a hybrid approach where VDI is delivered both from on-premises data centers as well as the cloud?

Intelligent virtual agents assist IT

Morris: Araceli and I have had several conversations about this. It’s an interesting topic. There has always been a lot of work to stand up VDI. If you’re starting from scratch, you’re thinking about storage, IOPS, and network capacity. Where are my apps? What’s the connectivity? How are we going to run it at optimal performance? After all, are the end users happy with the experience they’re getting? And how can I even know that what their experience is?

And now, all that’s changed thanks to the evolving technology. One is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and the use of personal intelligent virtual assistance. At home, we’re used to that, right? We ask Alexa, Siri, or Cortana what’s going on with the weather? What’s happening in the news? We ask our virtual assistants all of these things and we expect to be able to get instant answers and help. Why is that not available in the enterprise for IT? Well, the answer is it is now available.

As you can imagine on the provisioning side, wouldn’t it be great if you were able to talk to a virtual assistant that understood the provisioning process? You simply answer questions posed by the assistant. What is it you need to provision? What is your load that you’re looking at? Do you have engineers that need to access virtual desktops? What types of apps might they need? What is the type of security?

Then the virtual assistant understands the business and IT processes to provision the infrastructure needed virtually in the cloud to make that all happen or to cloud-burst from your on-premises Dell VxRail into the cloud. 

That is a very important game changer. The other aspect of the intelligent virtual agent is it now resides on the virtual desktop as well. I, as an at-home worker, may have never seen a virtual desktop before. And now, the virtual assistant pops up and guides the home worker through the process of connecting, explaining how their apps work, and saying, “I’m always here. I’m ready to give you help whenever possible.” But I think I’ll defer to the expert here.

Araceli, do you want to talk about the power of the hybrid environment and how that simplifies the infrastructure?

Multiple workloads managed

Lewis: Sure, absolutely. At Dell EMC, we are proud of the fact that Gartner rates us number one, as a leader in the category for pretty much all of the products that we’ve included in this VDI solution. When Unisys and my alliances team get the technology, it’s already been tested from a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) perspective. VxRail has been tested, tried-and-true as an automated system in which we combine servers, storage, network, and the software.

That way, Weston and I don’t have to worry about what size are we going to use. We actually have T-shirt sizes already for the number of VDI users that are needed that have been thought out. We have the graphics-intensive portion of it thought out. And we can basically deploy quickly and then put the workloads on them as we need to spin them up or spin them down or to add more.

We can adjust on the fly. That’s a true testament of our HCI being the backbone of the solution. And we don’t have to get into all of the testing, regression testing, and the automation and self-healing of it. Because a lot of that management would have had to be done by enterprise IT or by a managed services provider but it’s done instead via the lifecycle management of the Dell EMC VxRail HCI solution.

That is a huge benefit, the fact that we deliver a solution from the value line and the hypervisor on up. We can then focus on the end users’ services and we don’t have to be swapping out components or troubleshooting because all of the refinement that Dell has done in that technology today.

Morris: Araceli, the first time you and your team showed me the cloud-bursting capability, it just blew me away. I know in the past how hard it was to expand any infrastructure. You showed me where, you know, every industry and every enterprise are going to have a core base of assumptions. So, why not put that under Dell VxRail?

Then, as you need to expand, cloud-burst into, in this case, Horizon running on Azure. And that can all be done now through a single dashboard. I don’t have to be thinking, “Okay, now I have to have the separate workload, it’s in the cloud, this other workload that’s on my on-premises cloud with VxRail.” It’s all done through one, single dashboard that can be automated on the back end through a virtual agent, which is pretty cool.

Gardner: It sure seems in hindsight that the timing here was auspicious. Just as the virus was forcing people to rapidly find a virtual desktop solution, you had put together the intelligence and automation along with software-defined infrastructure like HCI. And then you also gained the ease in hybrid by bursting to the cloud.

And so, it seems that the way that you get to a solution like this has never been easier, just when it was needed to be easy for organizations such as small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and verticals like public sector and education. So, was the alliance and partnering, in fact, a positive confluence of timing?

Greater than sum of parts

Morris: Yes. The perfect storm analogy certainly applies. It was great when I got the phone call from Araceli, saying, “Hey, we have this business continuity capability.” We at Unisys had been thinking about business continuity as well.

We looked at the different components that we each brought. Unisys with its security around Stealth or capability to proactively monitor infrastructure and desktops and see what’s going on and automatically fix them via the intelligent virtual agent and automation. And realizing that this was really a great solution, a much better solution than the individual parts.

We could not make this happen without all of the cool stuff that Dell brings in terms of the HCI, the clients, and, of course, the very powerful VMware-based virtual desktops. And we added to that some things that we have become very good at in our digital workplace transformation. The result is something that can make a real difference for enterprises. You mentioned the public sector and education. Those are great examples of industries that really can benefit from this.

Gardner: Araceli, anything more to offer on how your solution came together, the partners and the constituent parts?

Lewis: Consistent infrastructure, operations, and the help of our partner, Unisys, globally, delivers the services to the end users. This was just a partnership that had to come together.

We were getting so many requests early during the pandemic, an overwhelming amount of demand from every vertical and industry. We had to rely on Unisys as our trusted partner not only in the public sector but in healthcare and banking.

We at Dell couldn’t do it alone. We needed those data center spaces. We needed the capabilities of their architects and teams to deliver for us. We were getting so many requests early during the pandemic, an overwhelming amount of demand from every C-level suite across the country, and from every vertical and industry. We had to rely on Unisys as our trusted partner not only in the public sector but in healthcare and banking. But we knew if we partnered with them, we could give our community what they needed to get through the pandemic.

Gardner: And among those constituent parts, how is important part is Horizon? Why is it so important?

Lewis: VMware Horizon is the glue. It streamlines desktop and app delivery in various ways. The first would be by cloud-bursting. It actually gives us the capability to do that in a very simple fashion.

Secondly, it’s a single pane of glass. It delivers all of the business-critical apps to any device, anywhere on a single screen. So that makes it simple and comprehensive for the IT staff.

We can also deliver non-persistent virtual desktops. The advantage here is that it makes software patching and distribution a whole lot easier. We don’t have all the complexity. If there were ever a security concern or issue, we simply blow away that non-persistent virtual desktop and start all over. It gets us to our first phase, square one, and we would otherwise have to spend countless hours of backups and restores to get us to where we are safe again. So, it pulls everything together for us and being a user have a seamless interface for the IT staff who don’t have the complexity, and it gives us the best of our world while we get out to the cloud.

Gardner: Weston, on the intelligent agents and bots, do you have an example of how it works in practice? It’s really fascinating to me that you’re using AI-enabled robotic process collaboration (RPA) tools to help the IT department set this up. And you’re also using it to help the end-user learn how to onboard themselves, get going, and then get ongoing support.

Amelia AI ascertains answers

Morris: It’s an investment we began almost 24 months ago, branded as the Unisys InteliServe platform, which initially was intended to bring AI, automation, and analytics to the service desk. It was designed to improve the service desk experience and make it easier to use, make it scalable, and to learn over time what kinds of problems people needed help solving.

But we realized once we had it in place, “Wow, this intelligent virtual agent can almost be an enterprise personal assistant where it can be trained on anything, on any business process.” So, we’ve been training it on fixing common IT problems … password resets, can’t log in, can’t get to the virtual private network (VPN), Outlook crashes, those types of things. And it does very well at those sorts of activities.

But the core technology is also perfectly suited to be trained for IT processes as well as business processes inside of the enterprise. For example, for this particular scenario of supporting virtual desktops. If a customer has a specific process for provisioning virtual desktops, they may have specific pools of types of virtual desktops, certain capacities, and those can be created ahead of time, ready to go.

Then it’s just a matter of communicating with the intelligent virtual assistant to say, “I need to add more users to this pool,” or, “We need to remove users,” or, “We need to add a whole new pool.” The agent is branded as Amelia. It has a female voice, through it doesn’t have to be, but in most cases, it is.

When we speak with Amelia, she’s able to ask questions that guide the user through the process. They don’t have to know what the process is. They don’t do this very often, right? But she can be trained to be an expert on it.

Amelia collects the information needed, submits it to the RPA that communicates with Horizon, Azure, and the VxRail platforms to provision the virtual desktops as needed. And this can happen very quickly. Whereas in the past, it may have taken days or weeks to spin up a new environment for a new project, or for a merger and acquisition, or in this case, reacting to the pandemic, and getting people able to work from home.

By the same token, when the end users open up their virtual desktops, they connect to the Horizon workspace, and there is Amelia. She’s there ready to respond to totally different types of questions: “How do I use this?” “Where’s my apps?” “This is new to me, what do I do? How do I connect?” “What about working from home?” “What’s my VPN connection working like, and how do I get that connected properly?” “What about security issues?” There, she’s now able to help with the standard end-user types issues as well.

Gardner: Araceli, any examples of where this intelligent process automation has played out in the workplace? Do we have some ways of measuring the impact?

Simplify, then measure the impact

Lewis: We do. It’s given us, in certain use cases, the predictability and the benefit of a pay-as-you-grow linear scale, rather than the pay-by-the-seat type of solution. In the past, if we had a state or a government agency where they need, for example, 10,000 seats, we would measure them by the seat. If there’s a situation like a pandemic, or any other type of environment where we have to adjust quickly, how could we deliver 10,000 instances in the past?

Now, using Dell EMC ready-architectures with the technologies we’ve discussed -- and with Unisys’ capabilities -- we can provide such a rapid and large deployment in a pay-as-you-grow linear scale. We can predict what the pricing is going to be as they need to use it for these public sector agencies and financial firms. In the past, there was a lot of capital expenditures (CapEx). There was a lot of process, a lot of change, and there were just too many unknowns.

These modern platforms have simplified the management of the backends of the software and the delivery of it to create a true platform that we can quantify and measure -- not only just financially, but from a time-to-delivery perspective as well.

Morris: I have an example of a particular customer where they had a manual process for onboarding. Such onboarding includes multiple steps, one of which is, “Give me my digital workplace.” 

But there are other things, too. The training around gaining access to email, for example. That was taking almost 40 hours. Can you imagine a person starting their job, and 40 hours later they finally get the stuff they need to be productive? That’s a lot of downtime.

After using our automation, that transition was down to a little over eight hours. What that means is a person starts filling out their paperwork with HR on day one, gets oriented, and then the next day they have everything they need to be productive. What a big difference. And in the offboarding – it’s even more interesting. What happens when a person leaves the company? Maybe under unfavorable circumstances, we might say. 

In the past, the manual processes for this customer took almost 24 hours before everything was turned off. What does that mean? That means that an unhappy, disgruntled employee has 24 hours. They can come in, download content, get access to materials or perhaps be disruptive, or even destructive, with the corporate intellectual property, which is very bad.

Through automation, this offboarding process is now down to six minutes. I mean that person hasn’t even walked out of the room and they’ve been locked out completely from that IT environment. And that can be even be done more quickly if we’re talking about a virtual desktop environment, in which the switch can be thrown immediately and completely. Access is completely and instantly removed from the virtual environment.

Gardner: Araceli, is there a best-of-breed, thin-client hardware approach that you’re using? What about use cases such as graphics-intense or computer-aided design (CAD) applications? What’s the end-point approach for some of these more intense applications?

Viable, virtual, and versatile solutions

Lewis: Being Dell Technologies, that was a perfect question for us, Dana. We understand the persona of the end users. As we roll out this technology, let’s say it’s for an engineering team where they do CAD drawings as an engineering group. If you look at the persona, and we partner with Unisys and look at what each end-user’s needs are, you can determine if they need more memory, more processing power, and if they need a more graphics-intensive device. We can do that. Our Wyse end-clients that can do that, the Wyse 3000s and the 5000s.

But I don’t want to pinpoint one specific type of device per user because we could be talking about a doctor, or we could be talking about a nurse in an intensive care unit. She is going to need something more mobile. We can also provide end-user devices that are ruggedized, maybe in an oil field or in a construction site. So, from an engineering perspective, we can adopt the end-user device to their persona and their needs and we can meet all of those requirements. It’s not a problem.

Gardner: Weston, anything from your vantage point on the diversity and agility of those endpoint devices and why this solution is so versatile?

Morris: There is diversity at both ends. Araceli, you talked about being able to on the backend provision and scale up and down the capacity and capability of a virtual desktop to meet the personas’ needs.

Millennials want choice on how they connect. Am I connecting from home? Do I want to have access to a thin client when I want to go back to work? Do I want to come in through a mobile? And maybe I want to do all three in the same day. They don't want to lose work in between. That all is entirely possible with this infrastructure.

And then on the end-user side, and you mentioned, Dana, Millennials. They may want choice of how they connect. Am I connecting in through my own personal laptop at home? Do I want to have access to a thin client when I want to go back to work? Do I want to come in through a mobile? And maybe I want to do all three in the same day? And they don’t want to lose work in between. That is all entirely possible with this infrastructure.

Gardner: Let’s look to the future. We’ve been talking about what’s possible now. But it seems to me that we’ve focused on the very definition of agility: It scales, it’s fast, and it’s automated. It’s applicable across the globe.

What comes next? What can you do with this technology now that you have it in place? It seems to me that we have an opportunity to do even more.

Morris: We’re not backing down from AI and automation. That is here to stay, and it’s going to continue to expand. People have finally realized the power of cloud-based VDI. That is now a very important tool for IT to have in their bag of tricks. They can respond to very specific use cases in a very fast, scalable, and effective way.

In the future we will see that AI continues to provide guidance, not only in the provisioning that we’ve talked about, not only in startup and use on the end-user side -- but in providing analytics as to how the entire ecosystem is working. That’s not just the virtual desktops, but the apps that are in the cloud as well and the identity protection. There’s a whole security component that AI has to play a role in. It almost sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s just going to make life better. AI absolutely will do that when it’s used appropriately.

Lewis: I’m looking to the future on how we’re going to live and work in the next five to 10 years. It’s going to be tough to go back to what we were used to. And I’m thinking forward to the Internet of Things (IoT). There’s going to be an explosion of edge devices, of wearables, and how we incorporate all of those technologies will be a part of a persona.

Typically, we’re going to be carrying our work everywhere we go. So, how are we going to integrate all of the wearables? How are we going to make voice recognition more adaptable? VR, AI, robotics, drones -- how are we going to tie all of that together? 

Nowadays, we tie our home systems and our cooling and heating to all of the things around us to interoperate. I think that’s going to go ahead and continue to grow exponentially. I’m really excited that we’ve partnered with Unisys because we wouldn’t want to do something like this without a partner who is just so deeply entrenched in the solutions. I’m looking forward to that.

Gardner: What advice would give to an organization that hasn’t bitten off the virtual desktop from the cloud and hybrid environment yet? What’s the best way to get started?

Morris: It’s really important to understand your users, your personas. What are they consuming? How do they want to consume it? What is their connectivity like? You need to understand that, if you’re going to make sure that you can deliver the right digital workplace to them and give them an experience that matters.

Lewis: At Dell Technologies, we know how important it is to retain our top and best talent. And because we’ve been one of the top places to work for the past few years, it’s extremely important to make sure that technology and access to technology help to enable our workforce.

I truly feel that any one of our customers or end users that hasn’t looked at VDI, and hasn’t realized the benefits across savings, and keeping a competitive advantage in this fast-paced world, that they also need to retain their talent, too. To do that they need to give their employees the best tools and the best capabilities to be the very best. They have to look at VDI in some way, shape, or form. As soon as we bring it to them -- whether technically, financially, or for competitive factors -- it really makes sense. It’s not a tough sell at all, Dana.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Unisys and Dell Technologies.

You may also be interested in: