'The PC, As We've Come To Know It, Has Become Obsolete'

Windows 7 cloud

Photo: Flickr/Gilad Benari

Techies talk a lot about the “post PC era” as if it’s some kind of apocalyptic scene in a SciFi book, but it’s real and happening now.Even for companies that run 100 Windows apps and have auditors breathing down their necks.

Take Washington Trust Bank for example. It is right now retiring 500 Windows PCs and replacing them with virtual Windows 7 desktops delivered over the company’s “private cloud.” So far, it’s rolled out 400 of these virtual PCs, says Christopher Green, the bank’s vice president of IT Infrastructure Systems.

Green did this now for two reasons. The bank was finally ready to upgrade to Windows 7, which sent him searching around for a better way than buying a bunch of new PCs. And this kind of technology — known as a virtual desktop infrastructure (or VDI) — finally works just as good as a PC.

“The PC, as we’ve come to know it, has become obsolete,” say Green. “There isn’t anything we can do with a PC that we can’t do in a virtual environment and sometimes it’s better in a virtual environment. And then you’ve got the benefits of centralized management. Why would you choose to have a desktop PC?”

Washington Trust has yanked out 400 Windows PCs so far and replaced them with software from VMware called VMware View 5 (that competes with Citrix) and devices from Wang, as well as iPads, iPhones and Macs. All of these run Windows 7 and the company’s 100+ Windows apps.

Wang (recently bought by Dell) makes “thin client” devices that look like laptops, and are mobile like laptops but have no hard drive. Instead they connect to a data centre over¬† WiFi or 3G/4G. That means all of the software is actually being delivered from servers and storage systems and nothing is stored on the device.

Christopher Green, VP of IT, Washington TrustChristopher Green, VP of IT, Washington Trust

Photo: Atlantis Computing

Besides Wang, for the first time the bank could buy iPhones, iPads and a few Macs and turn them into Windows 7 desktops, too.¬†“This opens up our device. We never supported Mac/iOs devices before. All of our business apps run on Windows. Now it’s not a matter of app compatibility with the end point,” says Green.

The benefits of Windows through the cloud are huge. Instead of having to update every PC whenever Microsoft issues a security patch, and validate the update to auditors, the bank merely updates its own server.

The bank had to pay more for Windows licenses (Microsoft charges an extra fee for virtual machines) but made up the cost by saving money on hardware, Green says.

The bank’s data is safer, too. They don’t have to lock down PCs by encrypting hard drives, shutting off USB ports, monitoring every little thing the PC does to make sure it doesn’t pick up a virus.

“VDI simplifies security. For example I have the VMview client on an iPad. I can launch that, bring up a Windows 7 desktop but none of the data is ever on the iPad. It all resides in our physically secure data centre in Spokane,” describes Green.

As for Windows 8, it’s not going to happen for the bank anytime soon, Green says.

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