Hardware

Should users be allowed to supply their own computers?

In an attempt to show the power of virtualization, Citrix has implemented a policy to allow users to purchase any computer they want. Is a BYOC policy a good idea or a bad idea?

In an attempt to show the power of virtualization, Citrix has implemented a policy to allow users to purchase any computer they want. Is a BYOC policy a good idea or a bad idea?

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Deploying new systems in an organization always presents a challenge. As we've discussed before, there are issues surrounding who gets what PC and when you should replace old equipment for starters. Additionally, there are the problems of getting the best price,  deploying a consistent image, and choosing the best machine for a user's given situation.

Citrix thinks that it has a solution: Give users a stipend and allow them to purchase whatever machine they want.

Eating its own dog food

According to an article in USA Today, Citrix has implemented a solution whereby they give each user a flat $2,100, and with that money, the user can purchase whatever machine they like and bring it into the office.

Although such a strategy may sound like a complete nightmare to anyone in IT who has ever had to support user-supplied equipment, Citrix has a trick up its sleeve. Rather than locking down the equipment via group policy and enforcing access to the network, Citrix uses its own virtulization techonology to make it work. The article doesn't go as far as to say what the product is, but it has to be some variation of Xen, probably XenDesktop.

As the article points out, Citrix enforces a minimum set of requirement on users. Linux users need not apply, because Citrix supports only Mac and Windows users. Also all users have to have current virus protection. These requirements help ensure basic security and connectivity on the network.

Would it solve a problem or create more?

Naturally it would be hard for Citrix to sell a virtualization system that it wouldn't be willing to use itself. Plus, if anyone could make such a system work, it would be the people who created it to begin with. However, would it work as well in a regular organization?

Virtualizing desktops has long been problematic. There's an issue of network bandwidth. Additionally, if there's not enough server horsepower on the backend, then desktop applications can run very slowly. Beyond the strength of the servers, you have to have enough servers to support the number of desktops that are being virtualized. The investment in connectivity, as well as numbers and power of support servers, can eat up any savings on the desktop if you don't plan properly.

The bottom line for IT leaders

Virtualization has been all the rage these days. So far most of the talk has been on the server side, but more thought has been given to doing the same thing on the desktop. Such technology has been around in various forms for a while now if you think back to WinFrame and Terminal Services, and never has gotten much traction. Although XenDesktop, XenApp, and related products offer new technology, problems still may be ahead. Approach with caution and plan ahead if you're tempted.

Do you think you could use desktop and application virtualization to reduce costs on the desktop and maybe allow users to purchase their own equipment? Or are you just asking for problems? Share your opinions in the Comment section below.

21 comments
jdclyde
jdclyde

When there are hardware or bios issues, you are toast. Sounds like some punk in marketing had a bright idea that he never ran by the people would will actually have to make things work and STAY working.....

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

Good idea. However, there needs to be sufficent security, in place to support this "Wild West" mentality. Virtualization only goes so far. At some point, hardware will fail, security will be compromised, "Joe Cool" will lose his computer and someone will purchase either a bare minimum or ragged edge "gamer special" that is functionally unsuited to a business environment...lets not even discuss the many permissive parents that allow Jr. or Sissy to use their company asset for surfing and discovery. If you get the impression that I am not impressed with this proposal, you are mistaken. What I am is skeptical. Skeptical that IT staff will once again be burdened with supporting unknown HW/SW and incompatible configurations - and expected to produce solutions...immmediately.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Citrix has the right idea: a worker should be responsible for and competent to maintain the tools they use to do their job. A plumber is expected to have the proper wrenches. An electrician is expected to have the necessary crimping tools. Only in the realm of IT are companies so ridiculously micro-managing that they seek to control every last tool in a worker's toolbox. The theory seems to be that worker's are not competent to select and maintain their own tools. It should be self-evident how absurd that premise is: if you are not competent to clean a pistol, you should not be carrying one around. However, Citrix's approach is deeply wrong-headed. Their ban on Linux is the best example. Why? Unless you work in one of a very small number of fields, your operating system is utterly irrelevant to the performance of your job. What a company should do is establish a set of functional requirements that the worker's equipment must meet. An Exchange client? Check. The ability to read and write OpenDocument format? Check. A standards-compliant web browser? Check. And so on.

azbat
azbat

This is a 'great' idea, but really, who will be supporting the hardware or software issues, or who would want to on a broad spectrum of unknown hardware coming into an organization. There is a reason for standardization, it makes solving issues much easier .... you know when a particular NIC won't connect, what you need to do. You know the 1 and 2 lights that stay stuck on after boot means there's a hardware failure on that Dell motherboard. If the users buy there own, do you have to support the PCs as well, or just the connection now? Will there be only 'informal' or 'best effort' support and then the user spends the rest of the day on the phone with the vendor, wasting the day away trying to get it fixed, then having to ship the PC or Mac back to the vendor and wait a couple of weeks or months to have it repaired and shipped back? What do they use in the mean time? Users won't think about adding next business day on-site support that a business would purchase with the hardware, they'll be adding in the extra memory or DVD burners they don't need and go with standard support. Also, how do you track if the computer has the up to date virus definitions? That's why in a business they are managed in a central location, so you can check which computers are missing those security patches and virus definitions to stop the spread of any infections through the network. The idea is great for keeping 'purchase' costs lower (though $2100 is still a lot for a computer, well a PC, a Mac, no), but support costs ......... it would be horrible. Bad bad idea!

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

It has been my experience in servicing clients machines that when an approved list of hardware is developed and users have to choose from that list, the long run proves to be cheaper when failures erupt. Allowing users to purchase a unit that meets their fancy but must be massaged and modified to run a corporate mandate of software on a specified platform leads to a steep price when a huge cross section of hardware repairs must be supported by purchasing like parts from whereever they can. This often leads to even bigger headaches when mfgrs use non-standard parts and often obsolete components.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Citrix believes so much in their desktop virtualization products that it is giving employees a check and allowing them to buy whatever computer they want. I mention it, and the potential pitfalls in Decision Central: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/decisioncentral/?p=157 Do you think you could save money investing in desktop hardware by cutting a check to users and then locking them down by virtualizing their desktops? Or are you just asking for trouble?

dixiedi
dixiedi

This is the first thing I haved seen that actually makes me kind of glad I am disabled now and unable to work a real job anymore. Man, I did not think that was possible! Can you imagine even trying to find out what is in the machine so you know what to bring to the work station with you to correct the problem that... well, we all know the rest of that. Damn, I am glad I am disabled. WOW, never thought I'd say that!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Who pays the wages when the unit breaks down and that worker becomes unable to do their job? Don't get me wrong the idea isn't bad just not feasible in any organisation. When Computers first started to enter the workplace they where way too expensive for the user to actually buy and that is the PC?s not the Dumb Terminals that used to be used. Now that these are cheap if a company was to allow the End Users to bring in their own Tools to do their job who is responsible for any infections of the LAN? Who sorts out Software Incompatibilities? Much more Importantly who is responsible for Security Breaches? Today every company has it?s secrets and if their competition was to get hold of them it could be very bad for that company. In the case of today workforce they are very mobile and do not expect to spend their entire working life at one company they expect to move around and get Head Hunted if they are any good at their job. So if they where to bring in their own Computer who would be blamed when one changes jobs to the competition. They don?t need to let anything out just the fact that they moved there for work would be sufficient to hang them if something went wrong at their previous employer. By not being able to move computers between different companies you are at least cutting down one avenue of Litigation that would arise. Then when a workers personal computer infects the network and stops all the staff from working do you honestly not expect the company to try to recover it?s loss? This is ideal for the less than ideal employers out there who don?t want the expense of providing workers tools but it also leaves those same workers open to Litigation for anything that may go wrong. If this was to be brought in the workers would need Insurance Cover to prevent Horrendous Costs incurred when they are accused of something. The same Organisations who see this as a great idea would be the ones who do not put in place adequate safeguards to prevent catasphoric ingressions occuring and they could blame their workforce for their own lack of Common Sense. Col

TNT
TNT

I agree that in such a scenario the biggest hurdle to jump is hardware support. I prefer to have everyone using the same hardware -- it makes distributing drivers and updates much easier and you can get a feel for failing hardware components. But another hurdle that is almost as looming is getting users to understand their computers are not their personal property. Time and again I'm fixing laptops that users installed games for their kids on, or finding Not-Safe-for-Work movies in the DVD player. I remove all the crapware, fix their issue, and send them away with a stern reminder that they shouldn't be using company equipment for personal use. Let the end user buy their own computer and this problem is only going to get worse.

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

Ok, yes virtualization is the new "thing" in IT. We've done it where I work. My problem is the whole aspect of virtual desktops and the fact that wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run to use terminal services, run a load-balanced server architecture, and just use dumb terminals? And if you're really hopped up on Virtualization, have all the production servers as virtual machines set to proper load balancing. Or am I talking out of my ass?

Dark_Knight
Dark_Knight

Boy, I can see so many problems with this idea that I am amazed that it ever saw the light of day. Now, depending on the type of organization you work for this is not going to be possible. With compliance laws and all that, it will not fly, so forget it. Also what about the support? If you have a company over say 200 computers and say at max 20% are the same, what are you going to do? How, as an IT support person to deal with the vast diversity of hardware and software when a problem hits? What about the masses of people that know nothing about computers, are you going to let them go out and buy whatever they want? Are you going to let them support their own systems, when they can have problems turning the systems on that they have been using for years? I would also bet that Citrix will not allow its call center and support center to get what ever they want. Not going to happen, there is no way it will allow for a user to be down due to some garbage computer not working in the middle of a support call. Bottom line, any fair to large size company would not be willing to put that much on the line and a small one would not have the resources to install the server in the first place. Virtual desktops are ideal in the right areas; however the hardware on the front end is still a crucial part in the machine to allow it to run smoothly.

travisdhahn
travisdhahn

I am in an environment where 150+ users are allowed to purchase whatever machine they want as long as it falls into specifications. This is horrible and here?s why: Crapware-preconfigured machines take 2+ hours to uninstall all the branded software. No image - each machine has to have its own OEM CD/DVD that the users hold on to incase a rebuild is required (which they lose all the time) Replacement parts - cant have a "set" of parts There is no requirement for replacement - I have users with P3 machines because they are CHEAP It's their machine - so they think they can do anything on it. All of this makes it very hard for the IT staff - but easy on the company budget.

cupcake
cupcake

The company I worked for last did something very similar for their remote users, only they didn't give the whole amount, but a less amount and the user made up the difference... the machine became theirs after a period of time. From all things heard, this worked well for the company. It may have something to do with the company's very nice discount for two major computer companies, so most people ended up with what was defined as "computer standards".

steve.lawless
steve.lawless

In all my 30 years in IT, I have never heard such a crazy idea. The increased cost of support and maintenance to manage this crazy scenario far outweighs any benefit that Citrix can come up with. I bet they haven't published a cost benefit analysis...

valerio
valerio

It does not make sense to let the end users decide what computer they should get. However by doing so Citrix shows first hand how confident they are that their product runs no matter what computer you are using. Also they are an IT company so it is expected for a large number of their users to be IT literate enough to be able to make a good choice on what they are getting.

arafique
arafique

Dependant on the company, if you are a marketing compnay with snazzy ideas to get your staff to keep their brains in gear, maybe yes or prove a technological point then yes. However for the norm, a no-no. Too may variables - i.e. your own virus checker? Easy, back to the days of Unix/VMS and green screens. Alternatively why not web based applications. Majority of users will find modern web based apps more then adequate for their requirements. Food for thought?

Wild Card
Wild Card

I would not trust my general user base to make an informed decision on what is best. Also, we have a few users that use their own laptops on our network and they feel they should have more privileges than everyone else. I don't need that headache X100.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But having said that if any company needs to meet Compliance Requirements this isn't an option as they will fail before they even get a look in. However who here would be comfortable with their Bank, Mortgage Holder, GP or other professional doing this? I can just see it now some Idiot Politician will see this and demand that all Government Departments jump on the band wagon Cu's it saves money initially to roll out new hardware. :D Col

wired4fx
wired4fx

I sincerely believe the end costs equated with this will be close if not more. Only time will tell. Virtualization is by no means perfect, and there may be unforseen security holes in this. I'm niether for or against either solution, but as a network consultant I wouldn't take that route

Dyalect
Dyalect

Trusting users to decide on computer specs, installed software, warranty etc. Horrible idea all the way around. Someones computer blows up, then what!? They take it back to the mom and pop shop that charged them $2100 for a pentium III. An auditor would have a field day. And what happens when someone leaves the company with their laptop/pc. Bad bad idea. May it never see the light of day.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

As a net admin this would be a nightmare. Its hard enough keeping track of IT assests when there standerdized. But all these off the shelf cheepy holiday special PCs and trying to get them all to work togethor even with VM desktops? (Ps. yes I know I misspelled something up there I don't need to know about it. )

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