Emerging Tech

Computers on a stick (finally)

Patrick Gray discusses the benefits to enterprise IT of "Windows To Go," a new feature of Windows 8 that claims to allow a fully functioning copy of Window 8 to be placed on a USB stick and booted on any computer capable of running Windows.

I came across a press release this morning from a memory manufacturer touting one of its first products designed to work with "Windows To Go," a new feature of Windows 8 that claims to allow a fully functioning copy of Window 8 to be placed on a USB stick and booted on any computer capable of running Windows.

For enterprise IT, the benefits are obvious. Rather than purchasing and provisioning a machine for each employee, the employee can bring their own hardware, which they likely prefer to your standard-issue "grey box" machine, and boot your company-approved image from the flash drive. Since they're not actually booting into the OS on their machine, concerns about viruses and drivers are mitigated, as are worries about updating and supporting every hardware platform that comes through the door. In addition, replacing a lost "machine" is as easy as providing a new USB stick. Broken hardware and loaner pools become less of a worry, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs come with the benefit of getting your IT department out of the hardware business, all while maintaining corporate computing standards.

All sounds wonderful in theory, yet this technology has a stronger presence in the realm of marketing literature than real-world experience at this point. Questions ranging from how these computers on a stick can be remotely wiped, to how an IT department manages, tracks, and licenses tiny, cheap USB keys loaded with high value corporate assets abound. However, this seems a worthwhile technology to watch and experiment in as part of a more general Windows 8 pilot.

Exiting the hardware business

End-user hardware has always been a painful part of most IT organizations, and is a business most CIOs would gladly exit. Sinking money into buying, provisioning, tracking, and issuing thousands of laptops is an expensive proposition-and an increasingly thankless one, as users wonder why they can't use their shinier or faster hardware rather than the standard-issue clunker. Imagine the front-line employees dedicated to dealing with hardware, from purchasing to junior support executives, all caring for and feeding an activity that adds little value to IT or the overall organization.

Technologies like virtualization and computers on a stick promise a reasonably safe exit from this business and follow a trend that divorces the traditional relationship between hardware and software. Most organizations have some experience with data center-level virtualization technologies, where physical servers are virtualized and consolidated, ultimately making provisioning new servers a matter of a few mouse clicks rather than a complex procurement and logistical process. Even mobile devices have become beneficiaries of this type of technology, with companies offering a "phone within a phone" product that allows corporate-approved applications and connectivity that's isolated from the rest of an end-user's phone.

Driving this trend in the end-user space is an increasing personalization and commoditization of technology. While many of these devices were once simple tools, for many consumers the choice of a laptop or mobile phone is as complex and fashion sensitive as a suit or pair of shoes. While many in IT attempt to resist the influx of consumer devices, the proposition of exiting the hardware business is one that should not be overlooked. Where else can you find an opportunity to save money, abandon a non-productive activity, and create excitement and positive PR among the end-user community? As the technology matures, computers on a stick might be a great way to reach this nirvana.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

30 comments
essex133
essex133

I became so excited when I read that Microsoft are bringing out Windows To Go in Windows 8 that I was going to buy Windows 8 purely for this feature. BUT what I didn't notice mentioned in this article, is that Windows To Go seems only to be available on Enterprise versions of Windows 8? Pity.

steve.beaumont1
steve.beaumont1

1) Win8-To-Go is only available as a Software Assurance benefit with Win8 Enterprise. This means this is purely for business purposes so no "Joe Bloggs" is going to be running this at home instead of a normal OS install. 2) That sorts out the licensing questions re: multiple devices (KMS) 3) *Nix is used in businesses, but at a server level or developer level only, usually. Places that use it in anger as a desktop are the "exception" 4) Those that do use *nix do not use the Live Boot versions, they use it as a normal OS install so saying *nix has had it for years is pointless, so has MS with PE, both used for troubleshooting... 5) Win8-To-Go is not here to radically alter the way things work, it's here to provide yet another option. Best example is for those organisations that are implementing BYOD, but still want a corporately controllable secure desktop. Another is "occasional" home workers as another option to spinning up VDI/RDS sessions. Win8-To-Go is an OPTION. 6) BYOD, Laptop full of torrents/worms, forget to plug-in USB... Panic? No, you make sure technologies like NAP etc are on the network as part of your BYOD policy. Either that or quit doing IT.

benhabing
benhabing

User buys $500 laptop at "insert favorite store here" torrents to hearts content, loading local PC with viruses, trojans, etc... User plugs laptop into corporate network forgetting to insert USB... Network full of worms. BYOD... priceless.

GSG
GSG

So, as an employee, I'm expected to foot the cost for the tools I need to do my job. Laptop: $1000 Desktop: $800 Monitor #1: $150 Monitor #2: $250 Total: $2200, and that's with the discounts that we get as an organization. Tack on another $800 for lost discounts and I'm now out of pocket $3000. What happens when the hardware fails? Sorry, guess you'll have to take it to the Geek Squad, and have to take the next couple of days off of work since you're hardware isn't working. I can see having BYOD policies because we know users are bringing in their own phones, tablets, and even laptops, but to take it to the point that the employee is required to bring their own hardware does not seem like a good idea.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

available for so many years now? From the title I envisioned something smaller than those PCs without a monitor that are about the size of your hand that just plug into the wall - wish I could remember the name, they were featured in a TR blog a couple of years back.

bmullan
bmullan

What does this do to Microsoft's UEFI stand ???

bmullan
bmullan

I'd be amazed if Microsoft supported this given their licensing & actual Windows software itself has always enforced limits on installing/running a Windows license on more than one PC. Many people found out about that limitation simply because they replaced their motherboard or added/removed multiple I/O cards. WIndows had an embedded algorithm that checked if the new HW configuration differed in some specific ways from the the HW environment it was originally installed on. I'm not saying this isn't going to happen ,,, but it would surprise me.

tony
tony

With the O/S on a stick and the new Apple 8 pin connector, the day of the "Rectophone has truly arrived. I understand that the Apple phone has a speech/audio recognition facility (Spiro or some such), Now if the 8 pin socket will accept the USB with the Windows 8 O/S, wearing this in the back pocket of your trousers should present the perfect environment for the "Rectophone !

l.kobiernicki
l.kobiernicki

Most - if not all - Linux user distributions ( as well as the troubleshooting ones ) have had this ability to run from flash drive for years. Why all the fuss about Win8 finally catching up ? Presumably to force all onto Cioud - which platform remains desperately, dramatically insecure - thus rendering easier the task of NSA/GTAC & other litl_bugahs .. OS on USB is nothing new. Drivers perform a critical function - squeezing max. performance from supporting hardware. OS on USB is much more limited, lacking appropriate driver integration with the hosting hardware. Portable is a last-ditch choice: hardware support was developed for a purpose ! M$ thinking is c. 10 years behind the rest of the *nix OS world. And they imagine we users are as hidebound as they are. USB has no built-in memory components to accelerate its functioning - nor does CD/DVD. Running an OS in troubleshooting mode permanently, is really just another a form of crippleware. Worse still, USB is notorious for its propensity to just freeze, misread, and even bug out completely, rendering the drive unusable, for any purpose. Dream on, but the well-informed aren't enthused. This ain't no fix ! The argumentation simply supports yet another way of diverting critical infrastructure investment into the pockets of Greed Inc. Part of a rearguard politicization of the IT world ...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

tier techs whose job it is to fix systems, often in the field. For many years a standard tool used by these techs has been a Live copy of Linux on either a CD or USB to give them a safe boot OS to examine a faulty computer with - often to also run AV software and clean up infected Windows systems or to clean up and start a rebuild of the system. Most corporations using Linux desktops do so with a corporate version of Red Hat or something similar, plus a support contract. It will be interesting to see how the Win 8 to go is utilised in real life.

bboyd
bboyd

or maybe you can... Theoretically the arm machine code signing will still work, then maybe the USB stick will also have a hard signing crypto chip in it. May solve the worries of lost/stolen data if the full USB system is hardware encrypted.

drbayer
drbayer

My first question was if it would work on Macs w/Bootcamp. As soon as you let the user select their own hardware, you have to allow for Macs and other unexpected hardware specs.

drbayer
drbayer

For individuals, sure there are issues w/licensing. For Enterprises with key servers and such, the issue of licensing is reduced significantly. WinPE has been able to run from USB for years (I've been known to use it for troubleshooting when *nix won't work), and this seems like a logical step from there. For IT departments, WIM file manipulation simplifies changes to the standard image for things like updated drivers and such. When I was doing system imaging I had a single Windows image that included all necessary drivers, configs, etc. to work across roughly a dozen computer models from different manufacturers.

gechurch
gechurch

It's now available for an operating system that businesses actually use [Edit for clarity...] on the desktop.

Jeff_D_Programmer
Jeff_D_Programmer

That is a HUGE axe you're draggin' around! did someone pee in your coffee this morning?

gechurch
gechurch

I agree with what Steve said too. I don't think your "but" is actually a but at all. See Steve's point 4). He's saying the same thing you did - live CDs (either Linux or MS PE) are used for troubleshooting, not as a regular OS.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

on their desktops for over a decade. Mind you, they are ones that are run by people who read more than advertising material and are mostly outside the USA.

thomas.ch
thomas.ch

Computers on (usb sized )sticks are now available in plenty with android and other RT OS. All windows versions prior to 8 was also unofficially available as a USB standalone boot by various skinners - Although the performance was not at par and the legality from M$ license policy a big question mark. Not sure how Win8 ready-to-go aid in promoting BYOD .I believe this move would subtly threaten certain IT/Admin folk in big organisation and also question some capex investment made or earmarked for policy/security enforcement etc-. Virtualisation vendors like VMware , eyeing BSOD, has recently announced solutions to pluck this desktop/laptop OS away to IaS/cloud/others medium.

Deonandrews
Deonandrews

You trying to suggest that Linux is not being used by businesses? In which dimension are you living? A business that does not use Linux, is not a business....

lastchip
lastchip

it seems to me l.kobiernicki@ has used a hammer well and hit the nail squarely on the head. The truth is, Linux has had USB compatible operating systems for some time, mostly used to repair lousy infested Microsoft software.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

1. The world IT backbone – the internet – runs on *nix, 2. Most large corporate server farms – Google, Monster, Hotmail, IBM, your grocery chain, etc. – run on *nix. 3. The vast majority of web servers run Apache, a *nix application. [b]Without[/b] those "basement dwelling hob goblins", the average Joe or Josette isn't even as competent at work as our parents generation. We know how to do stuff, but don't know why it works, we don't know how to find out how stuff works on our own, and we've gotten too lazy to look up words like "propagation" to make sure we've spelled them correctly.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

big media coverage, but it's not that way in other parts of the world. It's fairly common outside of the USA to have no big coverage of the Linux or Unix roll-out until some Microsoft support has a bitch about it.

gechurch
gechurch

I'm not trying to say it, I am saying it. Granted, my comment was obviously generalising (and was a little tongue-in-cheek). Any reasonable-sized rollout of Linux on the desktop in a corporation still makes the media though. That's not a sign of a product that's got mainstream business support. A few people have replied talking about server usage in business, and I'm guessing that's the context you are talking about too. I'm not sure if they read the article... clearly the article is talking about a desktop OS and that was the context of my reply.

highlander718
highlander718

In the back/server room, not sure how you can have a decent configuration without Unix....

mHumle
mHumle

We produce climate and production controllers on ARM9 platform (about 10K units anually) - RUNNING Linux. NOT Windows. This because it is just not plausable to REBOOT constantly. The chickens involved would get so frustrated, they would eventually DIE - fortunately people do not react THAT bad to Microsofts horrid stability, or the world would soon come to an end ;-) BTW: Now just started with a NOKIA LUMIA 900 (on Windows). If there is something that fails?? REBOOOOOT. Yawn.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

with a hell of a lot of mail servers being Unix or Linux as well - Solaris is Unix and Red Hat is Linux, both of which are major players in the corporate file server field.

Psycaustic
Psycaustic

Business people - i.e. your boss, dont use *nix they use Windows. Basement dwelling hob goblins with elitist attitudes who fear the propegation of social acceptance use *nix.

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