Even as tablets have become increasingly commonplace, many
IT leaders still struggle with how to implement the devices at their
organizations. Off-the-shelf software for the devices is no longer a rarity,
but it does little to address existing enterprise applications. In most cases,
issuing the device itself is the easy part of a tablet deployment. Determining
how to upgrade or modify your back office applications to leverage tablet
technology is far more challenging and costly.

Virtualization to the

One shortcut to getting existing applications on tablets is
desktop and application virtualization. Like the virtualization technologies
that most of us are familiar with in the data center, desktop virtualization
moves an end-user desktop, complete with OS and applications, into the data
center. Desktop virtualization largely predates widespread tablet adoption,
having made headway in niche markets where thin clients or generic workstations
accessed centralized applications using technologies like Citrix and Windows
Terminal Services.

Extending this concept to tablets seems relatively obvious,
especially if you already have a virtual desktop infrastructure in place.
Rather than enhancing or replacing existing applications, throw the appropriate
client on your tablet device and suddenly you have access to your complete
application portfolio, all with the centralized management and provisioning
that comes from moving the desktop into the data center. Newer virtualization
technologies allow for individual applications to be virtualized and presented
to the user in a corporate “app store” of sorts. On the backend, these
applications run on what amounts to a shared desktop image, limiting patching
and maintenance to a small pool of images rather than requiring that each user
be provided with an individual desktop.

One small detail

Virtualization certainly provides a rapid way to get
enterprise applications onto tablets, with one major caveat: you’re stuck with
the traditional desktop user experience. Most enterprise applications assume
screens significantly larger than the typical 5-10″ tablet screen and are
keyboard- and mouse-centric. Contrast your typical SAP or Oracle screen to the
average tablet application, and this problem quickly becomes obvious.

There are a few mitigation strategies around the problem of
putting desktop applications on tablets. The first is to simply acknowledge and
ignore the problem, assuming that the cost savings of virtualization vs. tablet-native solutions outweigh the usability hit. Combine this with the fact
that virtualization vendors like Citrix are adding tablet “enhancements” to
their clients, which attempt to “translate” some tablet-style interactions like
finger-based scrolling into desktop applications, and virtualization may be
“good enough.”

Virtualization also opens your fleet of tablets to
traditional desktop development tools. A custom application for iOS and Android
may be a bridge too far for your organization, but a C# front end, built using
traditional desktop tools but with a tablet-optimized UI, may be more


The good news about virtualized applications on tablets, and
the UI challenges the technology presents, is that it’s relatively easy to test
and demonstrate. The big three vendors — Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware — provide
the usual demo licenses of these technologies, but I would suggest an even
easier route for a “quick and dirty” proof of concept: GoToMyPC. The ubiquitous
and familiar remote desktop tool is a Citrix product and contains some of the
same UI enhancement technologies as their virtual desktop client. Put GoToMyPC
on a desktop with your standard enterprise applications, install the client on
a tablet or two, and you have a virtual desktop proof of concept that will make
any usability problems (or lack thereof) glaringly obvious, without spending a
dime or provisioning any complex technologies.

Desktop and application virtualization just might be a way
to start using tablets in your organization, with a very modest investment
compared to custom development or application upgrades. While not without
caveats, it’s easy to test and based on proven technologies that may already be
implemented at your company.