Virtualisation to put consumer tech in the workplace

Industry observers say virtualisation will enable staff to use their own devices at work, while keeping corporate data safe

Virtualisation promises to usher in a new era of consumer technology in the workplace — potentially satisfying the demands of new workers from the Facebook generation who want to use more consumer hardware for work purposes.

Companies are expected to increasingly roll out technology to implement 'sandboxed' virtual machines on staff's personal laptops and mobile devices, allowing workers to choose the hardware they use to do their job, while keeping corporate data safe.

Such virtual machines can give staff access to their business applications and information, including the security protocols and software of the corporate system, and are completely isolated from the user's physical machine.

The shift should help businesses cater to 'millenials' who a want to use their own technology — including iPhones and instant messaging — at work, according to a recent survey.

Clive Longbottom, service director for business-processes facilitation at analyst house Quocirca, said that both VMware, with VMware View, and Citrix, with its ICA application-server-system protocol, will be focusing on the technologies in 2009.

"With the collapse in laptop prices and more people wanting to use their own machines, there will be a massive push towards this use of virtual desktops next year," Longbottom said.

"The virtual desktop is completely sandboxed from the physical machine to the extent that you cannot even cut and paste between the two," Longbottom said.

"Citrix wants to take it even further, with a virtual desktop on devices such as the iPhone or Nokia models, where you will be able to use them to access your work desktop and it will be repurposed for the mobile form factor," Longbottom said.

Guy Bunker, chief scientist at Symantec, said the security company is also developing virtualisation technology to allow consumer technology to be used at work.

"We are looking at a way of taking the virtualisation of the end point and allowing workers to download a corporate virtual machine. Within that, you will have the corporate security stack and applications, but it will be completely isolated and sandboxed," said Bunker.

"You will see this happening on laptops first before spreading to other devices," he said.

Bunker said that such technology can also help consolidate software licensing costs by allowing the virtual machine to run applications held centrally, rather than on each user's device.

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