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Jun 6, 201912:38 PMOpen Mic

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Business leaders should understand ‘Modern Desktop’ as a seismic shift in corporate computing

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By now, most business leaders are familiar with some aspects of their organizations’ journey to the cloud. That includes CEOs, CFOs, and others who don’t live and breathe technical topics on an everyday basis.

These business leaders have probably already seen financial and operational benefits of moving software and servers to the cloud. That includes products in widespread use, such as Office 365, as well as enterprise software specific to a single organization.

But business leaders may not yet be familiar with some more recent trends in the cloud journey. One of these is referred to in the IT industry as “Modern Desktop.”

Though the phrase “Modern Desktop” sounds like it might be just a marketing phrase, it’s actually a seismic shift in corporate computing.

In fact, it’s such a big change that dedicated IT professionals — who have, in many cases, worked for decades to build and maintain network architectures that have, for the most part, served organizations well — may in some cases be reluctant to recognize and embrace both the scope and importance of this transformation in corporate computing.

Therefore, it’s all the more critical for business leaders to understand the basics.

The topics at play here are so fundamental that they affect everything from how devices are managed — no longer provisioned by IT staff — to the very role of the IT department in the broader environment — no longer delivering devices and experiences, but rather enabling them subject to corporate governance policies.

My objective with this article is to lay out for CEOs, CFOs, and other business leaders the essentials of the Modern Desktop model. This is, without question, the future of corporate computing.

The traditional “corpnet” model

First, let’s briefly note the traditional model for corporate desktop computing — a model that has, to a large extent, served companies and users well and has scaled up to hundreds of thousands of users:

  • Network architecture and security: Devices are “joined to” a corporate network. That is, either a physical presence or a virtual private network (VPN) connection is required to access corporate resources. The basic security posture is one of keeping threats out, such as by firewalls and a mix of antivirus tools.
  • Applications: Like the devices accessing them, applications also run on the corporate network.
  • Device deployment and management: The IT department images new devices in what is often a time-intensive provisioning process. Devices are then delivered to users and managed centrally.

Given that this traditional model is still working reasonably well for most organizations, why does it even need reinvention? We’ll take three of the biggest reasons in turn: (1) security, (2) efficiency, and (3) the cloud-based, application-centric user experience.

The Modern Desktop model is architecturally more secure

The traditional corporate-computing model has a fundamental architectural problem when it comes to security — because end-user devices are joined directly to the corporate network, a compromised end-user device can threaten other parts of the network via lateral movement.

You can, of course, address lateral movement and other security risks using a wide range of tools, both hardware and software. But you can’t expect any number of security tools — whether hardware or software — operating in the same network space as a potential threat to reduce risk as effectively as solving the underlying architectural problem.

In the Modern Desktop model, it’s extremely difficult for hackers to move laterally from one desktop to another, or from a desktop to a server. The devices and servers only touch in the middle when a user needs access to a particular application — and in gaining that access, users and devices must navigate through a series of protections that ensure the user’s identity and a “healthy” device.


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