How the Citrix X1 mouse transforms the iPad into a respectable thin client

Citrix X1 Mouse

Citrix X1 Mouse

One of the key benefits of cloud based access to business apps and desktops (DaaS) is the flexibility to use virtually any device to get work done. For example, customers of our cloud solutions use a wide variety of devices – iPads and iPhones, Macbooks, Android smartphones and tablets, Windows PCs and smartphones, Blackberry devices, laptops/notebooks, etc – to get work done.

However, iPad owners quickly discover that the user experience is less than stellar when it comes to running cloud based Windows DaaS and Windows apps. That’s because the iPad doesn’t support bluetooth mice, so the only way to interact with remoted Windows desktops and apps is by using your fingers. Because fingers are pudgy, it can be challenging to select things on screen – to the point where users just give up in frustration. Yes, it’s possible to pinch & zoom as a workaround, but having to do that constantly can really impact productivity.

Enter the Citrix X1 mouse, an innovative new product that provides the physical mouse precision needed for Windows apps and desktops to the iOS platform (both iPads and iPhones). The X1 mouse features left and right buttons, a scroll wheel, bluetooth connectivity, and precision cursor movement.

In other words, using it to interact with Windows apps on an iPad “feels” just like using a Windows PC. Finally!

Here’s a 3 minute video that demonstrates the X1 mouse:

Citrix X1 Mouse – Demo on iPad

Unfortunately, the Citrix X1 mouse only works with Citrix Receiver so you can’t use it to interact with native iOS apps. However, iOS apps are designed for finger use and Windows apps are typically designed for mouse use so that’s not much of a downside.

You can purchase the Citrix X1 mouse directly from Citrix. To find out more information, visit the X1 product page at Citrix.com

SMB/SME misconceptions about Cloud Computing Services

We regularly get push back from prospects regarding cloud services and my gut has told me that there is a perception problem among SMBs that cloud services are insecure and unreliable. I think some negative press around very public cloud services that have had some issues has led to that perception.

Microsoft recently commissioned a study that asked polled SMBs, who have not adopted cloud services, what was holding them back:

  • 60% cited concerns around data security
  • 45% worried that using the cloud would result in a lack of control over their data
  • 42% percent doubted the reliability of the cloud

These results confirm my own sense of why many SMBs are still sitting on the fence – they are making decisions based on fear and perceptions, rather than on reliable evidence to the contrary.

The same study asked polled SMBs who have adopted cloud services what benefits they have enjoyed:

  • 94% percent said they have experienced security benefits in the cloud. Specifically, they sighted up-to-date systems, up-to-date antivirus protection, and spam email management
  • 91% said that the security of their organization had been positively impacted as a result of cloud adoption
  • 96% said they are confident their cloud provider can quickly and effectively restore services during an outage
  • 75% said they have experienced improved service availability since moving to the cloud

When asked what was the single biggest benefit of cloud adoption, SMBs cloud adopters cited:

  • time saved not having to manage IT
  • the need for fewer internal resources

Furthermore, the same group was asked about reinvestment of capital that was previously allocated on IT infrastructure:

  • 50% said they have been able to pursue new opportunities because of time saved managing security in the cloud
  • 70% have reinvested money saved as a result of moving to the cloud in areas such as product development and innovation, marketing, and expanding into new markets

I think it’s safe to conclude that there is a huge gap between perception and reality when it comes to how SMBs perceive cloud services. The reality is that adopters of cloud services are seeing measurable and dramatic benefits in IT security, privacy, reliability, and reinvestment of capital.

Even when cloud service outages do occur, SMBs are finding that such outages are rare and typically short lived. In contrast, outages to in-house IT systems are typically much longer since little or no redundancy exists in the IT infrastructure and most SMBs lack in-house expertise to deal with major issues themselves. Outside consultants then need to be brought in, get up to speed on the environment, and try to sort out the mess. Hours if not days of downtime are commonplace.

So if you are on the fence about cloud services due to security and reliability concerns, I would encourage you to read the study results in detail, consider the facts, draw your own conclusions, and then act accordingly.

When you are ready to move to the cloud, we’re ready to take you there.

BYOD isn’t about device ownership, it’s about flexibility

An interesting shift has taken place with the proliferation of tablets (i.e. iPads) and smartphones (Android, iPhone) – PCs are no longer the preferred device.

People have realized that tablets and smartphones provide a touch interface that’s fantastic for consuming content (i.e. casual web browsing, social media, video, games, email) while also providing portabilitity and constant connectivity. They also typically have a longer lasting battery and easily tuck away when traveling. These unique benefits have driven tablet and smartphones sales through the roof, at the expense of Windows PC sales (which have fallen off a proverbial cliff).

Yet, despite these strengths, tablets and smartphones are not great for typing up lengthy documents, editing large graphics, running accounting apps, and the like. For such use cases, the traditional Windows PC (likely Windows XP) sitting on each employee’s desk is a preferred device.

In short, a hybrid device approach is key to success for anyone wanting to service the IT needs of a modern, mobilized workforce. That’s why thousands of businesses are allowing staff to use their own devices for business use. But that can be a risky proposition…

That’s because there can be false savings in offloading the costs of company owned computers by allowing staff to BYOD (bring your own device). BYOD rails against the very things that help reduce IT management costs – namely, device conformity and software standardization. IT management costs can quickly balloon if IT staff are faced with having to support a plethora of devices and operating systems using their existing tools. To effectively support a hybrid device approach, an investment in VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) technologies like Citrix Xenapp, XenDesktop, or VMware View is required.

Furthermore, there is a significant risk of data loss due to the fact that almost nobody uses full device encryption on personal devices and most people use inherently insecure, public WiFi hotspots. Many staff, in frustration, are quietly turning to consumer based file sharing systems (i.e. DropBox) that don’t adequately secure corporate data or provide any accountability.

What’s needed is a unifying experience that:

  • Allows staff to safely BYOD, without compromising security, from wherever they happen to be
  • Provides staff with the flexibility to use whichever device makes sense to them and their use cases
  • Provides a consistent user experience, regardless of device or location
  • Isn’t going to incur huge capital costs, perpetual licensing costs, or staff retraining costs

Citrix powered hosted desktops and apps, combined with an enterprise file sharing and sync (EFSS) platform, provide that unified experience.

So, when the use case demands a touch interface for content consumption, staff can turn to their BYOD tablet or smartphone.

When staff need to quickly view company documents, a BYOD tablet or smartphone can be used to access the EFSS directly. Or, alternatively, staff can seamlessly run a remote Windows app right from their tablet or smartphone.

When staff want to work from a PC or Mac, using a full keyboard and mouse, they can run a Cloud Desktop or run individual Cloud Apps.

Regardless of use case or selected device, a hosted Cloud Computing infrastructure will ensure encrypted and secure communications, flexibility, and a consistent user experience that’s simple to use. Afterall, BYOD isn’t about device ownership, it’s about flexibility.

Shameless plug: by selecting VCIT Consulting as your hosting partner, you can forego any IT infrastructure costs and risky in-house VDI projects and instead lean on a team of VDI experts who’ve been providing hosted cloud apps and desktops since 2006.

Issues That Are Hurting Cloud Computing Adoption

I came across this article just now, titled “These Issues Need to be Resolved Before Cloud Computing Becomes Ubiquitous”:

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/these-issues-need-to-be-resolved-before-cloud-computing-becomes-ubiquitous-1/

The article raises some valid concerns, which I’d like to discuss. In particular, Anita Campbell outlines three issues that she feels need to be resolved:

  1. Mobile apps have terrible interfaces for mission critical business apps
  2. Security and privacy of data are still wild card issues
  3. Customer service for Web apps leaves a lot to be desired

Mobile apps have terrible interfaces for mission critical business apps

Mobile apps

I agree that, for doing serious work, using web based business apps on a tablet or smartphone can be tedious and lacking in features. Because pure web apps often compromise on features and useability, we specifically selected Citrix Xenapp technology as a delivery mechanism for our cloud service because Xenapp makes it possible to deliver traditional windows apps to mobile devices, so our customers can continue to use the exact same apps they used before. No retraining required.

Having said that, there are still obvious usability issues with some Windows apps when run from tablets and smartphones. Yes, you can pinch and zoom and that helps, but that gets tedious pretty quickly. Also, fingers are pudgy and the screens are small :)

That’s where the flexibility of Citrix Receiver really shines…

You can easily connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to an Android 4.x based tablet or smartphone (unfortunately, not iPad nor iPhone – blame Apple) and Citrix Receiver will seamlessly integrate those peripheral devices into the remote experience. Also, if the tablet has an HDMI out connection, then you can connect to a larger screen and transform the tablet into a very useable launch pad for running a Cloud Desktop or individual Cloud Apps. I do just that with my Samsung Galaxy S3 superphone and with my Blackberry Playbook tablet.

Security and privacy of data are still wild card issues

Safe data

Fundamental to enticing SMBs to move to the cloud is convincing them that cloud computing can offer better security than their in-house IT systems do. The reality is that a Windows operating system (i.e. Windows 7) is the same whether it’s running in the cloud or running on a physical PC. So, it’s not inherently more secure to run a Windows Desktop in the cloud.

Having said that, there are a few key differences that a good Cloud Desktop provider can bring to the table that provide real security benefits. Here are just a few examples:

  • Locking down some Windows settings and services that users typically don’t need access to, thereby making it harder for viruses and other malware to gain a foothold
  • Preventing users from running as local administrators, which likewise mitigates against viruses and malware
  • Preventing mapping of external storage devices, which can transfer viruses and malware
  • Providing anti-virus and anti-spam filtering of mailboxes
  • Installing security patches for apps and to the Windows OS on a more frequent basis
  • Providing better firewall protection at the perimeter of the network that incorporates intrusion detection and prevention technologies not available in consumer class firewalls that SMBs typically buy
  • Filtering web traffic to safeguard against viruses and malicious websites without impeding access to safe sites
  • Providing superior physical security and availability at the data center, including redundant hardware, 24×7 security cameras, 24×7 onsite security personnel, secure access cards, locked server cages, proper environmental controls, fire suppression systems, redundant Internet and power connections, etc

I could go on…

While SMBs could employ those security measures in-house, it’s typically cost prohibitive to do so.

Customer service for Web apps leaves a lot to be desired

Customer Satisfaction

I can’t speak for other cloud service providers, but VCIT strives to provide an uncompromising level of service to our customers. For us, Cloud Desktops and Cloud Apps isn’t a side business or an afterthought, it’s our core service and we demonstrate our integrity by providing exceptional service. We feel that’s the only way to build a business that will achieve long-term success.

We offer phone, email, and web (eTicket) based support and our goal is to respond to each and every customer problem within 30 minutes. It’s a level of service that, frankly, the big cloud providers can’t touch…

Why getting data off of laptops, iPads, iPhones, and smartphones is a good thing

While participating in a discussion on Brian Madden’s blog, Danny Allan of Desktone referenced this article about laptop theft:

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2009/07/airport_surprise_1200_laptops.php

The Dell commissioned study of laptop theft was a few years ago now, but at the time 12,000 laptops went missing at US airports each week. Of those laptops, only 1/3 were ever recovered. I’m guessing that plenty of tablets and smartphones go missing now too…

Securing data

The important thing to understand for SMBs is the risk they incur by using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone as a repository for company data. While DropBox et al offer fantastic useablility and convenience, there’s hidden costs associated with keeping any data on your mobile devices should they go missing.

At the very least, you need to secure mobile devices by:

  • Using full disk encryption, if available, to secure local storage
  • Enabling passcodes/passwords to make things harder for the thief
  • Enabling tracking software, if available, so you can locate the lost/stolen device
  • Understanding how to remotely wipe your device, should it go missing
  • Making sure you login with a non-administrator account for day-to-day use

Of course, we would advocate using cloud apps and cloud desktops instead, since that way your precious data remains in a secure data center.

However, our customers sometimes want direct access to documents without having to run cloud apps. For instance, they want to use built-in apps on the device to quickly view an office document, or to pull up a presentation slide. For that, we offer secure WebDAV connectivity to the original document, so a copy isn’t needed on the mobile device. Both Android and iOS devices can run the free WebDAV Navigator app to make this easy.

For details on full disk encryption, tracking your mobile devices, remote wipe, and various other topics, please visit Mike Foster’s blog:

http://www.fosterinstitute.com/blog/fast-security/ (Full disk encryption)

http://www.fosterinstitute.com/blog/laptop-data/ (Full disk encryption)

http://www.fosterinstitute.com/blog/enable-device-tracking/ (Tracking your Apple mobile devices)

http://www.fosterinstitute.com/blog/connecting/ (Apple device security)

Android users should install Where’s My Droid to make it possible to track their device, should it go missing.

Is Cloud Computing less secure than traditional IT systems?

Cloud Storage Security

A typical SMB IT infrastructure consists of a consumer class firewall, dumb network switches, an entry level server that sits in a poorly secured closet, inadequate environmental controls, no fire suppression systems, and no redundant power.

The facility itself is likely a shared office space without 24×7 security monitoring or other theft deterents.

In short, SMBs typically have all of their proverbial eggs in one basket and lack the expertise and financial resources to properly safeguard their data.

By migrating their data to a cloud services provider who does have high availability IT infrastructure, proper environmental controls, redundant power systems, 24×7 security, security card access, locked server cages, etc… they can mitigate against many of the shortcomings of DIY IT solutions.

Assuming that the cloud provider takes no additional measures to secure customer data, the above measures still represent a vast improvement over the status quo.

Taking into account the likelyhood that the cloud provider has superior firewall and IPS/IDS systems, encrypted backups, two factor authentication options, more frequent security patch rollouts, and NOC techs with superior skills (to name just a few), I would argue that an SMB that chooses to run apps and desktops from the cloud is in a much better position than if they choose to run their own IT systems in-house.

What do you think?

SMB Communications Plans and Priorities – report

SMB Communications Plans While perusing the web for related information, I came across a blog post on allstream.com discussing a report prepared by Webtutorials on the challenges and opportunities SMBs face with respect to unified communications and technology in general:

http://blog.allstream.com/whats-new-in-the-2012-smb-communications-plans-and-priorities-report/

The report uncovered the fact that many SMBs are relying on older and outdated technologies that negatively impact employee productivity.

For me, the key point made was in the closing remarks:

…adoption of unified communications and cloud services can in fact allow SMBs to extend to new markets through mobile/extended workforces while reducing the need to increase fixed costs such as office space and infrastructure…

Government of Canada Privacy Commissioner Fact Sheet On Cloud Computing

Data Privacy and Security In The CloudWhile reviewing material on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and it’s implications for British Columbia based companies considering cloud computing options, I came across a fact sheet issued by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

http://www.priv.gc.ca/resource/fs-fi/02_05_d_51_cc_e.pdf

The fact sheet provides an overview of what cloud computing is, provides some insights into why cloud computing is being adopted by many businesses, and discusses some privacy concerns you need to understand when making a move to the cloud.

While not an exhaustive resource, it does provide some good information. Hope you find it useful :)

Leveraging Cloud Computing For Competitive Advantage

Cloud Competitive Advantage

Cloud computing provides some unique benefits such as simplicity, ubiquitous access, subscription billing, better security, and built-in disaster recovery to name a few. But will cloud computing drive operational efficiencies and provide your business with a competitive advantage?

Cloud computing is a disruptive technology that fundamentally changes the way you leverage technology to run your business.

Here are just a few examples of competitive advantages that cloud computing provides:

  • Eliminates capital costs for IT infrastructure, giving SMBs access to IT infrastructure they couldn’t otherwise afford and frees capital to be redirected towards revenue generating assets
  • Rapid provisioning of IT services to new employees makes them immediately productive
  • Rapid company-wide deployment of new software and updates eliminates compatibility issues and fuels innovation
  • Ubiquitous 24×7 access from anywhere, using any device lets SMBs responded quicker to customers, enables flextime without impacting productivity, and provides built-in business continuity in the face of disaster

Here is a discussion paper on the same topic:

http://www.cloudtweaks.com/2012/06/how-to-tap-cloud-computing-to-obtain-a-competitive-advantage/

What Is A Cloud Desktop?

A Cloud Desktop is a regular Windows installation that resides in a remote data center and is accessed over the Internet from anywhere.

It performs and behaves exactly like a well maintained office PC, so there’s no need for expensive staff retraining.

It’s a game changer because a Cloud Desktop adds new benefits such as mobility, simplicity, cost assurance, security, and business continuity in the event of disaster.

[Read more…]