Windows 8: To Go or Not To Go?
March 13, 2012 6 Comments
Windows To Go is a new feature in Windows 8 that allows you to run fully functional instances of Windows 8 directly from external USB drives. Although this is the first time this capability is being supported and available in Windows, it is not entirely a new capability of Operating Systems as some Linux distributions have had this feature for quite some time. However, what makes it interesting is Microsoft’s statement that says “Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview”.
Yes, it is a nice to have feature but can this be really categorized as an enterprise feature? What are the potential use cases in enterprises? Will “consumers” benefit from this feature?
Some of the identifiable use cases are presented below:
1. Application Testing (User Acceptance Testing): The testing of applications by end users in organisations is preferably done in environments isolated from the users’ day-to-day operating environment. This is mainly done to reduce the risk of interference with the users’ business operations especially when new modules, functions, patch and upgrades to applications are being introduced.
With the advent of virtual machines, the test environments can be rapidly provisioned in a matter of minutes. However, not all organizations have readily available virtual test environments. In cases where virtual test environments that can be readily provisioned are available, due to performance reasons, user dislike to having to initiate remote connections to the test environment etc., testing applications remotely may not be feasible.
There are also organizations that have dedicated physical machines in dedicated offices that can be used for testing, but there are times users cannot just go to a dedicated test room for application testing and the scheduling of appointments for test purposes, especially in places where there are a “finite” number of test machines may not be suitable for users.
With Windows To Go, the applications can be installed in the Windows instance running on the USB drive and taken to the user.
2. Temporary / Contractor Workers: Providing physical machines for some temporary / contractor workers may not be feasible in organizations. In addition, using the machines of workers who may be away from the office may not be acceptable, making the Windows To Go solution an effective one in such scenarios.
3. Bring Your Own Device / Bring Your Own Computer: With the rapid adoption and growth of “BYOC / BYOD” in organizations which in its current state implies that organisations have to provide some form of Server Based Computing and variants in order to allow the “BYOC / BYOD” brigades access enterprise applications. With Windows To Go, the applications the “BYOC / BYOD” brigade need can be installed on the Windows instance running on the USB.
4. Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity: Windows To Go USBs can be rapidly provisioned during disasters for high priority employees, who have to continue working.
5. Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology: There will be tremendous benefit to using Windows To Go in cases where PoC / PoT are being undertaken, instead of having to provision physical machines for such purposes and then having to rebuild after the PoC / PoT.
6. Education: Schools may find it more cost-effective to give their students USBs with custom applications which they can use anytime, anywhere especially if the school is not willing to allow remote access.
7. Home User: Windows To Go is billed as an enterprise feature but “savvy” home users may find some use for the feature e.g. Parents providing customized Operating System environment for kids; secure online banking / shopping environment where all functions are locked down thereby reducing the attack surface etc.
Despite the potential use cases and safe guards to ensure a secure end-point with tools like Bit Locker, there are other challenges that have to be taken into consideration. Some of these challenges are:
1. Roaming: If the USB will be used in a roaming scenario, then applications that are hardware dependent or have licenses tied to hardware may not function.
2. Managing Offline Devices: One of the greatest bugbears of system administrators is managing mobile devices. Managing a device that will spend most of its life offline is makes managing mobile devices a breeze in the park. Organisations must have standards and policies in place that will ensure the manageability of these USB devices.
3. Licensing: Will licenses be incurred for creating a Windows To Go USB drive or will a license only apply at the point of use? Microsoft is yet to clarify her position on licensing!