A young business person remote working, enabled by digital workspace in 2021

Digital Workspace in 2021

Enabling the remote workforce



As an enabler of remote working, the digital workspace was the saviour of business in 2020 allowing businesses to keep operating and employees working. As the dust settles and organisations look forward to a world of flexible working, how can the digital workspace help them achieve their goals and succeed in the ‘new’ modern workplace?

In this podcast we catch up with Xtravirt Lead Consultant and Digital Workspace expert Curtis Brown to discuss how organisations can address the quick fixes implemented in 2020, what they need to do to embrace the digital workspace in 2021 and how leading VMware solutions such as Horizon and Workspace ONE are enabling the future-ready workforce.

Listen to learn and understand more about:

01:57 – Turning the digital workspace necessities of 2020 into strategies for the future

04:37 – Key challenges facing organisations in embracing the digital workspace

06:02 – How technology is enabling the modern digital workspace

08:29 – Key requirements of a digital workspace

16:29 – Getting started and progressing on the digital workspace journey

24:09 – How the Xtravirt Customer Experience Centre is allowing organisations to test-drive digital workspace products and solutions to accelerate and de-risk decision making

Find out more

Xtravirt Customer Experience Centre

Infographic: 5 Ways to win at remote working

Podcast: VMware Workspace ONE

Author picture

Curtis Brown

Solutions Architect

and your host

Author picture

Stuart Robinson

Digital & Creative Manager

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Host: Stuart Robinson (SR)

Guest: Curtis Brown (CB)


00:00:04 SR

Hello and welcome to Cloud Insiders the podcast that brings cloud down to Earth brought to you by Xtravirt but a very welcome to you all and thank you for joining us. My name is Stuart Robinson and I’ll be your host. In this episode, we’re talking about digital workspace the savior of 2020, the enabler of the remote workforce, flexible working, hybrid working, working from home, however you define it digital workspace delivers it. Today I’m joined by Curtis Brown Xtravirt lead consultant, Cloud Insiders frequent flyer and all round awesome guy. Thank you so much for coming on today Curtis.

00:00:38 CB

Well thanks for the invite you know. All this digital workspace stuff has kept me very, very busy of course, and thanks out there for those people who are investing in it, because it’s great.

00:00:50 SR

So as I mentioned it’s not the first time you’ve bought your past digital workspace knowledge to Cloud Insiders listeners. Let’s take a step back and look at what we’re talking about today. In the interest of positivity let’s just say that 2020 was a challenging year. For many companies’ digital workspace was the savior that enabled businesses to keep going whilst the entire workforce was told to work.

We learned in recent episodes such as our one with Tom McVey at Menlo that solutions were deployed, they were done quite quickly and you know they were done to meet the demands of the time, but not necessarily scale or fit or certainly not for long term security. Now that the dust is settling and companies and individuals have adapted to remote working and the kind of ethos that comes with that can companies now step back and revisit some of the quick fixes and decisions and the work that was done in 2020? What warning signs should businesses be looking for from these quick fix solutions? What do organisations need to do to steady what they already have and to strategise for the future of their digital workspace?

00:01:57 CB

Well, I think there are a number of facets to this and I think a lot of companies are already quite aware they did somewhat rush, headlong out of necessity into that, but they also need to consider in some respects replaying their own experiences as the companies taking their existing solutions and scaling it out so considering the issues that were encountered, what was reported by the users replace some of those help desk calls that come in, why is my thing slow? Why is my access ability limited? They may have been shall we say brushed under the carpet in some instances, the old argument of usability versus security may have left some gaps in the solution, that may need revisiting and re-securing or enhancing there may need to be a revisiting of the solution as a whole from an infrastructure perspective. Are we looking at a solution that was scaled at a particular time but is no longer resilient because you filled up the capacity? Do we need to look at revisiting that resilience factor? Are your users going to go back to the way they were or are they going to continue to work in this sort of flexible work anywhere capability?

I already know of a number of customers who were very, very traditional work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday in the office type affairs, who are now saying, well actually we can function in the New World in this context of not everybody being in the office. There are already discussions around some companies, freeing up office space and Reducing costs, having hot desk policy become the norm. So it becomes a question then if that’s the case do you then need to more productionise your working environment that may have been scaled for maybe 20% of your workforce previously and has been stretched to 80, 90% in the interim, and it’s creaking at the seams now you need to assess whether or not your numbers are concurring users that are going to be working in that context need to be in the office out of the office? How are they going to work and then build that those requirements into how you revisit your architecture.

00:04:23 SR

So you mentioned there that you’ve kind of heard about or we’ve been working with some of these more traditional models, until they had to adapt to hybrid strategy what were the hesitation stopping them moving adopting one before COVID-19?

00:04:37 CB

Certain industries obviously have a lot of compliancy regulations, security concerns and so forth and in some cases, somewhat traditional mindsets particularly with respect to remote working or more to the point leveraging cloud resources to either service or support application and business processes.

And in some of those instances, those organizations that were very traditional in their mindset were effectively forced into adopting these new solutions and it becomes a case really of whether they’re happy with that now, whether it’s still appropriate to do so, but in a lot of those cases all those customers are finding that it is, and it can work and they’ve enforced a tough love mechanism almost, they’ve been pushed into this by the needs of the last year and now they’re realising actually it can work and some of that isn’t just technical either some of it is as much business philosophy as well.

This is the sort of social order within a business whether or not people are productive working from home. That was also a very traditional concern that people working from home are they going to be productive and, in general it’s been proved to be the case that in a lot of cases that people are pretty motivated.

00:06:02 SR

Yeah, and that’s cool and so technology was the great enabler then and digital workspace was definitely one of the key ones in that to keep businesses running through 2020 and modernizing the workspace and making the distributed workforce of reality really without it we wouldn’t be able to. So when I was researching I came across a lot of figures that say how remote working even beyond the pandemic will continue. I was reading on the hubspot blog that 58% of companies asked said that they would be adopting a hybrid plan for remote working and in office approach. Only 15.5 said they were planning to go full time back to office work. What is your experience of this, would you agree that this is going to be and I hate using the term the ‘new normal’?

00:06:51 CB

I think we are moving slowly in that direction anyway. Companies certainly are starting to appreciate that flexibility and it started of course, with your typical Salesforce type personnel and field engineer type people who would be out and about anyway.

And so, there’s always been a pressure to provide those with the access to data and applications and services so that ship was already starting to sail and even to the point where you had organisations even a decade plus ago starting to look it offshoring and using technology to achieve that and if you consider offshoring is basically being remote working we were already moving in that direction anyway.

What we’re looking at now is extrapolating that in some respects to those people who traditionally work in an office environment and enabling them to be able to function and that’s not necessarily all of the time it may only be a number of days a week, but to be able to provide those users with that capability, people have gotten used to it and if you’re faced with a business that wants to keep the best staff and you’ve got a policy of pulling people into the office and those people are looking at other jobs elsewhere may be attracted to being able to work from home a few days a week from a convenience perspective, it becomes a very competitive and compelling argument well in the role of staff retention.

00:08:21 CB

So it becomes a factor, but I think ultimately, it is around flexibility and there can be economic arguments to back that up as well.

00:08:29 SR

So now that it’s become part of the status quo what aspects of a digital workspace solution are an absolute necessity and what are the ones that you can add on top so that you’re really winning at digital workspace?

00:08:44 CB

It’s a really good question, and I don’t think there’s necessarily even one answer and I’m always banging this drum and probably get told to change the record, but it always boils down to, what are your requirements? Don’t just take the philosophy of ‘if they build it they will come’ because invariably you will fail because you will meet some of the requirements some of the time, it really needs a deep understanding and that requirement gathering should never end.

It should not be a point in time thing, as we’ve found what was fit for purpose a year or two years ago isn’t necessarily the case now. So it becomes a case of living end to continually revisiting those requirements. What do your staff need to use to work and in what context do they wish to work?

What kind of devices or what locations and then beyond that what are the business requirements in terms of performance capability, security? Let’s remember security is never been off the agenda even through lockdown and should never be ignored. In fact, if anything, it’s been rich pickings for those naughty people who go hacking and so forth and breaching security because of this rush to provide remote working capabilities. It’s potentially lead to openings but whether it’s socially engineered or otherwise to intervene with users.

00:10:12 SR

Yeah, ’cause they were working from home anyway these North people so they’re kind of used to it, and they’re very motivated.

00:10:17 CB

Yeah, but it’s a very good play on the people who weren’t and it’s very easy to consider that those people who are working from home now, who weren’t used to it previously didn’t have to take security quite so seriously or didn’t take security quite seriously because they were in their nice, closeted office environments with the device bolted to their desk and was on the network and was managed and maintained.

Now, if you take that office laptop out of that environment all of a sudden that office laptop is in and of itself a point of access. It could get stolen, so what do you do to keep it protected in the event if it gets stolen?

00:10:58 CB

Well, you encrypt the device you might then look at encrypt VPN or other solutions to get remote access, all of which requires layers of security on top of layers of security and it’s those aspects that generally companies will get moving in this direction anyway because again companies are moving toward laptops versus desktops anyway.

But we’ve become all the more important because, I don’t want to sound condescending but in some cases, some users are less technically ofay than others and we want to take that pressure off, we want to provide them with a good experience and the capabilities that they get in the office but with their device and without hassle and it’s a real tricky balancing out between the two.

00:11:44 SR

I was talking to someone the other day who said they were sat they sat next to someone relatively old school. They had you know they had their passwords stuck to their monitor on post-its, that kind of thing, which in old times, you know it was one thing.

But now that everyone’s FaceTiming and apparently the person behind her, was on a FaceTime and just all the passwords are now all over the Internet if the person at the other end of that call is slightly less scrupulous than you know, then they need to be they can just they’ve got it.

00:12:20 CB

Yeah, and whenever you see these news articles about children intervening or pets, intervening on important conference calls or anything like that. Yes, they’re good for comedy value. But equally if you have a look in the background, you can tell a lot about a person and certainly in we within Xtravirt have got a policy of now using managed backgrounds for teams calls for example, and then not just to look pretty ,they are important not just from a an aesthetic Business Standard perspective, but they can also protect both an individual from a privacy perspective.

But also, if you do have documents or a screen in the background that may well reveal some information either about you, or your work or your family, you don’t necessarily want to share and so having those technologies adapted nearly all of them do these virtual backgrounds now and provide that capability and that’s just one facet of privacy.

00:13:24 CB

Let’s remember people also have a nasty habit of putting passwords in unencrypted documents and then go and emailing people or they’ll trust that the solution is secure without it necessarily being so, so we have to make sure that those resources at an IT level are secure and safe. It properly securing Office 365 resources SharePoint and so forth and instituting the relevant training for staff as well, and it doesn’t have to be chapter and verse now shall not do this that in the other, it can be just very lightweight basic IT education. Ironically, I would say primary school kids these days are probably better educated and better served at that than some adults.

00:14:18 SR

As a lead consultant in digital workspace and a multi year VMware vExpert, how are VMware solutions such as Workspace ONE and Horizon ensuring future ready workspaces?

00:14:29 CB

Well, it’s very, very interesting because it’s very holistic solution and very catch all. Again they’ve built a set of tools at the end of the day. There is not simply something that’s bolted on rails.

Once upon a time VMware Horizon was simply virtual desktops. You had your VMware vSphere environment, you stuck up a load of Windows XP virtual machines and share them out as desktops to end users but that was then and since those days, Horizon and Workspace ONE and all the components that are part of that solution now provide an ability to go from endpoint of managing and controlling and administering endpoint devices providing user based security and access control measures, as well as being able to provision applications built on the native device itself and that can be mobile phones, it can be handheld devices… We recently had a customer discussing Windows CE scan hand scanners being managed with workspace one for example through to being able to publish corporate standard desktops in a virtual desktop context or even remote published applications similar to say Citrix in the past and even to this day actually so we can have Windowed applications that are running on a server, they look like they’re running on your PC, but actually running in the data center. So we’ve got the full the full range of capabilities across the board that could be leveraged, some might not be appropriate in all cases, others will be. But it’s a tool set nonetheless, and it can generally meet pretty much 90 to 100% of business requirements in both remote working and in office requirements.

00:16:29 SR

OK so we’ve talked about providing a secure experience and what you can use to do so, but how do people get started? How do they progress in the digital workspace? How are companies going to advance and how are organisations like Xtravirt supporting businesses in this?

00:16:46 CB

While I think the first port of call is as always me banging my drum is getting the requirements what it is we’re trying to achieve? Xtravirt in that context are very practiced of going in and a colleague describes it as being like a psychiatrist, sit back relax tell us your problems, tell us where your pain points are, What are your users trying to achieve? What is the business trying to achieve? getting those business requirements, that includes the end-user requirements and then the technical requirements, where are you now? What are the pain points you’re finding with the current world? Where is the destination of where you want to go?

00:17:32 CB

Now some of that where do you want to go may well be aspirational, and we only ever get maybe a percentage of the way down that path. But if that percentage of the way sets you up for reaching the end of that path in however many years’ time, it may be a road map may not be.

We may deliver a solution now that is the first part of a road map towards maybe migration to cloud in the future. And indeed, some VMware’s only solutions, work in that context. If you were to buy VMware Horizon 8 for example with their new universal licensing, your licensed, not just for the traditional VMware Horizon on premises in your own data center, but you are also licensed to be able to deploy desktops in VMware Cloud on AWS or other providers where you’ve got VMware vSphere in cloud-based data centers.

So, infrastructure as a service, you’re still delivering kind of same desktop experience, but you have just shifted from your own data center into the cloud, partially as it were. Sort of a hybrid model if you like, but then that that same license also enables you to go full desktop as a service and that could be in Azure. So Horizon Cloud on Azure and that’s all managed with the cloud backplane, so you can shift between the three sort of; on the ground, slightly in the cloud to your above the cloud.

That sort of model can be a road map to the future. It doesn’t have to be set in stone.

00:19:06 SR

Yeah, you said that kind of sometimes you make this road map but it always doesn’t always get seen to fruition. What do you see is the stumbling blocks there? What do you see as the means of getting over them? Is it a skills gap? Is it not having the OPS capacity? What is the kind of stop there?

00:19:24 CB

Time. Like all companies and the bigger the company, the more this is the case. There are lots of wheels within wheels. There are a lot of technologies that have been on-site and on premises for years or they’ve been worked in a particular way that there can be technical difficulties with evolving those. So sometimes those platforms have to evolve as well, it’s not a race at the end of the day.

It’s not a race to the cloud its what is relevant to you is, what’s relevant in the workspace context as well. You may have a legacy application is 20 years old that is stuck in the data center.

How do you provide users access to it if they want to work in the context of not 20 years ago? Being paid to a desk and I will work anywhere well. Again, we can provide multiple means to achieve that if the application doesn’t have much in the way of a latency problem or anything like that, we can give them a nice shiny laptop with a virtual private network connection into the data center.

Great, wonderful, we can access it that way, or we go VDI. So we’ve got Ways and Means, but coming back to your original point.

00:20:35 CB

What’s the stumbling block? Often there isn’t one stumbling block, and often a lot of these things are simply transitionary stages. So like I say, it’s somewhat aspirational. You may have an aspiration, for example to go all the way into the cloud in however many years time.

You may even be you have a road map of time, but it can take time to get there because you may well have to train your staff. Both IT and users, but also you’ve got all this peripheral services is not just about the endpoints, it’s also about the applications and data. So we have to look at the big picture and some of these things, a fleet can only move as fast as your slowest ship.

00:21:18 SR

So, you kind of mentioned there that there’s the time constraint. There is the capacity constraint. The Upskilling Time is there a way that companies can approach, some sort of managed service provider. You mentioned about the fleet can only go as fast as the slowest boat, but what if the boats only at the back when you’re given an engine?

00:21:36 CB

Yeah, and I think that is a really good analogy, full of analogies today, so we can look at it from the point of view of you can try and do this all yourself.

And there are indeed some very, very well-trained people, who very good experience people within companies that are quite capable of dealing with a lot of the technologies that are there.

However, you might have an organization that has limited budget, limited number of personnel, but lots of things you have to look after. At which point it then begs the question.

Well, for certain services, are you better off actually leveraging cloud services, or even a managed service provider to provide support on those elements so you don’t have to necessarily maintain those skills in house and you free up your own personnel to deal with the specialized IT in your business.

So instead of having to have staff who maintain your infrastructure, virtualization platforms or even certain aspects of the virtualized, maybe VDI or workspace management solutions such as Workspace One, having a managed service provider just keep that fed and watered and basically you make requests to them. They deal with it. Let them deal with what they know. They are the experts in that you pay them the money. Let them deal with that. Why your people can focus on your industry specific IT needs, so might be your core service applications and servicing requires. And indeed, finding out what those requirements are in the 1st place. Let them look at what the business needs and the very business specific technologies are and dare I say, the humdrum stuff of infrastructure and the components on top of that can be managed by a managed service provider just as well in a lot of cases.




00:23:38 SR

Humdrum how very dare you. OK, so that’s kind of coming up the end of the path so but for anyone looking to start the journey looking at a significant change or upgrade in relationship to digital workspace. It can be quite daunting, but Xtravirt have given users the means to try the most popular technologies in a secure environment?

What can you tell us about the Xtravirt Customer Experience Centre and the digital workspace offerings that it has inside?

00:24:09 CB

Well, the Customer Experience Centre is a platform based on VMware and VMware STACK solutions in an on-premises context. So, we’ve deployed a VMware vSphere environment with VMware Horizon on top of that to provide a workspace, a desktop and application work experience with Workspace One access to provide a portal to access those services, and indeed web links.

So in that context a user can access our CEC via Workspace ONE and as a user we’ve got multi factor authentication using VMware verify, so effectively a user will go to the web portal, log in with their credentials and get past the request, to authenticate with them with VMware verify which is a simple application installed on a mobile phone, iPhone or Android. Once they have then authenticated they can then click on the relevant services they’ve been entitled to, so that might be a Windows 10 virtual desktop, or might be a link to a web application.

Now being CEC is rather generic, so it’s not integrated into specific bespoke requirements because we are demonstrating two particular customers, but unlike, say, large corporate environments where if you get a very generic experience. If you engage with Xtravirt, we can in in some instances put some more bespoke experience around there so we can put a nice shiny wallpaper in there or we can customize certain aspects of integrating search web services provide links and so forth depending on what the mileage is.

Within the CEC, we can also demonstrate further technologies that VMware have, so some of the vRealize suite. Those sorts of tooling as well. And some what a combination of sales showroom and technical example.

00:26:26 SR

That’s cool so I was checking out, the web page for it beforehand xtravirt.com/CEC you’ve kind of cut things into product test, solution demonstration and proof of concept.

Can you tell us a little bit about those kind of the solution stacks underneath them and and the value that this can bring to customers?

00:26:45 CB

Yep, so let’s take the proof-of-concept idea as being a really good one. Obviously bearing in mind I’m the lead consultant in the end user computing practice, so I’m going to be a little bit biased, but effectively what we can do in that context of proof of concept we might be looking at a customer who’s interested in going virtual desktop but they want to see whether it will work for them.

But without necessarily going the whole hog of setting up an evaluation on site, which obviously implies setting up resources, servers, it’s all time consuming for something that may be transitory if they don’t like it. So what we can do in that context is we can say, OK, we’ll set up a number of users, here are some credentials you can log in, and you can get that desktop experience. You want some applications, what applications do you want? We can use app volumes to deploy traditional thick applications being Microsoft Office or WinZip to a virtual desktop depending on the context of who they are. We can administer certain policies so we can go alter the look and feel of the desktop and we can indeed provide them with some ability to look at certain other services within that environment as well, so it might be they might have somebody who’s technical is interested in vrealize operations, so we might give them some ability to work with some dashboards, that sort of thing there.

But the capabilities are there to be able to demonstrate those kind of capabilities.We can either look at it as a walkthrough.

00:28:22 CB

So saying we can work with Mark with a presales consultant, to take you through it, show you what what a VMware world looks like as it works, or we can give you some grace and have a look and feel experience and use the solution in that demo context.

We have the ability within the CEC as well to test ideas and demonstrate concepts. So if a customer has a rather bespoke requirement, there are certain capabilities we can leverage in there because we control the environment.

00:28:57 SR

OK, so without sounding too trite. It’s a It’s a very it’s a strong try before you buy which probably isn’t something that has been available in this space before, I guess?

00:29:08 CB

Not in such a bespoke manner. VMware have their own equivalent. For example, their hands on labs, and it’s a very good platform, particularly training tool, but it is somewhat on rails. You have certain experiences and it’s designed to be something for everybody, whereas in our case we can we be there can be a little bit more boutique about it.

00:29:27 SR

It looks like all indicators are pointing to hybrid working models becoming a larger part of the business world foreseeable future and by the sound of things it’s not really a surprise to anyone.

But I think we all know that COVID-19 pushed everyone ‘s plans forward considerably. From what I’m hearing the key takeaways at this point are, if you’ve got a digital workspace solution set up and running already now would be a good time to check it over lookout for those warning signs of wear and tear bit of bloat bit of stretch. Any security issues because this is not baggage that you want to take forward. It is so much more important to get on top of it now and if you’re not sure about how or if you’re worried about the pressure it might put your teams under, then maybe it’s time to look at a managed service provider to come in and manage that side of things for you.

00:30:10 SR

I think also picking up on a key point you mentioned quite early on is if you have got a good, solid foundation underneath you and a happy workforce, not only are you doing a Sterling job and you should definitely be commended for what you’ve achieved so far, but you should never take your eyes off the horizon. It’s always a shifting environment and you’ve got to make sure that you’re up to date you’re moving with the trends and rolling out the new features not just to stay competitive as a business but to retain employees improve recruitment efforts. Because if people are using this for 8 hours a day, you need it to be the best experience possible. And to anyone listening that may have a solution in place already or are looking to change what they’re using and there’s no need to despair.

It can be a daunting prospect taking on a digital workspace solution.

But there are good people out there. There are companies out there such as Xtravirt that are happy to help get you up and running. No matter where you are on your journey even if you don’t even know where you are on your journey. We tell you the questions you should be asking so that we can tailor solutions for you.

But whether you’re looking to up your going start afresh or scope anew solution, why not try the try the Xtravirt CEC. It’s a great place to get your hands on the latest technology take a test drive of the latest digital workspace solution such as VMware Workspace ONE, VMware Horizon. All the underlying stuff.

Then there’s NSX in there, we’ve got VCF. We definitely have vSphere, we’re also running Runecast and Veeam in there. If you are keen to get hands on, try out the CEC or request a demo to see VMware digital workspace solutions in action, then head over to Xtravirt.com/CEC to find out more about Xtravirt you can go to Xtravirt.com website.

Or if you just want to say hello and drop us an email. You can get us at info@xtravirt.com. All episodes of cloud insiders are available to stream from all popular podcast.

To Curtis, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure as ever and we shall speak to you soon

00:33:12 CB

Thank you.


Author picture

Curtis Brown

Solutions Architect

and your host

Author picture

Stuart Robinson

Digital & Creative Manager

Get it first

Sign up to the Cloud Insiders newsletter and get all new episodes before anyone else