Back to the Future: The Revival of the Virtual Desktop

I grew up around computers. My dad worked for Burroughs Corporation for over 36 years. He sold large computers to financial institutions as well as the federal government (we lived in the Washington, DC area).

virtual desktops

As a high school kid, I remember going with him to see a client who provided computing “timeshare” services to smaller businesses. The company would rent time to these businesses so they could run their programs. They would connect to the mainframe computer via telephone lines.

One of the earliest agency management systems – Insurnet – was specially designed to be used by agency staff via a telephone handset connected to a modem that provided access to the “computing center” where the equipment was maintained.

These early versions of remote computing ultimately did not work for businesses because of the high cost of providing dedicated telephone lines.

Fast Forward to 2000

The first agency management systems designed to run “in the cloud” were developed in the early 2000’s. I began writing about and talking with agency owners about using an Application Service Provider (ASP) platform for their agency management needs. These platforms were product-specific, requiring agencies to continue to manage networks within their offices to handle other programs and services. Virtualizing desktops was possible, but slower Internet speeds made them difficult to use.

The Rise of Desktop as a Service (DaaS)

The continued development of our technology infrastructure and increased Internet speeds now allow any size organization to outsource each and every desktop within their offices. Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is the current term used to describe a cloud-based service in which a provider remotely manages all of your network services.

You purchase the DaaS service on a subscription basis, per desktop. In the DaaS model, the cloud service provider manages the back-end responsibilities of data storage, backup, security, and upgrades. Typically, the customer’s personal data is copied to and from the virtual desktop during logon/logoff and access to the desktop is device, location, and network independent. While the provider handles all the back-end infrastructure costs and maintenance, customers may manage their own desktop images, applications, and security, unless those desktop management services are included as part of the subscription services.

DaaS can be a good alternative for a small or mid-size agency that wants to provide their users with the advantages a virtual desktop infrastructure offers, but find that deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in-house to be cost-prohibitive.

Enter Amazon WorkSpaces

Recently, Amazon announced their new Amazon WorkSpaces product. In the insurance agency space, there have been several cloud service companies that have provided virtual desktops. Amazon’s entry into this space does deserve attention.

Some larger agencies have been able to keep their IT infrastructure costs down by adopting a virtualization mindset. Virtualization allows them to manage desktops and other devices centrally across the enterprise. However, for many small to medium size agencies, the financial benefits and efficiency of virtualization have bypassed them because it cost too much and requires specialized knowledge to install and maintain.

Amazon WorkSpaces will, potentially, change this dynamic. It provides a pay as you go service that allows a company to set up its virtual desktops within AWS. This allows the organization to avoid purchasing the hardware, software licenses, and expertise to create and manage the platform. With the AWS model, you provision the number of desktops you need, and if you have a short-term need to increase the number of individuals (i.e. during a particular project) you simply add them. Once the project is done, you remove them.

Users could install their own software applications or use ones available through Amazon WorkSpaces such as Microsoft Office, Firefox, and Adobe Acrobat. Users access their WorkSpaces desktop from laptops, iPads, and Android and Kindle Fire tablets.

Amazon WorkSpaces also provides compression and encryption of data using PCoIP (PC over IP) to transmit “pixels only” across standard IP networks.

Benefits of DaaS

Fully managed: Amazon WorkSpaces makes it easy to manage your desktop computing infrastructure by avoiding the complexity of maintaining, patching, and managing a large physical desktop environment.

Supports multiple devices: As mentioned above, users can access their Amazon WorkSpaces using their choice of device, such as a laptop computer (Mac OS or Windows), iPad, Kindle Fire, or Android tablet.

Data secure and available: Amazon WorkSpaces provides each user with access to persistent storage in the AWS cloud. When users access their cloud desktops using Amazon WorkSpaces, you control whether your corporate data is stored on multiple client devices, helping you keep your data secure.

Choose the hardware and software you need: Amazon WorkSpaces offers a choice of bundles providing different amounts of CPU, memory, and storage so you can match your Amazon WorkSpaces to your specific requirements. Amazon WorkSpaces offers pre-installed applications (including Microsoft Office), or you can install your own licensed software.

No up-front investment: Amazon WorkSpaces requires no up-front investment and features simple monthly pricing. With a few clicks, you can provision the number of desktops you require, and you pay a monthly charge for each WorkSpaces that you launch.

Integrate your corporate directory: Amazon WorkSpaces securely integrates with your corporate Active Directory so your users can continue using their existing enterprise credentials to seamlessly access company resources. This also makes it easy to manage your WorkSpaces using familiar systems management tools.

Amazon has made it easier to create a fully virtual platform. But, it still requires some technical help to get WorkSpaces up and running.

Vertafore Adds DaaS Service

To help insurance organizations of all types move to a virtual environment, Vertafore has introduced their Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) offering. Their service enables agents to retain their own personal desktop operating system and application experience, while secured and managed by Vertafore’s specialists using the Amazon WorkSpaces cloud platform.

“The cost of DaaS technology is now less than buying a PC. Modern agencies have an opportunity to reallocate significant funds to enhance more critical agency operations,” said Steven Finch, VP of Strategic Solutions. “We provide a comprehensive portfolio of cloud services to help agencies and other insurance businesses easily transition their desktops or other business critical software to the cloud. Vertafore’s DaaS offering is a simple, secure, and effective step in embracing cloud technologies, and allows agencies to free themselves from the grips of the PC stronghold.”

We really are going back to the future. The ability to rent computing power – instead of buying computer power – is finally a reality for insurance organizations of any size. This option could be just what your organization needs.

What do you think? Is this something your organization could use?

(Reprinted from original LinkedIn article, September 11, 2014)

Founded in 1954, Assurex Global is an exclusive Partnership of the most prominent independent agents and brokers in the world. With more than $28 billion in annual premium volume and more than 500 Partner offices, Assurex Global is the world’s largest privately held commercial insurance, risk management and employee benefits brokerage group. An international insurance powerhouse, the Partnership combines the local expertise and global reach of international brokers on six continents.

Date: October 22, 2014
Time: 08:30 a.m.
Event: Assurex E&O Plus Quality Meeting
Topic: Managing E&O In a 24/7 World
Location: New Orleans
Public: Private

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

―Stephen Covey


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Date: December 3, 2014
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Connected Cars

Chevrolet, AT&T and OnStar have come together to develop the connected car. Using the AT&T LTE network, the new service will feature a collection of apps focused on music, weather, news, and vehicle telematics. The OnStar 4G LTE service will also feature a Wi-Fi access point built into the car with support for up to seven devices.

The connected car

One of the interesting apps is the vehicle health app which shows any issues with your car from “oil health” to tire pressures. The app can translate the “Check Engine” light and error codes into something that you can actually understand. The Chevrolet AppShop will initially be offered in its Canadian and U.S. MyLink-equipped 2015 model year Corvette, Impala, Equinox, Volt, Malibu, Silverado and Silverado HD.

Connected cars offer us a picture of what the future might look like as vehicle technology continues to improve the driving experience as well as increasing safety.

Photo: Broadcom