If the emergence of iPads, like a plague upon the land, through the latter half of 2010 wasn’t warning enough, the slew of devices released at the CES expo in Las Vegas should leave you with no doubt that 2011 will be the year of the tablet PC.
While the devices have been around for a number of years, and have been taken up by the health sector, it was the emergence of the iPad — dubbed by some as the first PC even a CEO could use — that caught the imagination of both executive and consumer.
The result was a squeeze on IT: Employees at the bottom of the rung pushing for their workplaces to support their consumer devices, and executives at the top dictating that IT must allow them to access business apps and corporate data.
This phenomenon has put IT departments in a tough position and facing a dilemma: Do they bow to populism and standardise on iPad as the ‘It’ gadget of the moment, or do they look to the longer term and implement an IT strategy that allows the independent delivery of data and applications on any device? Senior IT management, analysts and industry pundits are pointing to the latter option as the only sensible way to go.
“Any strategy around tablet PCs has to be device agnostic,” CA Technologies A/NZ director solution sales, Peter Sharples, says.
“The iPad is the coolest gadget on the market right now but like any device it has a life cycle and there will be another, greater gadget next year which is higher in the coolness stakes and organisations will have to support that.”
It’s a view echoed by Curtin University’s CIO, Peter Nikoletatos, who warns against being too prescriptive when it comes to tablet PCs.
“Today the iPad is quite mature and works well in this form factor, but we know we are only minutes away from the Dell Streak and the other devices [which will come out],” he says.
“The thing I learnt… was to not be prescriptive with the technology as your customer base wants to be BYO in the future and if you are too prescriptive, they will opt out.”
For its part, Curtin has been a major user of the iPad with some three to four hundred staff currently using them for work. The university is also assessing ways in which it can incorporate iPads as learning platforms into courses, especially for international fee-paying students.
With content and application delivery across multiple devices in mind, Curtin has made major use of application and desktop virtualization.
“We see this [tablet PCs] as being no different from a server and we have virtualized it,” Nikoletatos says. “I can bring up a Windows 7 session on it — you can run any platform you want on it.
"If you want extra compute power, you can access a virtual thin client. What we really want is that lightweight, instant-on, accessing information in seconds.
“The trend is toward browsers and [tablet PCs] are great at delivering a thin browser as a conduit to any application. We are moving away from fat client applications. Browser will be king in five years… and that is what you will be delivering your services to and accessing your content with.
"[Tablet PCs are] a broker, a conduit to the Cloud. Either your enterprise or someone else’s being delivered to you.”
Next: How Corporate Express is using the iPad