Defining SOE: Managers rethink IT lockdown

Toyota, iiNet contemplate SOE strategies

iiNet IT manager, Matt Toohey, shares on his experiences with deploying a standard operating environment.

iiNet IT manager, Matt Toohey, shares on his experiences with deploying a standard operating environment.

Like so many companies, Toyota Australia will soon be upgrading its desktop fleet to Windows 7, with a 2100-strong rollout slated for early next year under the watchful eye of newly-appointed managed service provider Fujitsu. Yet while the desktops will finally make the big jump from Windows XP to a platform that provides far better tools for remote management and image deployment, Toyota will be tightening – not loosening – control over its desktops' standard operating environment (SOE).

"We're pretty traditional, and we're going to try to lock people down far more than they have been used to in the past," says James Scott, divisional manager within the company's Information Systems Division. "In the past, we were allowing our engineers to spend too much time trying to fix systems. Now, rather than having engineers spending hours trying to fix desktops, there will be a change to the user having the desktop restored through re-imaging after 30 minutes of trying."

(Cricket Victoria moves to flexible standard operating environment)

The new policy is part of an overall effort by Toyota's two-year-old architectural team, which in January kicked off a major Service Delivery Transformation project that included strengthening the company's IT-related processes. This includes a broad range of areas, but streamlining administration of the company's desktop environment is high up on the list of priorities. Yet not all companies are tightening the screws: with new tools making it much easier to remotely manage desktops and virtual-desktop platforms changing the very nature of an SOE, other companies are experimenting with BYO Computing (see companion story) and less strictly-defined desktop models that isolate data, applications and operating system so configuration problems can be more easily corrected than in the past.

The call of the VDI

One of the major components of Toyota's rollout, which starts in January 2011, will be Windows System Center (WSC) – an expanding family of Microsoft-authored tools that have moved front and centre in IT managers' battles to keep ever more-complex SOEs under control.

WSC – which is gaining currency as more and more companies take the plunge to Windows 7 – is currently being installed, as is Microsoft Active Directory, under a project that will replace a legacy Novell file-and-print environment with a more flexible framework to help manage all the company's computing resources.

The diversity of tools in the WSC framework is giving many companies newfound flexibility in configuring their SOEs. System Center Configuration Manager, for example, simplifies the process of pushing full or partial Windows 7 images using the Windows Imaging Format (WIM), which allows drivers and applications to be streamed into place without disrupting the base SOE.

What desktop you get depends on where you are... customers have no idea the agents might be at home, and are not in a grade one environment with fully redundant everything.

Matt Toohey, iiNet IT manager

This is a major improvement from XP’s block-based imaging, and dramatically cuts the number of stock SOEs that must be maintained to cater for different types of hardware. IT managers can build a basic SOE – with operating system, Microsoft Office, and necessary security apps – and then stream in different drivers and applications depending on the needs of each individual user, as determined by their Active Directory profile.

It’s also worth remembering that in many cases, applications may not even be loaded on the computer, delivered instead by software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers in a trend that IDC recently noted will grow at 25 per cent annually through 2014, when 34 per cent of all new business software purchases will be fed using SaaS.

IDC also noted a corresponding reduction in traditional packaged-software licensing, noting “a permanent change in software licensing” driven by increased uptake of SaaS. This approach simplifies desktop administration substantially, addressing areas such as accessibility, software upgrades and cross-platform access to corporate applications.

WSC and similar management tools from other vendors may improve the delivery of conventional SOEs, but when it comes to the non-SaaS part of the business, momentum is still building towards a different type of SOE altogether: a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) approach, which encapsulates the entire SOE inside a virtual machine (VM) file that can be stored anywhere and run inside a VM host application running on nearly any type of computer.

(Check out our Virtualization technology guide for more info)

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