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Standardizing the desktop

John Brandon | March 13, 2012
More companies are using desktop virtualization tools to create a 'gold standard' -- one desktop version that gets pushed out to all end users.

That's why it's no surprise that, of all the companies interviewed for this story, Chicago-based Advocate Health Care is using some of the oldest software in its standard desktop. The 30,000-employee operation, which serves central Illinois, still uses Windows XP SP2 and Internet Explorer 7 in its standard image, mostly because IE8 would cause problems with a core set of proprietary business applications used in the branch offices.

"It's a tricky process because we want to stay current and near the curve, but we can't use an OS or a browser that cripples the business unit just to be current," says Dan Lutter, the director of field technology services at Advocate. The timing might not be right for the Advocate support staffers to deal with new applications because they are still rooting out problems with existing installs, and the new version may not be fully tested for security vulnerabilities.

Lutter explains a recent scenario where users started requesting that IT make Mozilla Firefox available as part of the standard desktop. Ultimately, he decided against it. The company never actually tested Firefox because the timing was not right to deal with incompatibilities.

"When key business apps will not work properly, there is a loss of productivity, more frequent calls into the help desk so that support services staff have to get involved and remove the app, which confuses the customer. We don't want to have apps on our standard desktop that we manage that cause our customers to have a nonsatisfactory business experience," he says.

Advocate uses the LANDesk Management Suite for managing the standard desktop and the software repository. Lutter says one benefit of using this tool is that his team receives alerts when someone attempts to install a rogue application. He says Advocate has spent the last seven years fine-tuning the standard desktop process, and one recent lesson they've learned is to minimize the core standard. Today, they have one core for all laptops, another for desktops and a third for tablets.

"The effort required in planning, testing and migrating [an operating system and apps] is all compounded when you are talking about a very large environment, so it's not unusual at all to find much older systems used in large firms when IT staff time is at a premium," says Boyle.

In the end, whether using a standard desktop helps save valuable IT time and effort, roots out rogue installs or improves overall security, every company has to develop its own standards to meet employee requirements. As SecurityCurve's Boyle notes, in the age of the cloud and mobile devices, a standard desktop is more important than ever, especially if the goal is better IT efficiency.a


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