CIO magazine has an interesting article – Users Who Know Too Much – that has kicked off an all-too-familiar debate on Slashdot – IT Depts Fear Growing Expertise of Users (hat tip to Mr Blyth for emailing the links, this is a subject I’ve been vocal about in the past…)

The core of the argument is simple – users are bringing Internet technologies into the workplace, and IT professionals want to kick them back out and keep PCs locked down.

Roll back 15 years and exactly the same debate was taking place, only that time it was the dumb terminal, connected to a mainframe, that was common place and the PC that was the alien trying to get past immigration in the form of corporate IT. But the consumer toy won in the end. It wasn’t the death of the mainframe though. Just the method of access as dumb terminals began to be replaced with terminal emulation software running on the now ubiquitous desktop computer.

Whilst I don’t like the tone that many IT Pros take when bemoaning their users, I do have some sympathies. I remember the challenge when, as network manager, trying to prevent Ph.D engineers from downloading virus-ridden shareware screensavers during the mid-90s. It was made quite clear which employees were considered more valuable to the company. Fortunately we had more fun than arguments. The company manufactured laser systems and provided the opportunity to take IT into the actual products.

But back to the challenges faced today. As always there is a solution. Virtualisation is a hot topic at the moment, but the focus remains on server consolidation and how virtualisation can reduce operating costs there. Perhaps the real potential is virtualisation on the desktop. Running virtual machines on a single desktop computer can provide the best of both worlds – an isolated managed environment for corporate applications and data, a separate semi-managed environment for accessing non-corporate applications, new technologies and Internet communications. Going a step further, it would be great if the virtualisation software could provide a gateway between the two environments, to allow data to cross the threshold between the two worlds, using an approval/audit method to ensure governance and compliance is not compromised.

Virtualisation on the desktop has the potential to reduce operating costs, particularly relating to support. But it also has the potential to increase benefits by making it easier for users to adopt new technologies that help improve communication and productivity without disrupting existing systems. Is virtualisation the new terminal emulation?

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Technorati tags: virtualisation, virtualization

Update: Microsoft has posted a blog outlining their direction with virtualisation

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