Work Computer Is Not Dead

There is an interesting read on O’Reilly Radar today, called “Why the cloud may finally end the reign of the work computer”. The author, Jonathan Reichental, Ph.D., brings up an interesting topic – what if workers were allowed to bring their own computers to work. This will bring costs of support up. But since the advent of the cloud it won’t matter: “With the application, data, business logic, and security all provisioned in the cloud, the computer really does simply become a portal to information and utility.

As far as I know (and I have only worked in IT for 15 years) there are two major factors that push companies to provide their own computers to workers: data security and maintenance costs. Somehow it is widely believed that if you scare your users into believing that all those viruses are out there hunting for you only because you are not “doing work” and if you stick to software on the company-issued hardware then you are magically safe. No virus will touch you because you are “doing work”. The company data is safe because we all “doing work”.

Let’s talk about data security first.

Scene 1.
When I work as a consultant at the company bringing my own laptop is either highly encouraged or required. If I am an employee at the same company, bringing my own laptop may result in what they call a “disciplinary action”. Oh, the irony.

Can you steal sensitive company data? Yes, especially if you are a contractor and therefore have less ties with a company. Just copy whatever the hell you want on your very own contractor laptop and do whatever.

Scene 2.
HIPAA-compliant institution, no one (including consultants) is allowed to use anything, but bulk, ugly and oh-so-last-century laptops provided by IT department. Each laptop has a (disabled) hardware encryption chip and a hard drive encrypted by some software. Yep, that’s how clueless the IT department is, but that’s not the point. Every single useful web site is blocked by the firewall – web mail, hosting providers, you name it. What do you think the chance of BYOC there? Zero or less.

Can you steal sensitive company data? Still yes – just take your laptop home a few times and don’t connect to company’s VPN when you hook it up. Even if CD burning or USB writing is disabled – you can still e-mail pretty much anything on your laptop to your own self.

As you can see there is little of what you can do from an IT prospective that would ensure the safety of the data. There is nothing technically sophisticated in each scene. The safety of the data relies not on technology, but on people employing it. Once C-level executives figure that out (in only hundred years or so) – no one would care what is it that you are using to get your job done.

Now, part two, maintenance cost. That’s a real one, boys and girls. It is indeed true that company buys hardware at a special discount, so if you see that brand new Dell for $600 your company may be buying the same exact model for anywhere between $300 and $500 – depending on company size, aggressiveness of Dell’s sales person and myriad of other factors. It is also a big deal to support all this hardware and it’s no joke – with all the in-house applications it becomes a nightmare to test that brand new billing system developed in shiny .NET 4.0 on your Accounting 5-year old clunkers.

Here comes the cloud, as the author of the original material says, and everything is magically working again. I say – it worked a long time ago without any cloud – just recall magic words “remote desktop”, “citrix” or even ancient “application server”. Yep, I remember environment with 50 users running the same DOS program on the server via some sort of remote terminal connection – each got their own instance, of course. Today, with virtualization, it so damn easy to have a truly unified workstation across any number of workers – it’s not even worth discussing. Just do it, back it up each night and fuhgeddaboudit.

See, ma, no hands. I mean – no clouds. Bright and sunny. And, what’s the most important part of it – no data leaves the company, even if you DO take your laptop home. Some added benefit of security, right?