Convergence has always been a recurring theme in technology, with administrators frequently having to manage disparate platforms and systems. This makes administration more time-consuming and can complicate troubleshooting due to the many components that make up a system. Convergence has had many forms, including (but not even nearly confined to):
- Virtualisation – running multiple operating systems on unified hardware
- Platform convergence – Servers, storage and networking are now frequently available as “datacentre in a box” solutions as organisations grow resource farms to allow for capacity and power as the business requires it.
- Form-factor convergence – Instead of having separate desktop and laptop devices, a laptop with a docking station can perform both functions with a single device. More recently we’ve seen things like Microsoft Surface perform as both laptop and tablet.
With iOS 11, Apple have introduced the Persistent Dock on iPads that Mac OS users have been familiar with for some time. While the devices run different operating systems, they are beginning to resemble each other in some ways. With iOS 8, the Handoff feature allowed users to move from one device to another. Begin typing an email on an iPhone and finish it on a Mac or iPad without having to send it across. This gave the user a unified experience when switching between multiple devices rather than trying to make a single device serve all purposes.
Windows 10 and the Universal Windows Platform was Microsoft’s answer to the convergence question. To make it easier for developers to create apps for MS platforms, Windows 10 uses a common app platform for each device, meaning that developers can create a single app package and make it available for a wide range of devices. Having the same app work on your phone, tablet, laptop (and sometimes even Xbox) allows the user to have a consistent experience across multiple devices without having to worry about which device they need for specific tasks. Docking a Surface tablet so that it becomes a laptop was a great idea, but unfortunately that idea never made it to many of Microsoft’s phones before their recent retreat from some mobile areas.
One innovation that seems to be a great step towards device convergence is Samsung DeX. A single device (currently available on S8/Note8) allows users to dock their mobile phones for a desktop experience. With the addition of a remote desktop client, users can have their full Windows experience and corporate environment delivered without having to carry anything bulkier than a mobile phone. In testing, this proved to be even easier to set up and use than the promotional material promised. Many apps switch seamlessly from mobile to desktop view and back again, and the ability to right-click and perform drag-and-drop functions makes it all too easy to forget that you are sitting in front of a phone, not a PC. Having to access Windows via VDI is as close to a shortcoming as I could find with this solution, and I can’t help but wonder how anyone could have competed if Microsoft had developed such an interface to allow a single device natively suit all purposes in Windows 10.
Early mobile phone management platforms were referred to as Mobile Device Management (MDM). As MDM evolved to provide productivity tools, app management and other features, the premium solutions were referred to as Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM). Now, as the mobile hardware and respective operating systems converge, EMM providers have begun to cater for managing and configuring devices other than phones and tablets, ushering in the era of Unified Endpoint Management (UEM). This means that laptops, desktops, phones, tablets and more can all be managed from a single console. This can involve the pushing of Group Policy Objects to devices without requiring them to be joined to a domain. For IT departments, it means fewer policy sets. Mac OS has had MDM APIs for some time, and Windows 10 now has them as well, allowing these devices to be managed in a way that was previously reserved for phones and tablets.
With convergence set to continue, it is only a matter of time before people begin to realise that form factor is irrelevant. If users can carry a phone that can act as a desktop when required, they have little need for a tablet/laptop. Information on demand is key to enhancing user productivity. If a user can access the data they need wherever they are and whenever they need it, in a useable form, then the device receiving the data only needs to be technically up to the job. With this in mind, IT departments need to embrace the fact that many of the devices they will control will be operating beyond the LAN perimeter, and must ensure that security tools are in place to control and monitor these devices. Simplified policy sets and fewer dashboards mean that UEM is likely to become the norm for device management in the foreseeable future.