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Microsoft Interview: Windows To Go, Year One

When Microsoft launched Windows 8 in late October 2012, Windows To Go was immediately identified as a “hot” feature, designed for IT and perfect for BYOD.  The concept is both simple and powerful: your own fully manageable, corporate image installed on a bootable, certified USB drive.

As a key provider of certified drives for Windows To Go with our own IronKey Workspace solutions, we thought this would be the perfect time to ask our friends at Microsoft to reflect on the first year of Windows To Go.  The result: the following interview with Craig Ashley, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft for Windows  To Go.


Microsoft’s Craig Ashley

How has the reaction been to Windows To Go since its introduction last year? Have there been any surprises?

I can honestly say it has been very positive. We developed Windows To Go with this idea that for customers that fall into a range of scenarios, from bring your own device to traveling light on the go, we could fit a full version of Windows on a USB drive and enable customers to have their own full version of a PC on a stick that fits in their pocket. This meant large enterprises with contingent staff or companies that had shared PCs or highly mobile staff could have a seamless PC experience regardless of the device they were on.

We have actually been surprised by how many customers are coming out with new and innovative scenarios. One of those was during the 2012 London Olympics.  Like most businesses last summer, the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust faced significant potential challenges to its ability to provide high quality care and services due to the Olympics pressure on transport networks in the city, which could prohibit staff from making it to work.  They originally thought the only solution was to provide staff new laptops.  However, Windows To Go provided a far more cost-effective and seamless solution that not only allowed their staff to successfully work remotely, but was simple to roll out.

Which vertical markets have really expressed an interest in Windows To Go?

We see interest across quite a few vertical markets. For example in healthcare and the public sector, Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust (which I previously mentioned) and the IT staff in Fairfax County, Va. see a good fit for teleworkers or remote workers who can boot Windows To Go on their own devices, as it allows them to use their device of choice and saving the companies the additional costs associated with managing a BYOD device. Another example is in manufacturing, where Boeing is currently piloting Windows To Go drives to sourced employees or contactors instead of a PC. One last example I’d like to share is in the airline industry, where Emirates, an international airline, distributed Windows To Go to use on their Windows 7 tablets for testing a new app at home before deploying the final version of the app on a Windows 8 tablet.

Other than government and regulated industries, are there any surprise industries that are testing Windows To Go?

We have seen interest across a wide range of industries. While the interest in Windows To Go is broad, the reasons for testing, piloting and deploying are similar: Windows To Go is just Windows 8.1, but on-the-go. By that I mean enterprises can manage it, deploy it, load applications on it, track it, and secure it just like they would their other Windows devices. For example, if customers use Windows To Go for contractors or remote workers, they can deploy using their existing processes.

Are you finding that most Windows To Go testers were already on the path to Windows 8 or are you finding that Windows To Go is a catalyst for Windows 8 adopters?

With Windows 8, we helped our business customers enable new scenarios for achieving everything from business efficiency to new forms of customer engagement. Some were already interested in great manageable Windows tablets. Some customers were excited by the security capabilities that Windows 8 offers. And some businesses are really seeing the value of Windows 8 through Windows To Go enabled scenarios.

With the launch of Windows 8.1, are more businesses familiar with the benefits and features of Windows To Go?

Absolutely. With any new feature or product there is always a learning curve associated with it. Windows To Go was first released last year with Windows 8, and since that time we have been continuously talking to customers, listening to feedback, and creating documentation necessary to educate users across a wide range of Windows To Go topics. One example and one that I am sure the IronKey team is very knowledgeable on is the fact that Microsoft only supports drives certified for Windows To Go. We have written blogposts and online documentation to be sure that customers understand this and many other Windows To Go requirements.

How long are prospects testing Windows To Go before they commit and what’s the size of the commitment (are they rolling it out slowly, just certain employees or across the board)?

Customer test plans and timelines vary by use case, industry, and the size of the Windows To Go deployment under consideration. Because Windows To Go is just Windows 8.1, customers are able to test and evaluate Windows To Go alongside their broader Windows 8.1 deployments.

Is Microsoft encouraging employees to adopt Windows To Go? What has your experience been like?

You bet. At Microsoft we always “dogfood” our own products. From the initial stages of launching Windows 8, Microsoft employees have had access to create Windows To Go drives. Our internal IT teams have created documentation that outlines the steps and processes for us to create and employees can use Windows To Go for a variety of reasons. I have two drives that I use on an ongoing basis, one for demoing Windows To Go and one for my day job. Many nights when I pack up to go home I simply grab my Windows To Go drive, my keys and head for the door. If I need to do work at home, I use the drive on my home office desktop, so there is no longer a need to carry my laptop and bag with me every time I leave now.



Remote Working: Embracing Benefits and Overcoming Challenges

Remote working is here to stay. KPMG’s 2013 Global Assignment Policies and Practices (GAPP) survey reveals that organizations around the world “continue to invest in global mobility programs despite increasing regulatory and compliance challenges.” Whether or not your business opts for “use your own device” or “use our device,” it’s clear that any organization large or small must have the technology necessary to support a remote workforce.

The benefits mobility brings to organizations are many: the ability to tap a broader talent pool no longer contingent on geography, productivity gains as employees can work anytime and anywhere, and the cost savings associated with “hot-desking” and “hoteling.”

For employees, flexibility is paramount. Whether it’s to avoid a nightmarish commute, the need for unconventional hours, or the requirement to be on the road, the ability to work like you’re in the office can tip the productivity scale.

On the flipside, the challenge is to provide employees with technology that helps them be as productive as they would be on their office desktop. They need to feel part of the organization even when they are offsite. And it’s vital that all sensitive corporate information be protected, at all times, and that any work is done in complete compliance with corporate IT security policies.

Gartner’s most recent research, “Bring Your Own Device: The Facts and the Future,” predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own devices. While employee-owned cell phones and tablets are fast becoming the norm, the jury is out as to whether or not PCs and laptops will become a part of the mix. Connecting the family PC to the organization’s network could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Win-Win: the secure portable workspace

Windows To Go, a feature of Windows 8 Enterprise, enables “PCs on a stick,” offering a new approach to mainstream enterprise and government organizations. Employers provide a secure, IT-managed USB drive that contains a fully functional corporate Windows desktop, bootable from pretty much any PC. Employees insert the Microsoft certified USB drives into their home computers, hot desks, or tablets that feature USB ports, and they receive a secure desktop and secure access to all applications they use in an office setting.

Unlike a virtualized or online remote access solution, the portable workspace offers full host computer isolation—documents cannot be saved to the host machine but are saved to the USB drive. At the same time, all of the hardware resources of the host computer are available to the user. Employees have access to the host machine’s network connection, sound, microphone, and camera. They experience graphics performance of the native machines. Employees will be able to use applications at full resolution, including the ability to view two documents at once instead of just one. Finally, the employee never has to worry about the speed or reliability of a network connection.

Among the handful of Windows To Go certified devices, the IronKey Workspace W500™ is the device that meets all of an employee’s needs and IT’s security challenges. The IronKey Workspace W500 is designed to be rugged, dust and water resistant. It’s gone through Microsoft’s certification and Imation’s own rigorous read/write testing for use as a Windows To Go workspace. Users get sequential read performance of up to 400 MB/second and sequential write speeds of up to 316 MB/second. The W500’s 256-bit AES hardware encryption combines with strong, built-in password protection capabilities. IronKey™ devices can be managed by the IronKey Enterprise Server, so that the IT team can track and control the devices to effectively protect data, manage device inventory, lifecycle and maintenance. The management system offers full remote policy management, device tracking and, should the need ever arise, the ability to revoke users’ credentials. Just because the device is out of the office does not mean it is out of IT control.

With Windows To Go, organizations can implement a bring your own device strategy that provides an ideal work environment for the employee while providing the optimal level security for IT, no workarounds necessary.