Windows Insider

Windows 8: Could Windows To Go Change Everything?

Windows To Go, even in its pre-release state, just seems to perfectly fit with that everywhere-for-everyone mentality that's changing everything about how we do IT.

I've been in this game long enough to not get overly excited about promised features not yet released. Yet I find myself unable to control my enthusiasm as it relates to the Windows To Go functionality planned for Windows 8.

In its ongoing efforts to further componentize the Windows OS, Microsoft goes a step further in Windows 8 by creating an OS that functions atop a USB stick.

I can hear your initial incredulity, "Windows on a USB? Now how in the world might that be useful?" My response: everywhere. For all intents and purposes, this thing makes Windows, well, an appliance.

You can find me roaming around the country presenting at conferences throughout the year. At those conferences are always computers strewn about the halls to be used for checking e-mail and surfing the Web.

I discovered a few years ago that with a few extra network services at the office, I can leverage these kiosk PCs as a launch point for direct and secured access back home. Suddenly, I'm able to do my job at such shows without lugging around a PC all day.

Windows To Go stands to further improve this experience. Imagine a future where this technology is combined with Microsoft's other game-changing technology, DirectAccess. With this combination, all I need is a physical machine with a USB drive and I'm immediately booted into a node on my network.

Apps seamlessly function. File shares are seamlessly available. Data and e-mails are seamlessly accessible. By combining Windows To Go with the DirectAccess always-on VPN, any computer anywhere becomes a part of my office.

Consider some other possible use cases:

Distributing contractor PCs. Provisioning contractor PCs has long been a pain in the neck. These quasi-trusted individuals require hardware in order to perform their jobs; however, their not-really-trusted nature means this process requires special care. Windows To Go, in combination with kiosk-like hardware, enables contractors to be given exactly the PCs they need in a very locked-down fashion.

Disaster recovery. The disaster hits your primary office. Your server instances are immediately recovered at your secondary site. Applications and services are operational, but there's a catch: That disaster also took out your desktops as well. What do you do? A Windows To Go infrastructure means every employee with a USB stick and hardware of his or her own -- any hardware, anywhere -- is automatically integrated back into your recovery operations. Plug in, and you're reconnected.

Working from home. A Windows To Go infrastructure doesn't need to wait for the disaster to hit. Today's work-from-home arrangements make heavy use of remote application infrastructures to deliver secured access to applications and data over the Internet. But doing so can be a challenge, particularly when the remote- applications user experience is different than what users see at the office. Contrast this to what they'd get with a Windows To Go USB stick. Plug in the stick, boot the machine, and all their applications are automatically available once again. That's seamless.

PC hot desking. Even the hot-desking experience gets improved. With the right hardware at each worker's station, another plug-and-go gets users working on the network no matter which desk they're sitting at.

Sensitive data locations. Finally, there's the potential for vast improvements in the handling of sensitive data. Consider temporary retail environments, or any other quick and temporary situation where computing is required. A properly secured Windows To Go USB stick (think BitLocker-enabled) plugged into hardware becomes a network node for accessing internal data. Remove the stick, and you've removed the access.

You've seen previous columns here extol the immense power that always-on VPN technologies like Direct-Access provide. With it enabled, "everywhere" becomes a secured part of your network. Windows To Go, even in its pre-release state, just seems to perfectly fit with that everywhere-for-everyone mentality that's changing everything about how we do IT

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.


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