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What's the deal with workspaces?

There are plenty of words ingrained in today’s culture that no one is exactly sure where they came from — or in some cases, what they even mean: hipster, twerk, awesome-sauce. It’s a common scenario in IT, too. Does anyone really know what a “software-defined data center” is?

One of the biggest terms to become so rooted in the end-user computing lexicon is “workspace.” Industry lore has VMware coining the term as early as 2007, when it acquired what the company called “workspace delivery tools” from virtualization software provider Propero Limited.

VMware and competitor Citrix have since offered numerous products using the word, culminating in both companies’ current workspace suites. These delivery platforms offer portals — dubbed workspaces, of course — where users can access all their corporate applications and data. They are not to be confused with the likes of Amazon Workspaces, which delivers desktops as a service, or Dell Wyse vWorkspace, a desktop and application virtualization platform.

Most generally, a workspace refers to the place where an employee gets their work done, be it on a mobile device, within a virtual desktop or a physical PC. But many workers use a mixture of devices and platforms. An employee might run a virtual desktop on a tablet or access corporate resources within a container on a smartphone, for example. So to be more inclusive, “workspace” can also refer to all the places from which — and the ways in which — an employee accesses their business applications and data.

Workspaces that allow users to access both their mobile and desktop data bring plenty of benefits for IT. By managing all that data at once, IT can get a better picture of the context in which users access their corporate apps and use that information to better serve their needs, says Andrew Garver, research director at Gartner.

Despite these potential benefits, workspaces and workspace management tools are more of a concept than a market right now. Vendors are mostly integrating their existing desktop, mobile and/or content management tools with one another, rather than delivering single platforms, Garver says.

“It’s a mix of technologies that are coming together, and the lines between those are blurring,” he says. “They’re all trying to go after the same thing. They’re just attempting to do it a little differently.”

The next step in the workspace management arena is the development of tools such as VMware Workspace One and Citrix Cloud, respectively. Those new platforms take the workspace suites concept one step further, allowing IT to deliver and control all a user’s desktop and mobile data and apps from the cloud. Interestingly, Citrix in May removed the word “workspace” from its offering — an indication that the concept of a workspace is evolving yet again, towards cloud delivery and management, perhaps?

This post originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Modern Mobility e-zine.