Employee-Owed PCs, Desktop Virtualization on Carfax's Roadmap

Gary Lee, CTO of Carfax, tells Ann All about his plan to convert a program in which the company provides interest-free loans to help employees purchase personal PCs to a program in which employees would be allowed to buy the PCs of their choice for work, with Carfax footing the bill.

By Ann All | Posted Apr 30, 2010
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Gary Lee, CTO of Carfax, tells Ann All about his plan to convert a program in which the company provides interest-free loans to help employees purchase personal PCs to a program in which employees would be allowed to buy the PCs of their choice for work, with Carfax footing the bill. Employee PC ownership is a favorite topic of IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle, who earlier this year wrote about how he thinks the iPad and other non-traditional computing devices may help drive this trend.

All: When and why did Carfax introduce an employee PC ownership model?

Lee: We're not quite there yet. We haven't yet conquered desktop virtualization. We don't feel it's quite mature enough. We've allowed employees to purchase PCs for a while now, essentially providing an interest-free loan so they can update their personal PCs. So we think it'll be an easy transition. Friday afternoons are personal development time for our developers. They go off and try new things, so they do downloads we wouldn't let them do on a Carfax PC. They bring their machines into the development center. When it's a non-Carfax device and they hook into the wireless network, we push them back out onto the Internet so they're not on the Carfax network.

Virtualization, when we brought it in, it wasn't about server consolidation, it was about moving faster. It allows us to quickly throw up a test environment or a beta environment. We've been doing it pretty heavily for about five years. About half our servers are virtualized. The thinking is evolving. Some of the PCs being used for personal development time have been virtualized. But we're not nearly there in throwing an image on any type of device. We'd be more comfortable with Windows, but we have people here with Macbooks.

So it's definitely in our plans, but we'll have to do probably another quarter or two of R&D on the desktop virtualization before we feel it's ready for prime time. At that point, we'll switch over from a PC purchase program where we provide in essence an interest-free loan to one where we give them a stipend to purchase a PC for work.

All: We hear about the high initial cost of desktop virtualization as well as performance issues. What is holding Carfax back?

Lee: It's really just about being comfortable we can give them the same experience they currently get on an internal machine on whatever machine is there. We have a pretty tech-savvy workforce, so we hope we wouldn't have someone using a machine that just couldn't cut it. The program won't be mandatory. So, if they want to own a machine, we'll pay for it, but we'll probably ask them to refresh it within a certain timeframe and return it to the company for eco-friendly disposal when they are through with it.

We do think it will help us move some of the folks in less tech-heavy roles from a standard PC to a thin client. We've wanted to do thin clients for a while. But there's an “it's my machine” mentality, and we're careful about our corporate culture. We don't want to force anything on anybody. But we're hoping these two things together [desktop virtualization and employee-purchased PCs] will allow us to move to an environment that not only makes people happier to have their own laptops, but for the folks who don't want to participate we can wean them off a PC and over to a thin client. There will be initial higher costs, but we believe the ROI is there because the long-term support will be so much easier.

All: So the desktop virtualization would largely take care of software support issues. But what about hardware? Would Carfax support all of the different employee-owned PCs?

Lee: Our thinking has been that it is their hardware so they need to get support through the channel where they purchased it. That said, our internal help desk would help diagnose the issues and direct the employee to the appropriate support resources.

Next page: What Are the Limits?

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