When the P in PC is Pestiferous

The costs of fat-client PCs on all enterprise desktops continue to rise. A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, declassified in March and released this week as a background document for a ministerial meeting in Seoul on June 17, estimates that fully a quarter of the PCs in the United States alone are currently carrying some kind of malware infection — with attendant consequences that range from lost productivity to lost reputations.

This is not speculation or fear-mongering: there are actual incidents, the subjects of reliable reports and sometimes criminal indictments, across the spectrum of malware effects. One result is that growing paranoia surrounds anything other than a plain-vanilla, out-of-the-box software configuration on even something as locked-down as an iPhone — let alone something as open-ended and generally capable as a PC.

Defensive tools like anti-virus software don’t solve the entire problem: a plaintive analysis from India observes that "Often virus being caught means the source ‘exe’ is removed/quarantined but what about the associated damage that
the virus leaves behind such as numerous registry entries, startup
entries, the additional dll’s/inf files which don’t just sit there
twiddling their thumbs but quickly become a pain in the wrong place
…" When fat-client PCs get corrective surgery, the convalescence may be more painful and take even longer than the cure.

Restoring the full configuration of a typical PC, with all of its installed applications and their preference settings and their patches as well as all of the user’s resident data, is a process that can take hours — unless an organization invests in considerable, entirely unproductive infrastructure and staff to maintain machine-state imaging and restoration services. That support must be available to both on-site and remote personnel 24×7, or it won’t be there at the time that the need is most critical. That’s not a scalable solution.

What does make sense is to put more functions in the cloud, where multi-tenant systems spread the costs of configuration — and where business process governance can be held to the highest professional standards at affordable cost.

June 3, 2008