London's Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has taken the radical decision to deploy Microsoft's Windows 8 on USB sticks after deciding against the expense of buying replacement laptops, the organisation has announced.
The UK's largest NHS trust trialled Windows to Go last summer during the London Olympics, allowing several hundred staff to work from a variety of locations including home during a period of peak medical demand.
The Trust said it had been attracted by the ability to manage the sticks as if they were conventional PCs using tools such as System Center Configuration Manager whilst offering roving staff across the Trust's clutch of London hospitals a full-featured desktop experience.
The deal is the first major UK public sector win for Windows 8 in this form factor.
"We originally thought the only solution was to provide staff with new laptop," said Trust deputy CIO and ICT head, Kathy Lanceley.
"However Microsoft's Windows To Go solution provided a far more cost-effective and seamless solution that not only allowed our staff to successfully work remotely, but also proved very simple to roll out,"
The capital cost of laptops seems to be a major reason against taking the traditional path, around £750 per machine with ongoing supports costs. The encrypted USB sticks that carry Windows to Go cost £50, she explained.
A second factor was a desire to incorporate BYOD; using Windows to Go employees could essentially start a secure Windows desktop from any compatible device they owned in a way that maintained a separation between the two worlds.
"In the future we see this as having great potential to roll out to clinical staff to provide them with an easy and secure way of accessing our Trust systems from home."
The project is an interesting example of how the traditional PC model is breaking down for some organisations in ways that have repercussions for different parts of that industry.
Under the deal, Microsoft will maintain licensing revenues; the losers are the hardware vendors that lose laptop sales and aftercare.
"People often think that healthcare workers are purely based in hospitals or doctor's surgeries, but often, clinicians are just like office workers, needing access to information quickly, effectively and at any time," commented Brian Dunleavy of Microsoft partner Ultima Business Solutions.
"Until now, IT teams haven't had the necessary tools to deliver such a fast and simple solution, but the availability of Windows To Go allows them to do so."
Windows to Go is a specific feature of Windows 8 Enterprise and requires a supported USB stick. The technology has some limitations such as the user not being able to access local drives other than the USB drive itself. It also isn't recommended to boot on a system running Windows XP or Vista.