Q&A with IGEL Community Member David Prows
We recently sat down with IGEL Community member David Prows, Co-Community Member of the Year 2019, to discuss his experiences working with IGEL's products and solutions.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your role in IT, etc. and maybe something fun about you too?
I have been married to my wife for over 22 years. I have three amazing daughters (17, 15, 10). I live in Northeast Indiana. I have worked in the Financial Industry for close to 24 years. I started in IT a little over 12 years ago. I currently manage a team of 4 super talented individuals who are responsible for over 20 different systems; Citrix, VMware, IGEL, Ansible Tower, Splunk, and more. I am both a VMUG and CUGC leader. I hold three certifications (ICE, ICP, and CCE-V) along with being designated as a vExpert. In 2018 I was awarded the VMUG Presidents Award for my work with the Fort Wayne VMUG. In 2020 I was awarded the IGEL Community Member of the Year for 2019 at Disrupt Nashville. I like to go camping with my family and playing Rocket League (not great at it, but love playing).
First, how long have you been working with IGEL's products and solutions?
I have been working with IGEL since I was given a UDPocket at Synergy 2017. I became an official customer in late 2018.
Was IGEL your first experience with 'thin clients'?
No. I have worked primarily with HP thin clients for the past 12 years. I have tested Dell/Wyse, nComputing, and Stratodesk and never could find one that I could centrally manage as I wanted. They all had central management, but one couldn't do everything they needed from the central console. That all changed with IGEL. It really blew my mind that I had "seen" them at Synergy for so many years and kind of wrote them off as just another thin client company.
How do you see IGEL solutions compare and contrast to your other experiences?
I kind of answered this one in the previous question. IGEL is not perfect, but it is by far the best solution I have used. As I mentioned, most of my experience is with HP, and their central management leaves a lot to be desired and has little to no innovation in the years I have used it.
How has Covid-19 affected how your company supports its end-users?
We went from having around 7-10 users working from home daily to around 100 or so. Over the past year and a half, we have been keeping our laptops that have been replaced. So we had most of the equipment we needed to move staff home who needed to. The biggest issue we had was getting headsets for taking calls through their computer as most have desk phones. A few of us ran around to Walmart, Menards, and a couple of other stores in multiple surrounding cities/towns to purchase what we could find. So for a 2-3 week period, a team of about 6-10 people worked to get the additional folks moved home and situated. We tried as much as possible to leave their desks in the office equipped to make the transition back easier. Other than some monitors here and there, we were pretty successful at achieving that. As far as supporting users, it hasn't affected us a great deal after we had them home. Most of our applications and desktops are virtual, so we were already accustomed to supporting those remotely. We've had a couple of challenges where someone's older laptop has failed, and we had to get them a loaner and/or re-image their laptop, but very few issues like that.
Was IGEL able to help? If so, how?
We had planned on converting old laptops we had replaced to portable IGEL Thin Clients mid-2020. Well, enter Covid-19. We accelerated our plans and got them converted right away to be used as needed when moving folks home. Most of our staff work on IGEL thin clients in their offices, and as we moved them home, we didn't want to give them a slow windows laptop that was difficult to ensure was updated regularly. So we took those old laptops and converted them to IGEL, and the staff was able to take those home and have the same experience as they had in the office. Of course, being external, they now had to use MFA, and some have poor home internet. So it isn't exactly the same for all, but close enough. We did have a couple of people who's modem/router was close by their desk, and we were able to use a desktop thin client vs. a laptop since we didn't have quite enough laptops for everyone. Having the option of using IGEL thin clients allowed our staff to work from home with as little change as possible. It was one less thing for them to worry about. We had some staff who used Windows machines in the office that are now on IGEL thin clients at home using Citrix Desktops (server 2016 shared) and love how fast things are. So, as they move back into the office, they will continue to use the new setup.
How do you see IT moving forward with and beyond Covid-19?
I see the use of paper being switch to more efficient digital processes advancing much faster than they have in the past. I think there will be a more significant focus on a pandemic response as new systems and processes are developed to better meet the needs of being able to work anywhere. Though I see some who may work from home more, I don't think WFH all the time will happen for everyone. I recently heard a statement that I totally agree with "Working by myself, I get more tasks completed. However, working around and with others, we are more innovative and advance more quickly." It's that synergy of working around others and hearing them talk with others and such that allow each of our minds to help each other out. Not that this can't be done with WFH, but I don't think the tools needed to do this well are fully available at this time.
What do you feel the most significant challenges relating to working with IGEL have been, and were you able to work around these issues?
We have had some challenges with IGEL. Some we have found workarounds and some we haven't. We had some issues with getting some USB devices to passthrough properly to the Windows Desktops/Apps. We didn't want to open up all scanning/imaging devices to the remote session(s). So we had to find the Vendor and Device IDs for each device to enter and be able to allow them through individually. Most of this was a knowledge issue on our part in not knowing where to look. I can't remember the specifics, but I know early on there was an issue with getting a specific device to pass through properly, and it was fixed in one of the IGEL OS 10 releases.
Our biggest challenge has been around firmware updates. Most of our locations do not have much extra space, and most don't have many if any, free switch ports. So having a dedicated device that a user isn't using to use as a "Master" to deploy updates from isn't an option. So this means if we have 20 IGEL devices at one location, the firmware has to transfer to that location 20 times. We know we could have a user use the "Master" as their device, but there are times when the device needs to be rebooted, and there isn't a way to force a reboot on the master. Also, the master has all features installed on the device. One of the main reasons we disable/remove unused features is to reduce the threat vector on the device. Though we believe the IGEL OS is secure, the more things enabled/installed, the more chances of having a vulnerability. With that said, we do our updates after hours, so having the firmware transfer X number of times is not a huge issue, just more of frustration on our part. And honestly, that is how most other vendors handle it also.
Can you share your experience as a member of the IGEL Community?
As much as I like the IGEL product, the Community is the best part. Every system is going to have issues, and one can't always know everything. However, when one has the ability to ask their fellow community members and find an answer quickly, one doesn't need to know everything. Many of us in IT deal with the same/similar issues. When we can come together to learn from and teach each other by sharing our experiences, it makes what could be difficult and/or time-intensive into something trivial and quick. I love reading about what others are doing. It motivates me to learn more and gives me ideas on how to handle similar issues. I love that the IGEL Community isn't strictly IGEL related. I mean, it is the common bond we all have, but we are free to ask questions about other systems we may have questions on.
If you had one wish for IGEL, what would it be?
I think the biggest wish I have at this point in time is for IGEL to host an FTP site in the US that we could point external devices to vs. us having to host our own somewhere. I get that there are some issues around the potential number of connections at a time and the ability, or lack thereof, to have custom partitions be hosted there, but for I think for the standard firmware releases, it would be great.
This was probably the best wish I could come up with because you have already started doing some technical training events, which would have been my wish.
Special thanks to David Prows for taking the time for this interview. Truly appreciated!