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One of the changes that analysts and other observers are talking about as potentially a major trend for the next several years is the “consumerization of IT,” or end users buying their own technology and using it for work—laptops, smartphones, netbooks.

A recent Gartner survey of enterprises showed that 10 percent of respondents said that workers were using their own laptop computers as their primary work PC in 2009.

That marks a big change from past days when so many enterprises were looking at how to block employees from using Google Docs at their PCs (which is what IT was apparently concerned about four years ago when Gartner was talking about the consumerization of IT).

The Gartner survey—released this week and conducted in the second quarter of 2009 with 528 IT managers in organizations with more than 500 employees—showed that over the past two years, nine out of 10 companies have officially addressed the issue of employee-owned devices. Nearly half (48 percent) still prohibit their use outright, says Gartner. And another 43 percent have specific policies that allow for their use.

“While employee-owned notebook programs started to appear a couple of years ago, the acceptance of such schemes by organizations varies greatly,” said Annette Jump, research director at Gartner, in a statement talking about the report. “However, in the current climate of cost containment, large enterprises are exploring all possibilities offered by alternative client computing architectures and device solution, and that includes employee-owned PCs.”

Now, with new technologies such as VMware’s View 4, enabling PC over IP, solution providers say it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s possible to provide workers with virtualized desktops to company PCs or to employee PCs. Some VARs have touted the idea as a potential disaster recovery solution for end users who need to get back to work right away after a catastrophic event.

The question still remains, what will this mean to the channel? Will IT organizations offer their employees the opportunity to buy discounted machines through their existing VAR relationships, and is this something that’s worth it for VARs to pursue? Or will those employees buy their machines at Best Buy, Microcenter and Fry’s?

Doug Ford, president of San Diego-based The I.T. Pros, says he hasn’t seen a lot of call yet for supporting that kind of infrastructure, but it’s only a matter of time now that VMware View 4—enabling desktop virtualization—has arrived. He says his company is ready to take advantage of the opportunity to help customers gain the benefits available from virtualized desktops.

Gartner says that its recent survey found that service companies, such as insurance and telecom companies, are more likely to allow employee-owned PCs. On the other side, organizations most likely to ban them are manufacturing, wholesale and government sectors. In terms of geographic differences, 60 percent of German companies allow employee-owned PCs while just 30 percent of U.S. and U.K. companies allow them.

But Gartner says expect those numbers to increase in the next year to 18 months, with U.S. companies saying they expect a 60 percent growth.

“Growing numbers of employees are asking to use personally owned notebooks for work, and an increasing proportion of companies will meet these requests through employee-owned notebook programs, which define policies for usage, technical requirements, and process for maintenance and support,” said Meike Escherich, principal research analyst at Gartner.

The firm advises PC vendors to watch the trend and create PC-purchase programs that include not only hardware devices but also services and support options. But solution providers may also look to the opportunity of providing those services and supports as well.

“Starting in 2010 in selected mature markets, PC vendors could create specific bundles, marketed through commercial retail channels, specifically for those using their own PC in the enterprise,” said Escherich. “The hardware and software combination should include virtualization software, productivity applications and the consumer’s favorite applications.”

So what’s the opportunity for the channel? What opportunities do you see for your business in the consumerization of IT, and how will you take advantage of them in 2010?

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