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Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto
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VMware Previews Impressive Mobile Offering With Horizon Suite

BYOD support is often about what users can't do. VMware's Horizon Suite focuses on what users can do. The preview of the alpha stage software combines good user experience with enterprise controls.

SAN FRANCISCO--VMware's CTO and SVP of research and development, Steve Herrod, took the stage for VMworld's second-day keynote and was all about mobile applications. Horizon Suite, which is in alpha stage and won't ship until 2013, provides what VMware calls a multidevice workspace that lets employees work from any device at any time and have the same experience. The demos at the keynote and on the show floor were impressive, and VMware seems to be getting the mobile experience right for both users and administrators.

BYOD programs let employees use their own devices for work, but usually the lack of control over user devices and the inability for IT to support mobile apps limits widespread adoption. Many IT shops are forced into Draconian BYOD policies such as supporting a small number of approved devices to keep the number of help desk calls to a minimum and using whole-device wiping to ensure that sensitive data is not exposed if the phone or tablet is lost or stolen. Horizon addresses these issues by isolating enterprise applications and data on employee devices and gives IT control of application deployment and usage policies, as well as targeted data wiping.

Horizon pulls together products from the company's Project Octopus, which offers Dropbox-like file sharing with enterprise controls, and Project AppBlast, which delivers any Windows application to any HTML 5-compliant browser. VMware previewed Octopus and AppBlast in 2011. Project Octopus is aimed squarely at offering file sharing and collaboration to the end user that is as easy to use as Dropbox while giving enterprises control--including running Octopus in their own data centers. Administrators have extensive policy options governing features such as user quotas, how many files versions are kept, how long deleted files are retained for easy restore, max file size, and the types of files that can be stored. Administrators can even set an expiration date on sharing files via a URL, and can alert users when a shared file is due to be removed. VMware is clearly thinking through a lot of usability issues.

VMware will also include Horizon Mobile, which is client software for Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. Legacy applications are offered via VMware's ThinApp, which runs applications remotely and streams the UI to end users. Finally, VMware's Horizon Application Manager is the command console to set and deploy application deployments and policies.

The product suite is fairly complete and provides VDI access for Windows applications and SaaS apps, regardless of which device employees choose. The Horizon suite also integrates with enterprise environments using authentication protocols like SAML for SaaS applications, OAuth for Web services or LDAP for Active Directory. Horizon Mobile offers a seamless user experience by reducing the number of steps required to use enterprise applications. Administrators have complete control over which applications users may or must download and can control whether device features like the clipboard can be used to paste content from Horizon Mobile applications to native apps.

Horizon Mobile on iOS and Android are implemented slightly differently. On iOS, Horizon applications run in a sandbox controlled by Horizon. On Android, users have to switch to the Horizon client, which in effect runs a separate instance of Android that's also controlled by the VMware client. Unlike with iOS, Android users are either in Horizon or not. The user has little control over how the applications can interact with iOS or Android, and the demonstrations seemed to follow both OSes' UI experiences well.

Pricing and exact ship dates haven't been announced, and the software is still in alpha stage. While watching the demos, we saw one person from a service provider interested in Octopus and another enterprise admin interested in the mobile platform support. VMware is going to face competition from existing mobile device and application management vendors like Fiberlink, Good Technology, MobileIron, SAP, Symantec and Zenprise, but unlike those other vendors, VMware already has a foot hold with its View customers.

Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio
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