VMware’s Roadmap to the post-PC Future

Despite introducing IT to the acronym VDI, VMware has always had to take second place to Citrix in the battle for technical and market dominance in this rapidly growing segment of the enterprise desktop. Difficulties in setting appropriate expectations regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the Teradici sourced PC-over-IP remote display protocol and VMware’s own View Local Mode, coupled with a strategic decision to tether View back to VMware’s vSphere hypervisor as part of a move to bolster vSphere’s lead in the data center  have made View a difficult proposition for many potential buyers. Missed release dates and the failure to ship the RTO sourced Persona Management components needed to make View 4.5 a viable Enterprise-level platform further slowed VMware’s momentum, leaving VMware to take a defensive position as it competed with Citrix over market share.

Of late though, VMware has seen more success with View, especially in the small to mid-market, where independent surveys suggest that View sales are keeping pace with (some say exceeding) those of XenDesktop.

Now, however, it looks as though things might be moving VMware’s way.

At the VMworld 2011, the End User Computing team presented a new aspect to the public, one that was clear in its vision and confident in its ability to execute its sweeping strategy to enable Enterprise IT to enter a new phase of development – The post-PC workplace.

The new VMware EUC was introduced by Vittorio Viarengo with a combination of honest admission of previous weaknesses coupled with an upbeat self-assured confidence that had been missing from previous meetings. Then rapidly swept aside with series of announcements describing a bold vision for End User Computing that put Citrix on notice that VMware is not content to follow, but instead is looking to out-innovate Citrix on its home ground.

At the heart of VMware’s End User Computing vision is Horizon (formerly Project Horizon) – View is now just one service that is will be accessed via Horizon. VMware describe Horizon as a “Universal Services Broker”, connecting users to desktops, applications (both Windows and Web) and data from any fixed or mobile end-point. In many respects this is the same “Any, Any, Any” mantra that Citrix has been repeating for the last 10 years, but here the messaging is clearer and the vision more complete. After all these years, there is still an inherent caveat around the Citrix message where any app really just means any Windows app. VMware lacks the long-term partnership with Microsoft that Citrix has maintained since its inception, which leaves it free to promote the “post-PC” and by implication post-Windows desktop without suffering the consequences of Microsoft’s enmity.

VMware didn’t give the entire game away, but did hint that Horizon was going to deliver more than just web apps and VMware’s own products. Microsoft App-V packaged applications, and more tellingly Citrix XenApp delivered applications were called out as application deliver systems that would be accessible from Horizon. Details of how and when this would be delivered were not publicly shared giving Citrix some breathing room to develop a response, but if the obvious enthusiasm of the message delivery is matched by product delivery, and let’s face it, the basic integration needed to present App-V and XenApp applications through the Horizon Portal is a trivial exercise; Citrix is going to have its work cut out develop an appropriate response.

Given both the number of former Citrix employees that have taken on roles within VMware, and the simplicity of the XenApp XML Broker interface, and it should be possible for VMware to provide basic integration between Horizon and XenApp in weeks if not days.  Providing an integrated management console that would allow XenApp applications to be fully managed within Horizon is obviously something that would take significantly more effort, but given the average XenApp administrators long experience of working with multiple admin consoles, it is hard to see why VMware would choose to prioritize the development of a single unifying management console in Horizon.  VMware has a significant advantage over Citrix in that  it does not need to compete in the Remote Desktop Services market.  Every potential VMware EUC customer is already a Citrix XenApp customer, so there is little prospect of getting these customers to migrate away from XenApp in favor of a VMware developed alternative.  Yet to continue to receive Subscription Assurance revenue from these customers Citrix must continue to develop XenApp. all VMware needs to do is to provide user facing integration, and later administrator facing integration of Horizon with XenApp to reap the rewards of Citrix is prior investment.

Even in the usually dogmatic world of marketing, VMware is exhibiting unusual confidence. Willing to acknowledge that Windows will not be disappearing overnight and the post-PC future is perhaps more accurately, if less pleasingly, described as a trans-PC future. Offering the suggestion that Windows applications will be the mainstay of large enterprises for at least the next 10 years.

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