VMworld 2012 – Horizon Mobile (Application Management)

If Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendors needed any further notice this entire technology category is defunct, then VMware has kindly obliged, finally making good on its promise to offer a viable mobile virtualization platform with the announcement at VMworld 2012 of Horizon Mobile iOS.

Vmware has been pursuing the goal of a viable mobile hypervisor as far back as 2006. First when it tasked a team of internal developers to build a prototype platform then subsequently through the acquisition of the French mobile hypervisor developer Trango Virtual Processors in 2008. However, it was not until VMworld 2010 in San Francisco, when Stephen Deasy (Senior Director, Mobile R&D, VMware) and Srinivas Krishnamurti (Senior Director, Enterprise Mobile Solutions, VMware) announced VMware’s plans for a type II mobile hypervisor platform dubbed Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP) that things really started to move.   Three months later VMware and LG announced a partnership to install MVP on LG Android phones starting in 2011 and both Verizon and Telefónica committed to offering services based on the technology, with promises that hardware would be shipping before the end of the year. The promised 2011 deadline may have slipped, but VMware has remained committed to the technology, now renamed VMware Horizon Mobile, and has just extended its commitment to include iOS-based devices.

Until last week, Horizon Mobile was Android only, but now with the inclusion of support for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Horizon Mobile is establishing itself as a major contender in the Mobile Application Management (MAM) marketplace that is essential for widespread acceptance of BYOD. VMware has chosen two different solutions for the competing mobile operating systems. Horizon Mobile for Android continues down the path that VMware established in 2010 with MVP offering a type II mobile hypervisor in which a managed instance of Android can be run. The iOS version is dramatically different in its implementation. Horizon Mobile for iOS is a standalone iOS app that creates a secure enterprise-managed container which is under direct control of enterprise IT. Both platforms are managed by VMware Horizon Application Manager.

Although many of the delays in moving Horizon Mobile for Android from technology to product can be associated with the challenges of working with wireless carriers, implementing VMware was not without its challenges. To ensure that it can be installed on the broadest range of devices VMware has developed an Android Kernel Module to provide a foundation Horizon Mobile. However, taking this approach presents a higher barrier to entry than the iOS secure container approach. While Horizon Mobile for IOPS will be available to download from the Apple App Store, installing Horizon Mobile for Android requires greater technical prowess. The only really viable way to get Horizon Mobile and its associated Kernel Module installed is to have the device vendor do it, something that immediately reframes BYOD from meaning “bring any device”, to “bring a device from this approved list”.

If getting a mobile hypervisor  to market it is so difficult why not then make an Android app equivalent to Horizon Mobile for IOPS. VMware’s official position on the differentiation between the Horizon Mobile Android and iOS versions is that it is effectively mandated by the problems caused by the seeming inability of Android mobile device vendors and wireless carriers to step up and allow device owners to upgrade to newer Android releases. The VMware argument is that it is better to provide one complete operating system that IT can control so IT admins do not have to support multiple Android versions and devices types. Certainly the Android fragmentation problem is enormous with less than 10% of devices running Android 4.0/4.1, but even so I’m not sure I fully accept this argument. Horizon Mobile for Android will only be installed on new devices, which effectively means that it only has to work with Android 4.0 or later. If that is the case, the fragmentation problem offered as justification for this approach does not apply. At the same time, the likelihood of compatibility issues arising with future Android releases is going to be minimal at best, bringing the argument into significant doubt. However having said that, VMware’s suggestion that this approach will allow IT to install a full enterprise managed Android OS onto an employee owned phone does have significant merit. By delivering a full virtualized instance of Android, the enterprise can enforce a single standard OS version across all devices, enterprise owned and BYOD. That by itself should be justification enough for this approach to sway many potential enterprise customers. There is also the possibility that this hypervisor-based approach will provide greater protection from the increasing threat of android malware. Not to mention the possibility that legacy Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions can be used to manage the entire virtualized Android guest, allowing enterprise IT considerable flexibility when it comes to managing mobile endpoints.

Although the 2011 deadline may have passed without a list of Horizon Mobile-ready phones being released, the situation might be better than it appears. VMware must hit the ground running with Horizon Mobile, clearly that means being able to offer support for both Android and iOS devices. VMware has yet to announce the availability of Horizon Mobile in any form, but has indicated that the Android version is significantly further advanced than the iOS version today. However, even if the iOS version is lagging behind Android today, it has a significant advantage when it comes to deployment. Getting the iOS app to market is easy, as soon as the app is ready all that is needed is to submit its to Apple’s approval process and wait. Android presents a much bigger challenge.  VMware must have the appropriate pipeline already in place with manufacturers and wireless carriers to ensure that Horizon Mobile-ready phones are available for the launch and that takes much longer. Apple has not publicly shared when Horizon Mobile will be available or on how many devices it will be offered. However, with VMworld Barcelona coming up in October I would not be surprised to see an announcement from VMware that Horizon Mobile-ready phones will be shipping before the end of 2012.