The audacious vision of VMware Horizon: Manage access, not devices

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When VMWare announced its Horizon product strategy, one component of the suite, Horizon Mobile, attracted the most attention because it was one of the first solutions announced for creating dual persona Android devices.

The concept of giving mobile devices users two completely separate workspaces, one personal and the other corporate, has gained a lot of traction since then. BlackBerry 10 includes a similar feature known as BlackBerry Balance, Samsung has made it signature feature of its KNOX enterprise device program, and several mobile management vendors have released containerization products that offer secure and managed environments on Android and iOS devices.

In all the hype about dual persona options (from VMWare and other companies), it's easy to overlook the broader concept that the Horizon Suite represents. Securing Android is just one feature of a single Horizon product. The complete line actually represents a series of solutions for mobile devices running Android or iOS, Windows PCs, Macs, and any device that supports HTML 5. It even allows companies to easily extend the BYOD concept from its traditional mobile device focus to include PCs and Macs that are employee-owned -- including hybrid PCs that can function as both a desktop and a tablet.

Horizon includes three branded products, all of which were introduced last month: View, Mirage, and Workspace.

View

Horizon View is the rebranded VMWare View product that's familiar to many enterprises. The latest version includes the desktop and mobile client apps for the major platforms (Windows, Ubuntu, Mac, Android, Kindle Fire, and iOS).

One of the most significant addition from a mobility perspective is the addition of an HTML 5 client. This opens support for virtually any device or platform without the need for a client app. It also makes a perfect solution for using a PC or device where you simply can't or don't want to install a client such as a public computer, another person's device, or a PC at a client's worksite. 

View clients for Android and iOS also include VMWare's Unity Touch interface, which is designed to make working with a traditional Windows desktop easier on mobile devices by adding a bar containing shortcuts to Windows commands and features as well as to frequently used apps, folders/file shares, and documents. Having seen this feature in action, I have to say that it functions better than I expected. It doesn't make up for all of the awkwardness of accessing older releases of Windows on a tablet, but it does an admirable job and quite frankly Microsoft could take a few lessons from VMWare here.

Mirage

Mirage delivers IT a broad range array of options in terms of managing desktops that users access. Mirage categorizes the typical Windows desktop experience into a series of layers that can be independently managed by IT policies. That makes granular desktop management much more streamlined for IT professionals. It also allows IT to backup and restore individual layers, which can make troubleshooting problems much simpler, and can be used as a migration solution. VMWare is actively pitching Mirage as tool for simplifying Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations - an upgrade that many organizations have yet to complete or, in some cases, begin.

Workspace

Workspace is the most mobile-related product in the Horizon lineup. In fact, it includes Horizon Mobile. Although dual-persona or containerization functionality is one major aspect of Workspace, the product offers several key features beyond simply creating a secure container including these (all of which are supported under iOS as well as Android):

  • Secure access to files, enterprise apps and data, and cloud services using single sign-on and multifactor authentication.
  • File sharing and collaboration that includes broad version history capabilities, making it an enterprise alternative to consumer tools like Dropbox. Managing files or content, viewing changes, and bookmarking content are all supported.
  • Centralized app management that spans multiple types of apps - public and private cloud apps, Windows apps presented in a desktop environment, and mobile apps. A unified enterprise app store model is also included so users can self-select apps that they need or request access for apps that have licensing requirements.
  • Support for users from outside of the organization (and the firewall).
  • Centralized user management and auditing.
  • The ability to locate devices and remote wipe just the corporate content on them.

Horizon vs. the competition

It's easy to make the case that VMWare isn't delivering anything particularly new or unique with the Horizon suite. It is, after all, a combination of common technologies -- desktop virtualization, virtual desktop image management, app and content management. The most IT-focused solution, Mirage, offers functionality that has been on the market for some time now from companies like Moka 5. Enterprise app stores that can mix mobile and web/cloud apps are becoming more common and the app store model can brought to the desktop PC using products like FileWave

Horizon stands out, however, for a couple of reasons.

First, it isn't taking the traditional mobile management trajectory. VMWare is focusing on secure access to corporate resources first and foremost rather than managing devices. In doing so, the company is offering IT pros a chance to rethink how they address mobile management by making it more about content and access than anything on the user's device. That's refreshing and forward thinking. Content is the foremost business resource that end users need - even apps and network access often aren't as critical.

Second, VMWare is striving to offer the holy grail of mobile and desktop management - a single management console that can handle every task systems administrators need to accomplish. That means for an organization with a heavy investment in VMWare solutions, Horizon is a natural and easy to implement extension. That point shouldn't be overlooked, particularly when you consider that the many IT shops are taking on more work as a result of mobile and BYOD but not adding staff.

Those are two important factors and they can make Horizon a good worth considering for many organizations.

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