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VMware Shows More Of BYOD, Virtual Desktop ToolsVMware Shows More Of BYOD, Virtual Desktop Tools

At VMworld, VMware CTO Steve Herrod shares more details on upcoming Horizon tools that extend desktop virtualization to Android, iOS devices. VMware has talked up that idea before, but the suite's beta version won't be ready until late 2012.

Charles Babcock

August 28, 2012

6 Min Read

At VMware, desktop virtualization is just another part of its expanding universe.

The server virtualization leader has drawn together a set experimental technologies and products into the Horizon Suite, a set of products meant to redefine the end user workspace and enable it to follow mobile workers wherever they go.

Horizon Suite isn't available yet, although beta users will be able to test it by the end of the year. Attendees at VMworld in San Francisco got a glimpse of Horizon during a keynote by CTO Steve Herrod on the second morning of the conference. When it's released sometime in 2013, VMware will have completed the cycle of IT reformation that it launched with its success in early server consolidation. The idea is IT departments, instead of issuing operating system patches and updating desktops, will get out of maintenance mode and into a more automated way of doing things.

By taking control of end user desktops and moving them, virtually, into the data center, VMware is proposing to bring end users within reach of the same automated procedures and policies that it recommends for governing the software-defined data center of the future. That goal may have been summed up best when Herrod said, "That's what virtual desktop infrastructure is about--taking a desktop and moving it into the data center. Then change the way you manage them."

With end user access and privileges managed by policies governing the creation of virtual desktops, end users should be able to activate and provision their desktops of choice on their own and migrate them across the different devices they are using. At a later point, Herrod added the wry remark: "This fulfills IT's need to talk to end users less."

[ Want to read more about VMware's latest initiative in establishing the private cloud? See VMware Focuses On Private Cloud, Dumps Unpopular Pricing. ]

VMware introduced the first part of the Horizon suite as a stand-alone product, Horizon Application Manager, nine months ago. Application Manager is an entitlement engine that knows how to apply rules and policies to an end user's request for a desktop. The forthcoming Horizon Suite makes use of technology from VMware's Project Octopus, which provides a way for users on different devices in the same organization to share files; Project AppBlast, which helps to deliver Windows-based and other applications to a browser window or device display; and ThinApp, which converts, say, an existing Windows XP application into a containerized form so that it may run under Windows 7 or 8 without modification as a virtual machine.

All such applications are available from a VMware application catalogue that functions on-premise like an online store.

Another component, Horizon Mobility, can gear the application to work with various mobile devices, including Android and iOS tablets and smartphones, Herrod said. He made a point of saying Mobility worked with Android devices, then suggested Windows Phone was the other big category of device. Then he corrected himself to the iPhone family.

In giving an early look at the Horizon Suite, VMware is telling its customers that it has finally grasped the many aspects of end user virtualization and will deliver on them. Particularly troublesome has been the BYOD, or bring your own device, side of it, with un-tethered users mixing personal and business use on the same device. When business applications run in containers on a personal device, they are protected from interference from other applications and their data is stored only in a Horizon folder that can't be accessed without the right password. In addition, if a user accesses confidential information in a company email, then seeks to copy and paste that information to the personal side of his device, Horizon refuses to allow the process, unless the user has the privileges to do so.

VMware with its View 5.1 standard virtualized desktops for on-premise use and Horizon Suite for mobile users is trying to eliminate some of the barriers that have held back desktop virtualization so far. One of those barriers is the difficulty of converting legacy Windows applications into a form that can be consumed by end users without an expensive rewriting and migration effort.

Users may do that through use of technology acquired by VMware from Wanova in May. Wanova's Mirage offered a way to compliment the use of golden images of, say, Windows and Office, with end user-added applications. Anything supplied by the end user to the desktop is kept in its own separate layer of the desktop image, so that the golden image remains unchanged, except by a central server commissioned to patch and update it. In that way, a single golden image can equip thousands of individualized desktops, minimizing the central storage costs of desktop virtualization.

Horizon Suite, through Wanova, can stream a user desktop from a central server to an end user device where it runs as a verified and up to date set of applications. The applications are stored on the device and can be reused when the device is disconnected from the network. But once reconnected, periodic checks are run to make sure the mobile device's applications remain uncorrupted and up to date.

By giving virtualization administrators the tools to convert legacy desktop applications into services, it is making the conversion to virtual desktops less disruptive and painful to either end users or IT.

Herrod claimed VMware would replaces "a hodgepodge of existing tools" with a coherent VMware approach. But the task remains a complicated one and several months of testing Horizon Suite's components still remain before it is likely to emerge as a product. And when it does emerge, it is likely to be valuable enough in the enterprise to command a healthy price tag.

The virtualized user workspace commitments help VMware to rapidly fill in a gap in its concept of a software-defined data center.

A set of upcoming Horizon mobile virtualization products, combined with VMware View 5.1, which was upgraded in May to provide standard on-premise desktops while Horizon commands mobile users, gives VMware a way to extend virtualization's reach out to one of IT's most persistent problems--delivering a quality experience to the workforce in an automated way. If much of the task of tracking, updating, and securing end users can be handed over to automated systems, IT's ability to face other issues should improve.

If customers decide the end user initiatives may be combined with VMware's growing set of private cloud products, announced Monday, then the company's reach is beginning to span the data center. Now, as former CEO Paul Maritz (he just stepped down from the post) once said, it becomes all-important for VMware to execute the strategy without misstep. Doing so leaves it providing a virtualization management console that has a role in managing all data center operations. They would include server, storage and networking operations; end user virtualization and mobile end user management.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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