VMware: Implementing The Mobile Cloud Vision

To understand more about how VMware is going about performing on its “mobile cloud era” vision, we approached Ben Goodman who is the “Lead Evangelist” for VMware’s end-user computing area, which is marketed under the Horizon label.

VMware broadly defines the mobile cloud as billions of users interacting with millions of applications. They point to four key trends for IT today: social, mobile, cloud and big data.

VMware is clearly proud of their role as a disruptive force in IT, a company that defies convention. And their CEO, as discussed in our previous article, has set out a list of goals that are far-reaching and ambitious:

  • Any user, any device, any app……automatically
  • Apps get rolled out at the speed of business
  • Provisioning a production environment takes minutes>
  • You can routinely deploy any workload…..anywhere
  • Enterprise apps are becoming like consumer apps where they need to be built agilely and deployed and one size doesn’t fit all

VMware’s platform for workforce mobility is its Horizon Suite. The suite has three main elements: View – its VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) solution, enabling management of tens of thousands of users and delivery of desktop as a service (DaaS); Mirage, which is integrated with View and enables VMware’s version of image layering to manage both physical and virtual desktops; Workspace – a single containerized place for user apps, files, etc., kept separate from personal materials.

Goodman describes the changes that are driving the mobile cloud as “two sides of a coin” – tremendous changes on the back end, such as virtualization, which affect “how we serve up computing power.” The other side, the front end, involves how users consume that power.

Today the user is increasingly beginning to rely on endpoints, devices, that have limited processing power, small screens, maybe no keyboard. In the old world, the device and IT equipment were owned by the enterprise, which gave them control. Potentially, the enterprise may in the future own none of the infrastructure or devices, end-to-end.

When asked what does virtualization mean in a smartphone world, Goodman describes two aspects: a) a technology aspect and b) a virtual workspace aspect. While enterprise apps have been increasingly moving away from Windows, he states that Windows apps will have to be supported for many years. Virtualization can support these apps in a non-Windows environment.

VMware has focused on creating a consistent management structure that can apply across all mobile platforms. It describes this management layer as including three key elements: a) Identity – who is the user, their department, location, job role; b) Context – what is the user trying to do and where are they, what network and OS are they using; c) Policy, which is an overlay to a) and b) and provides decisions in real-time as to what access the user gets. These three transcend the platform or device.

VMware believes they are progressing with tokenized identity to the point they will be able to simplify authentication and even eliminate passwords for new apps in the not distant future. They would provide a bridge for older apps.

Tokenized identity is designed, in part, to make it easier to move between clouds. Goodman points out the many issues that arise for multi-cloud users: where is data stored; for how long; how is it disposed of; if a user interacts with an SaaS, built on a PaaS, on top of an IaaS, where is their data at any moment, who is responsible for notification if the data is hacked, and so on.

VMware has created a hypervisor on Android. This enables the enterprise to run a consistent version of Android on users’ phones. The enterprise maintains control within the hypervisor, but does not interfere with the users’ personal items.

Since Apple will not permit such a hypervisor on their phones, Goodman says that VMware will work through the permitted MDM features of OS7.

Regarding scalability of their Android virtualization approach, Goodman states that VMware “made a hard choice” to partner with carriers, most notably Verizon Wireless and Softbank. VMware offers an OEM Enablement Kit (OEK). A device provider can run its kernel thru OEK and the phone can be “VMware ready” – even though the virtualization feature may not be in use by user.

VMware had announced earlier in 2013 that current generation phones on Verizon’s network are VMware ready and that the LG G2 would ship VMware ready for all major U.S. carriers. In October VMware stated that 12 leading smartphones, including the Sony Xperia Z1 were all VMware ready.

Regarding the SMB market, Goodman states that it is underserved and that the cloud affords the ability to scale down services to meet the needs of smaller organizations. He points to vCloud Hybrid Service, which enables IaaS integrated with on-premises VMware features as an example. He states that VMware will add services, such as disaster recovery as a service (which they have announced) and DaaS.

VMware announced the Desktone acquisition in October 2013. They plan to release their DaaS service in Q1 2014. He states that they will offer adjacent capabilities, e.g., file synch/share, mobile management. He regards tablets as an increasing element in the desktop world, not just a consumption device, but also one on which users can produce content.

In regards to metrics for measuring success with end users, Goodman states that VMware’s View aims at the two overall areas of: 1) backend performance, increasing scalability and manageability, while driving costs down and 2) the front end, providing a smoother better user experience.

He points out that in the world of VDI the road to avoiding a slow, klunky performance is not just dependent on the amount of compute power. For example, he notes the need to redirect UC (unified communications), webcam and multimedia feeds; to basically de-compose the physical desktop and recompose it virtually and add overlays of user friendly features, such as touch.

Goodman emphasizes the key role of VMware’s Workspace feature for users, as a single place “for all your stuff.” VMware describes Workspace as “a single workspace for files, applications and desktops” which affords IT the ability to manage users with diverse applications and devices. They view Workspace as reducing the complexity for the user and giving them a single click access within a secure space.

Goodman notes that Workspace will also support the Citrix Xen platform, Citrix being regarded as probably VMware’s leading competitor currently in the end user space. However, several others are clearly competitors, or potential competitors, including, for example, Microsoft, with its approaches to mobility management and VDI, as well as a host of MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile applications management) providers

In regard to issues of RAN reliability. Goodman acknowledges that a high level of availability is a key issue. He notes that VMware has built into its platform fault tolerance and avoidance of single points of failure, with a resilient backend, which they have moved to dynamic virtual appliances. He points out that physical desktops also have shortcomings.

Regarding the social component of the mobile cloud, Goodman points to SocialCast, acquired by VMware in 2011, which the company is using inhouse and which VMware states is used by thousands of customers. He states that they have a new version, which will enable interaction beyond email. He believes that social is a “glue” for enterprises that will hold several technologies together and states that VMware will try to make it a consistent part of the fabric of all apps, including information from machines as well as people. He points to the SocialCast Activity Stream Engine, which is designed to enable collection and dissemination of information from multiple sources and departments within an enterprise.

There is a definite possibility of future acquisitions as VMware implements its mobile cloud strategy. However, Goodman emphasizes that the company makes very specific judgments on how any new technology or asset will fit into the three buckets of development that they are committed to: 1) SDDC, 2) Hybrid cloud and 3) End-user computing. If there is not a very clean fit, they will rule out any acquisition.

Virtually all providers who are trying to advance the mobile enterprise, in one form or another, would agree with Goodman’s appraisal that embracing the mobile cloud does not need to be justified to enterprises on an ROI basis. Rather it simply must come to be regarded as a cost of doing business and a necessity for companies to avoid being left behind as the need to support a mobile workforce grows and mobile and cloud technology forge fundamental changes in the way business is done.