My thoughts on VMware AirWatch Connect 2016

AirWatch Connect 2016 was last week: Here’s the top news, plus Jack’s full analysis. Topics include Windows 10, Identity, AI, AR glasses, apps, and more.

AirWatch Connect was last week, and a lot of people have been asking me what I thought of the show. I live-blogged the keynotes and included a bit of commentary, but today I’m going to go deeper into my thoughts and analysis.

In addition to going over the Connect keynotes and blog posts, I met with Sumit Dhawan, Noah Wasmer, Blake Brannon, Jason Roszak, and had countless conversations with other VMware employees, customers, and show attendees.

First off, I’ll mention that I really enjoy Connect because it’s one of the largest gatherings that’s purely dedicated to enterprise mobility management—this year VMware said 1800 people were present. Last week VMware officially announced that in 2017, Connect will be co-located with VMworld. I don’t think anyone (VMware included) wants the AirWatch community to get lost in the hugeness of VMworld, so hopefully Connect will still have its own space carved out (including keynotes, expo hall space, and social activities).

Mobile, meet desktops and identity

Like at VMworld, Windows 10 and Workspace One were two of the big themes. VMware wanted to spend the time to introduce them to the AirWatch mobility audience—specifically, people that might not have been paying close attention to desktops and identity in the past.

The Windows 10 management features (a.k.a. unified endpoint management or UEM) will be shipping sometime this quarter with AirWatch 9.0. We got a few new details this week: We knew that it was using App Stacks for packaging, TrustPoint (Tanium) for security, and AirWatch for the MDM APIs, but now we also know that AirWatch has built other new components to take care of patching and software delivery, all from the cloud. Other details to know are that App Stacks will only be in a tech preview for now, and TrustPoint is a separate paid add-on. (More info in this blog post.)

As we noted around VMworld, we’re very excited about Windows 10 UEM, and so are attendees and customers. However, even though we have more details, many customers still have a ton of questions about how everything will work for them. Gabe is going to be digging into the tech in the coming weeks. Noah Wasmer said that AirWatch has thousands of customer Windows 10 POCs going on.

We’ve also already talked about Workspace One: it’s great to see this concept (which goes back several years) coming together. Again, VMware wanted to be sure to introduce all of this to their mobile audience. We heard a lot about the single catalog to deliver any app to any device, as well as the idea of using smarter identity management to do context-based authentication and authorization. They showed off capabilities like access based on device status, and integrations with CASBs and other partners through the Mobile Security Alliance. Like I wrote a few weeks ago, all these smarter identity and access features will have a huge impact on security and UX.

Intelligent analytics

The biggest brand new announcement of AirWatch Connect was that AirWatch is going to evolve its reporting capabilities into a much more flexible “intelligent” analytics platform. There will be a custom reporting engine, along with an open API and the ability to export to third-party analytics and BI tools. They gave several examples of functionality, such as collecting app usage information, monitoring device health, and all types of security scenarios. (For example, companies could use machine learning to learn users’ typical behaviors, then look for anomalous behavior that may indicate a security threat, and then feed that back into Workspace One access policies.)

This announcement and part of the keynote was similar to the machine learning and AI concepts Microsoft was talking about the week prior at Ignite, specifically the Microsoft Security Intelligence Graph and Azure Active Directory. Microsoft has an enormous platform that they can pull data out of, so I’m wondering how VMware will eventually compare—but this is a subject for another time. For now, a lot of customers were excited to have better reporting capabilities coming, but the real interesting part is the future potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence. We should all be excited about the possibilities.

Other announcements

Another new feature touted in AirWatch 9.0 is the ability to manage wearables—especially augmented reality and virtual reality glasses. When you see demos of how these can be used in manufacturing, warehouses, education, healthcare, and similar verticals, you know that these are going to be important soon. (The technology has really come along in the last few years.) Just like mobile devices, once you get more than a few of them you really need some sort of management platform, and that’s where MDM comes in. (More details here. Apparently many of them are based on Android.)

VMware was keen to show off the latest improvements in the Boxer email client, like swipe gestures, predictive filing, one touch dialing, an Apple Watch extension, and the like. Some of this is old hat, but it’s very important that enterprise email clients keep up with all the latest features in consumer email clients, so kudos to them.

End user privacy, BYOD, and different types of MAM came up in the keynotes and many conversations, too. The AppConfig Community is growing, and they’re still emphasizing it as the ultimate goal, but they did talk about standalone MAM, too. (Sometimes I don’t always agree about the amount of balance they give between different MAM techniques, but that’s a topic for another time.) The more pressing issue is that many people are still confused about different types of MAM. I’ve written about this quite a bit in the past, and I will continue to do so. The rise of Office 365 and Microsoft Intune is also prompting a lot of discussions about how to do MAM.

This year there wasn’t nearly as much focus on mobile app development platforms (MADP) or mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) as there had been in the past. Some have suggested that companies are simply getting more comfortable with native mobile client development, and treating the back end the same as they would for web apps. Sumit Dhawan also noted that AirWatch’s SDK makes mobile app security, identity, and MAM much easier.

Having said that, digital transformation still has a long way to go, and many companies need all the help they can get, including from MADPs and MBaaS. It was great to hear app refactoring (including Powwow and Capriza specifically) get a shout out and quick demo in the keynote, too—VMware is still watching this space closely.

Wrap up

A few attendees said they felt like there wasn’t much at the show for regular mobility customers, but the keynotes did point out that AirWatch has continued to stay up to date on supporting all the versions of iOS, Android, and other OSes. And you could argue that people should know about what’s coming down the line for UEM, identity, and AI, too.

For even more on the show, you can check out my live blog, which also links to all of the AirWatch announcements. VMworld Europe is coming up next week. Gabe and I won’t be there in person, but if any more details or announcements come out, we’ll write about them or share them in our series of Friday notebooks posts.

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