VMware's Horizon Suite has a ways to go to meet expectations. Here's our full analysis:

Today, VMware is launching Horizon Suite, which we first learned about at VMworld last fall. Coming out of VMworld, I remember having the impression that despite being let down in the past by announcements that were never seen through to releases, VMware might still "get it" when it comes to the big picture of end user computing (EUC).

Today, VMware is launching Horizon Suite, which we first learned about at VMworld last fall. Coming out of VMworld, I remember having the impression that despite being let down in the past by announcements that were never seen through to releases, VMware might still "get it" when it comes to the big picture of end user computing (EUC). Today's Horizon Suite release represents the marriage of all the EUC technologies and products that VMware has assembled over the years, and is in large part focused on behind-the-scenes things like wiring together the backends and integrating everything together. The primary components of Horizon Suite Horizon View 5.2, Horizon Mirage 4.0, and Horizon Workspace 1.0. Horizon Mobile (for EMM) will also a part of this suite (sometime later in 2013), as are updated mobile Suite-wide mobile clients (which Jack has written about separately). Let's dig into the remaining components:

Horizon View 5.2

Part of today's Horizon Suite release involves renaming the core technologies, so we have a new name and minor version number for VMware View. Now called "Horizon View," the 5.2 release also brings with it the addition of an HTML5 client that leverages VMware's "Blast" protocol. Blast is based on the same technology that runs AppBlast, which we talked about after it was announced at VMworld 2011. AppBlast, for those that don't remember (or have forgotten) was a technology designed to deliver seamless applications from the datacenter via HTML5. It has never been released as an actual product, rather, it was intended to be built into various products that VMware already has. 

You'll note that the "App" part of AppBlast has disappeared, and that's because this release only has the ability to deliver full desktops to users rather than seamless applications. VMware says that single application seamless Windows is still their ultimate goal, but that's really hard to do via an HTML5 client and they just wanted to get this technology out there. (I've heard through other channels that the lack of seamless app delivery is because of the way browsers work, namely that browser window borders must be present. Imagine delivering a dozen applications via AppBlast, only to have each one have a browser window around it. That experience is less than optimal, and confusing for users.)

VMware Blast is built a little differently than other HTML5 remote desktop solutions. Rather than using a gateway component to translate or re-encode a remote desktop protocol like other solutions do, Blast was designed from the ground up to deliver pixels straight from within the VM in essentially the same way as PCoIP. This also means the scalability is on par with PCoIP, since little-to-no extra overhead is introduced. Without translation in the way, Blast excels at remoting the desktop itself. Plus, all the traffic runs through the same Horizon Gateway that secures all the other communications between your endpoints and the datacenter.

Disappointingly, there are many limitations that overshadow Blast's great video performance. For instance, there is no multimedia or Flash redirection which would allow the browser to interpret the data natively rather than sending it over the wire. There's also no USB support, no ThinPrint, and no audio support, or no webcam support either. The end result is a protocol that delivers a great looking experience that's not all that usable. Perhaps in a pinch, or in certain situations it will be useful at scale, but ultimately it's behind the curve when compared to more mature HTML5 products from Citrix and Ericom, among others.

A few other aspects of View 5.2 worth noting:

  • The AppShift technology that we were shown at VMworld is now part of View. AppShift introduces gestures and UI changes that make it easier to use Windows and Windows desktop applications on touch-based devices. If you want to see it in action, Ruben Spruijt recorded a video during the keynote of Daniel Beveridge's demo. This looks pretty cool, and I'm happy to see it make it into the product. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dubious when it was announced.
  • View 5.2 finally includes the support for the Nvidia Virtual Graphics Platform that we learned about at VMworld Europe 2011. This will allow for remoting of 3D applications (with the appropriate GPUs in your View servers).
  • View is SAML-aware now, so when you sign into the Horizon Workspace (more on that later), your credentials are used not only for apps and data, but also to log you into the View desktop.
  • Microsoft Lync communicator is officially supported via View. (We assume this is via PCoIP only since Blast doesn't do audio.)

Overall impression: AppShift looks cool, Blast is falls way short, SAML integration is nice to have.

Horizon Mirage 4.0

VMware bought Wanova last May, but since then they haven't done anything with the technology. It's still been version 3.0—the version that Wanova had been shipping since 2011. Today's Horizon launch includes a new version of Mirage (now 4.0) along with a name change to "Horizon Mirage."The biggest new feature is that you can now configure layers for single applications. Prior to this release, Mirage could be broken down into three layers—Base, Apps, and User—which were composited together and delivered to an endpoint. The 4.0 update now lets you effectively package applications into their own layers, which you can then deliver based on policies (specific machines, groups, departments, etc.). It gives more flexibility when it comes to managing applications, even letting you deliver ThinApp packages as layers (although I'm not sure why you'd do that). 

At this stage, there's still no integration between Mirage and View. Our sources claim it's because Mirage doesn't perform well when used in a View environment. This would make sense, since it was designed for desktops that are notoriously over-powered. Performance hits on a single desktop or laptop would likely go unnoticed, but when concentrated on a VDI host those hits would be multiplied and quickly become noticeable. The official response for VMware confirms this (if you read between the lines):

It remains our goal to fully extend the benefits of Horizon Mirage's image layering technology across both the physical and virtual desktop environments. That being said, it is important to note that Mirage and View were initially conceived with different objectives in mind and so interoperability at the underlying resource level is not yet optimised: some of the dynamics of how our agent uses CPU and Network in a distributed environment may be sub-optimal when deployed on a shared resource like a VDI server.

So this is unfortunate, big time. I was of the opinion that integrating the technology into View would be the first thing done, but that appears to be on the back burner. As it is today, Mirage is VMware's physical desktop solution, meaning that you still have to have separate physical and virtual desktop strategies. Sure, that's how it worked in the past, but they didn't make the change I was hoping to see.

What's interesting is that there is a virtualization play for Mirage, as VMware also views it as a BYOC solution, allowing users to use their own machines at work via a corporate VM, managed by Mirage. In fact, VMware even includes a copy of Fusion Pro (the centrally-managed version of Fusion) with each Mirage license. You might be thinking "That's a Mac product. What about Windows?" We thought that, too. VMware believes the most common BYOC use case one that involves bringing Macs into the workplace, so they've bundled the Mac version of their hypervisor for that specific use case. Perhaps this is because there is no "Pro" version of Workstation that could also be bundled? [UPDATE Feb 25: VMware told us that the Mirage license for Fusion Pro is also valid for VMware player for deploying Mirage-managed VMs to Windows and Linux clients. "But wait," you're thinking, "Isn't VMware Player free already?" We thought that too. Turns out that it was free for non-commercial use, so now with Mirage you're legally allowed to use it for corporate stuff. VMware also asked us to point out that you can use both Fusion and VMware Player for corporate-owned laptops too. It's not just a BYO solution. Noted.]

Overall impression: Just a minor change, frustratingly slow integration since we're near the one year mark after the acquisition.

Horizon Workspace 1.0 

The glue that binds the Horizon Suite together is Horizon Workspace, launched today for the first time. Workspace aggregates everything in the suite together into one management and end-user package. From Workspace, users have access to their files via what we once called Horizon Data, their web and SaaS applications via the original Horizon App Manager, and their desktops via Horizon View. Mirage is not integrated into Workspace, but it also doesn't need to be since it's only a physical solution (or Fusion) that's managed via the Mirage management component.

Workspace looks cool, and it appears this is where most of the development work has been focused of late, the bulk of which has been regarding the integration of all the platforms. It had to happen some time, but looking around for killer features doesn't result in much. Accessing the data, apps, and desktops is great, but as you look into each of those you find a few things that you would expect to be there that are not.

The "files" functionality is meant to rival other cloud file sync providers like Box and Dropbox. It could be said that it does too good a job of that, because there's no integration with other file storage solutions outside of Horizon itself. Where other solutions allow you to hook into your local file stores or to other cloud services (thereby letting you leave them in place while still providing sync and access to those files on other devices), Horizon Data exists as its own "all-or-nothing" silo. (We were told that integration with existing file shares, SharePoint, and other cloud-based file sync services are all "design goals.") There is some integration with Office Server that allows users to view Office files through the Horizon Workspace, but they can't be edited. If a user wants to edit a file, they need to either find it via the Horizon Data client on their device (which works like Dropbox), or download it, edit it, and re-upload it into the system.

Another gripe is that desktops you can access through Workspace appear to be limited solely to View desktops despite hearing about XenApp integration for, I believe, two years. Also absent is Teradici Arch integration, but that may be understandable since that's only in Tech Preview at the moment. It would seem to be an easy inclusion, though, since it leverages the View connection broker. Finally, Workspace doesn't have any kind of "open in" intelligence in the web browser. So it can't automatically stream a ThinApp package to your workstation or launch a remote View desktop session if you click on a file that can't be handled by your local client. [UDPATE Feb 20 8:45am, we also confirmed that Workspace can only connect users to View desktops, so too bad if you were using View to broker connections to Remote Desktop Session Hosts.]

Overall impression: You have to start somewhere, and this is it. Hopefully VMware can make the updates fast and furious.

Pricing & Licensing

You can buy the entire Horizon Suite for $300 per named user. That's for a perpetual license, not per-year. That includes View, Mirage, Fusion Pro, and Workspace (SaaS app integration, Horizon Data, etc.) That seems like a really great price for so much and significantly cheaper than everything Citrix bundles together.

You can buy the components individually too. View is $250 per concurrent user on its own, and there's now only one edition of View that includes all the features. (Well, we think it includes all of them. We asked vCenter Operations Manager for View was included since VMware shamefully charged $100 per user(!) extra for that in the past, but VMware didn't get back to us on that.)

Mirage and Workspace can each be had on their own for $150 per named user.

As mentioned in the opening section, this Horizon Suite is ultimately supposed to include the Horizon Mobile (EMM) components, but they're not in there yet and we don't know whether or not that addition will affect the overall price of the suite.


VMware might understand the space as well as I'd hoped, but it sure looks like they're having trouble executing. These products seem to carry so much potential that has yet to be realized, and it seems like all we do is speculate (and hint) about the cool things that could be done, then wait to see if anything catches on. Perhaps the recent changes within VMware will spur that on, but as it stands VMware has a long way to go to catch up to competitors in a lot of areas. It's pretty bad when you make Citrix look like they can turn on a dime.

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Is it just me or is VMware getting VERY aggressive with their pricing here? $300 per user for everything? That's crazy, right? What does Citrix XenDesktop + CloudGateway + XenMobile cost.. like $1000+ per user? (Though the Citrix suite has a lot more functionality, so maybe it's apples and oranges?) Almost like VMware is taking the lower end more simple environments where you don't want to integrate a lot of third party stuff. Maybe a good SMB play for them?


Thanks for the coverage guys!  We'll keep working hard to live up to your expectations :-)  One factual nit RE the Mirage stuff.  Fusion Pro _does_ give you access to runtimes on Mac, Windows and Linux.  On the Mac, it's Fusion of course.  On Windows and Linux, the Fusion Pro license gives you the rights to run VMware Player in a corporate environment (prior to Fusion Pro's launch last summer, VMware Player was for personal use only).  Try it out!

Also, I'll encourage you to really run HTML Access through the paces once you get your hands on it.  There's feature bullets, and then there's the actual quality of the experience when simply interacting with the desktop.  We think we prioritized the right things there once you try it out.  That said, we do agree with you that it isn't meant as a replacement protocol.  It really is for flexible access from devices and locations where a full View Client with PCoIP isn't practical or possible.  Don't want to mislead anyone there.



Hi Gabe,

Thanks for the comments!

I wanted to add an additional insight about the HTML access - we made an explicit design decision for zero-install, meaning no browser plug-in's. Think about borrowed systems, kiosks, library internet access, etc. This trade-off, in turn, limits functionality that requires trapping out of the browser sandbox in order to access local resources. USB re-direction is a good example of this. Hence we're providing the options of zero-install access to your desktop with some limitations vs. a full-featured rich client with everything.



So, what I'm getting out of this discussion (thanks for the comments, by the way), is that the HTML access piece will always focus on just the video because to do more would require plug-ins. Are there plans to add features like sound that don't (or wouldn't) require plug ins?


We're not able to discuss or speculate on possible futures in a public forum like this. I thought it was important to clarify the not-so-obvious design goal that we wanted to offer a zero-install browser experience to complement our full-featured native clients.