When I first heard about VMI, several thoughts went through my head. I shook my head and thought about how it was only a matter of time before this happened. I thought about how it was a modern version of that really cool party trick where we’d access Windows via Citrix MetaFrame from a Bondi Blue iMac (or the DOS client...that one was cool too!). And I thought about how the number one anti-use case in desktop virtualization–offline users–would squish VMI before it ever had a chance to grow.
Still, the premise of VMI is really interesting because all the benefits of desktop virtualization apply. There are a number of vendors out there, too, which means there’s a lot of interest and activity, so I set out to rationalize my fear of the offline.
Ever since the early days of desktop virtualization, we’ve been waging war against the mobile users (“mobile” being the term for roaming employees with laptops). To this day, laptops are monoliths that contain everything a user needs to get through the day. Yeah, some browser or cloud-based apps have worked their way in, but the users are content know that they can something productive whether they’re in a city, on a train, or at cruising altitude.
Even as quality internet access has become ubiquitous, the user experience is still the most consistent when the apps run locally. There’s no worry about switching towers, traveling abroad, or getting too far from the access point. Taking away a laptop and switching to a 100% desktop virtualization existence, while more possible than ever, is still going to present challenges that annoy the end users.
Things are a bit different with VMI. With mobile devices and mobile applications, users are accustomed to requiring access to data to be productive. The fact that the data disappears when the train goes into a tunnel, or that the quality of the connection fluctuates moving around in a room, is actually expected! Because of that level of expectation, being offline is tolerated...even understood. So while VMI users suffer from the same inability to access their applications when offline as VDI and SBC, they already knew that. Nothing has been taken away from them.
Now, you might say “If that app were local to the device, they could have used it,” but could they really? Where does the data come from? In most cases when dealing with line of business apps we aren’t storing lots of data on mobile devices...it’s all in the cloud or in our datacenters. It’s not any different than Facebook or, uhh, some other app my wife uses. Pinterest?
Of course, there are exceptions. Mobile device users are accustomed to having access to email, calendars, and notes when offline, even if it’s just for reading, and if you deliver those via VMI you’ll have to deal with that. The good news is that you don’t have to use VMI to deliver those services securely to local devices. There are already several MDM/MAM platforms out there that can do it for you, leaving the more complex line of business stuff to VMI.
The more I see VMI, the more I like it. If you want to learn more about it and are attending Citrix Synergy, Jack Madden presenting “Virtual Mobile Infrastructure: 10 things to know about this emerging technology” (SYN227). Both Jack and I will be presenting about it at BriForum London, which takes place May 19-20. (There’s still time to register!)