There hasn’t really been much news recently about Horizon Mobile, VMware’s phone virtualization platform. Since VMworld is just a week and a half away, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at what we know about Horizon Mobile.
Background of the MVP (mobile virtualization platform)
The first mention of what is now known as Horizon Mobile was about four years ago, when VMware bought a company called Trango Virtual machines. At first the idea of using mobile VMs to separate personal and private on the same device didn’t even come up, and the technology was considered “years away” from actually shipping. Over the next few years VMware would mention the project every now and then, with nothing too big happening until VMworld US 2011. At that show, the old Mobile Virtualization Platform name was dropped in favor of Horizon Mobile, and it had a starring role in the day-2 end user computing keynote. There were also demos on the show floor, but no shipping dates were announced.
In the meantime, though, the world of mobile application management, sandboxed email clients, and non-virtualization-based split-personality solutions has exploded; and the best part is that most of these solutions work on iOS and Android, instead of just Android like Horizon Mobile.
With all of these developments, will Horizon Mobile dead on arrival? Certainly it’s been declared so in the past (as early as 2010, even!), and it still hasn’t been released to GA. There have been various announcements about hardware partners, though, indicating that there’s still life in it yet.
A more recent look
We’ll learn how much weight VMware is throwing into Horizon Mobile in a week and a half, but to get a baseline on what’s going on, last week I went down to Palo Alto to meet with Srinivas Krishnamurti, the product manager for all of VMware’s mobile offerings. What he showed me was a product that looked polished and ready to take its place among the current crop of dual persona mobile management offerings.
Some relevant details:
- Horizon Mobile is Android only. This is the single biggest obstacle to adoption, with a limited hardware compatibility list being a close second.
- The guest OS can be any version of Android, but OS version. for hosts will be determined by device manufacturers (probably 4.0 or 4.1).
- Management of the apps is at the VM OS level, not app level, and there’s no access to Google Play. Management options include existing Android MDM APIs plus custom APIs from VMware. (Just because they’re no Google play doesn’t mean users won’t be able to provision their own apps. Users will just have to get them from IT, perhaps through Horizon App Manager.)
- The VM uses the host’s data plan and phone number, though unified communications clients are an option for companies that want separate phone numbers (dual SIM card phones would just be too complicated
- It does require a kernel module, but this is put in by the OEM, not your own IT department. Considering that OEMs put lots of crap in Android anyway, I’m not nearly concerned about this as I would be about my own IT department rooting my phone.
- There’s nothing in the management console that gives any visibility at all into the host device.
So what’s the overall feeling then? Of course since it’s Android-only and limited to certain devices from certain manufacturers, it won’t take over the world. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of good use cases, though. As I’ve written before, custom versions of Android (this being an extreme example) have a lot of potential for being the next standard-issue corporate phones. Horizon Mobile has the advantage that it keeps administrators out of users’ personal apps. An even bigger advantage, however, is that because IT is controlling the entire (virtual) OS, off-the-shelf versions of apps can be deployed—there’s no need for app wrapping, SDKs, or trying to figure out how to wire together a bunch of apps without managing the device. On the other hand, this is a problem that has to be solved for iOS no what, so if the industry can figure that out, why not use the same architecture for Android?
At the end of the day
The final big test for Horizon Mobile will be usability. Srinivas said that right now the Horizon Mobile people and some engineers at VMware are using the product, but we’ll have to wait until it’s GA to find out if performance and battery life are acceptable. Once this test is passed—and taking into account the Android-only precondition—there’s a lot to like about Horizon Mobile.