VMware releasing Horizon Mobile Android virtualization, and your phone might be able to run it now!

Today VMware announced that Horizon Mobile for Android, their dual-persona mobile virtualization product, is finally available on two phones from Verizon (the LG Intuition and the Motorola RAZR M). We've been waiting for this release for a long time, so today's announcement feels important.

Today VMware announced that Horizon Mobile for Android, their dual-persona mobile virtualization product, is finally available on two phones from Verizon (the LG Intuition and the Motorola RAZR M). We’ve been waiting for this release for a long time, so today’s announcement feels important. However, there still some interesting surprises that could change the way we think about Horizon Mobile.

Horizon Mobile for Android consists of a guest virtual machine that separates corporate apps and data from personal apps and data on the host. If you’re not familiar with it, you can read these articles to get up to speed:

And of course today, Horizon Mobile for Android is finally being released.

The problem with mobile virtualization is that it requires a specially-modified version of Android to act as the host—it won’t work on just any Android device. With VMware Horizon Mobile, there’s a kernel module that lies latent in the host until it’s activated by installing an app from VMware. Users login and connect the app (called VMware Switch and available in Google Play) to their corporate environment, and then IT can provision and manage a work VM with appropriate apps and policies.

What’s new with today’s announcement is that Verizon is installing the kernel module as part of over-the-air operating system updates. In fact, the two phones that were announced today—the LG Intuition and the Motorola RAZR M—already had the update with VMware’s kernel module pushed to them about a month ago. So if you have one of these phones, it already works with Horizon Mobile! 

Verizon has plans to push the update to more existing phone models in the coming months. This means that VMware Horizon Mobile will be available on a larger number of devices than we previously thought. The old assumption was that this would only be available on new phones, so this is kind of a big deal.

How big? Verizon may be the largest cell phone carrier in the US, but as we’ve known all along, when it comes to mobile virtualization, we still have to deal with fragmentation in some form or another. In this case, Horizon mobile won’t be available on phones from other carriers, and VMware didn’t mention anything about tablets, either. Compare that to other vendors’ dual persona mobile app management products, which can work across a much wider range of devices from different carriers. Right now all VMware has for these other Android devices is the Horizon Workspace app and an email client.

For sure today’s announcement is a huge win, and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but we’re still left wondering if VMware is going to go full-on into mobile app management for Android, like it intends to do for iOS.

Still, this is an exciting time. There was a trial release of Horizon Mobile for Android starting last December in Japan, but now after talking about and debating this product for nearly five years, we finally can get our hands on it and see what happens.

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I think the key benefit of mobile virtualization in the BYOD context is that it enables containment of enterprise data without requiring a 3rd-party container, app wrapping, or full device management (because you manage only the enterprise image). That said, there are lots of limitations that make me question its practicality, and I'm curious to hear what the community thinks about the technology's potential for enterprise adoption.

Given that the technology is Android-only, and applicable to a subset of devices and carriers, organizations will still need enterprise mobility solutions to manage their non-virtualized devices (iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Android), so that means an enterprise would need to bring on a second solution to manage their virtualized devices.

The alternative to having multiple solutions would be to use Horizon Mobile to manage all devices (assuming VMWare gets there on the other platforms), which is very similar to the BlackBerry strategy with BlackBerry Device Service and its ability to manage non-BB devices.

I wonder what enterprise profile would be most willing to bring in the VMWare infrastructure? Perhaps those that have not yet opened up their mobility programs to Android and want to begin with a restricted set of devices? But wouldn't these organizations also include KNOX devices in that list? Maybe enterprises who have not yet invested in an enterprise mobility solution would find this attractive.

I'm also curious how closed or open VMWare will make this...will they allow 3rd-party enterprise mobility providers to activate/provision and manage the image, or will VMWare use this as a control point to force themselves into the enterprise's management portfolio? Once the image is provisioned, the enterprise could probably use any MDM vendor to manage the enterprise image, but VMWare's infrastructure would still need to be around to perform updates, manage image-level policies, etc. At a price point of $125 per user (not verified), it'd be tough to justify using VMWare AND another MDM tool to manage the virtualized device, so you'd probably want to go with one or the other. But then you have some devices fully managed via your MDM tool and another set of virtualized devices fully managed via VMWare, which I think would make something simple like setting passcode policies more complex.

Finally, what's the long-term viability of mobile virtualization on Android if Google pushes its multi-user features further? Or if Samsung KNOX turns out to be great? Perhaps what we'll see is an evolution that leads to more employee choice -- they might be able to choose from full device management, container, or virtualization.


I don't see my smartphone of choice in the list of supported devices... No luck!

If you think that, today, most of the smartphones in enterprises (globally) are already BYO (some countries in Europe already are over 60%), don't think this type of techno will scale right regarding device support...