VMware’s purchase of Thinstall last year was a big milestone for them because it was the first time they went “inside” the desktop VM. In other words, VMware has historically been all about managing the VMs themselves without really caring what was actually running within the VM. But Thinstall (now called ThinApp) was a big change for them because (1) it runs inside the VM, and (2) it’s not even a VM-specific solution. (i.e. ThinApp runs just as well on physical Windows desktops as it does in Windows desktop VMs.)
So what’s the big deal? When VMware bought Thinstall, people thought, “Wow! Okay, so VMware’s desktop strategy is for them to do more than just manage the desktop VM from the outside. They want to manage the whole Windows desktop experience.” That was cool and it made sense.
But here’s where it gets weird: The Thinstall purchase was a year-and-a-half ago, but since then what’s VMware done to complete their Windows desktop management offerings? Nothing!
This is a problem for several reasons:
The first problem is that VMware’s desktop management solution is not complete. Managing a Windows desktop—especially a dynamically-created one—requires much more than managing just the apps. You also have to deal with the user environment, profiles, data, security, policies, backup, audits, performance guarantees, troubleshooting, and probably several more things I’m forgetting. But so far VMware only has the app portion covered. So that means VMware View desktop customers can use VMware for their apps, but they’ll still have to go to third parties for everything else.
The second problem is that VMware is a VM management company. They are not a desktop management company. So even if VMware starts buying up additional capabilities to round out their desktop management story, that means that they’re suddenly going to compete with Microsoft and Symantec (Altiris) and Quest probably 200 other vendors who are in the desktop management space. And let’s imagine for a second that VMware actually does start buying other desktop management companies, will customers even trust VMware to be their desktop management company? That’s so different from where VMware is today.
Third, there’s the question of managing Windows desktops running in VMs versus desktops that are running in the traditional way. From a customer standpoint “desktop management” is “desktop management,” regardless of whether a desktop is physical or virtual. But VMware wants to make everything a VM, so they only focus on managing Windows desktops that are running in VMs while customers want single desktop management tools that transcend their physical and virtual boundaries. So will VMware try to be a desktop management company with solutions that also work outside of VMs? Talk about a mess and major “scope creep.”
Fourth, there’s the issue of bundling ThinApp with View. The problem is that there are about seven different app virtualization products in the market today (including ThinApp), and they all have unique pros and cons. But now that ThinApp is made by VMware, it’s like VMware suddenly forgot that there are other options out there and everyone at VMware only talks about ThinApp. From the customer perspective, it’s going to be hard to build a VMware-based desktop virtualization environment while using an app virtualization product other than ThinApp. The VMware employees will try to guilt you into using ThinApp, and the bundled pricing means that your boss will push for ThinApp regardless of whether it’s the right fit or not.
And finally there’s the practical partner issue. Before VMware bought Thinstall, they would partner with whomever’s app virtualization product made the most sense for a particular project. But now that they own Thinstall, they’ve reclassified all the other app virtualization vendors as “competitors” which means they’re kicked out of the partner program and their participation in VMworld is limited. So if VMware goes further down the path of managing desktop VMs, they’ll isolate more and more of their current partners.
If you’re VMware, what do you do next?
My initial reaction to VMware buying Thinstall was positive, but now that 18 months have gone by and VMware hasn’t “finished the job” by buying the rest of the components they need to offer a full solution, I just don’t know what they should do next?
I guess at the end of the day, the outcome depends on VMware’s philosophy towards desktops and what they want to be when they grow up. VMware is already adding a lot of functionality to their VDI offering, like driver-free printing from ThinPrint, software-only versions of Teradici’s PC-over-IP remote display protocol, and various extensions to RDP based on Wyse’s TCX technologies. We already know that their long-term vision is that everything runs as a VM (both centrally via VDI server-based computing scenarios and locally via their CVP client hypervisor platform). And they already have experimental support for synchronizing disk images between remote VDI hosts and local VMs. So there’s a lot of precedence for them doing things in the desktop space outside of the “pure” VM management.
What do you think is next for them here? What move would you make if you were in charge?