Why might VMware need to buy an EMM vendor? Here’s a closer look at the product details.

With the VMware end-user computing management changes in the news last week, it's time to take a look at where VMware is on the enterprise mobility management mobile front.

With the VMware end-user computing management changes in the news last week, it’s time to take a look at where VMware is on the enterprise mobility management mobile front.

AppDetective wrote a blog post titled Despite hiring Sumit Dhawan and Bob Schultz from Citrix, VMware has no choice but to make a mobile acquisition very soon, and concludes that MobileIron is the prime candidate for this.

AppDetective mentioned that VMware’s EMM offerings aren’t that good, and subsequently there was some confusion about this in the comments. I want to add my two cents by taking a closer look at VMware’s offerings, what individual components they’re missing, and why they’re important.

What they have

We’ve gone over the background of VMware’s mobile efforts a few times in the past. (It feels like I write this same article about every six months...) The short version of the story is that despite releasing several assorted mobile products (we’ll go over them in a second), VMware is still trailing far behind Citrix and many other vendors when it comes to enterprise mobility management. (Read here for more details about 2013, and here for more about 2012.)

So what do they have now? Here’s the list:

Horizon Workspace apps for iOS and Android - These apps allow users to access web apps, remote desktops, and files through Horizon Data, VMware’s mobile file syncing product.

Horizon Mobile Virtualization Platform for Android - This is their OS-enabled dual-persona solution for Android that came out last May. Like other specialized Android products, it’s limit to just certain devices, though VMware has done a good job of getting carriers and OEMs to provide support (including over-the-air updates for devices already out in the wild, which is really cool). The one downside is that Horizon Mobile Android devices can only be managed via the Horizon platform. This is different from the approach of other specialized Android offerings (such as Samsung SAFE and KNOX-enabled devices) that make management APIs available to multiple EMM vendors.

VMware Horizon Mail for Android - This app is presumably for Android devices that don’t support the virtualization platform. VMware doesn't have an iOS email apps, but there are a lot of companies out there that use the built-in app for iOS and a third-party app for Android, so this makes sense for now.

(Unreleased) MAM for iOS using the iOS 7 MDM protocol - VMware announced an app wrapping product back in 2012, but then when iOS 7 came along, they scrapped it and decided to just use the MAM functionality that now comes with iOS MDM.

What they need

So what do they need to really address the enterprise mobility management needs for Android and iOS (Not to mention Windows Phone, Windows 8.1, Mac OS X, etc...) and come up to par with other vendors?

More third-party MAM - I define third-party MAM as management features that are built directly into apps, so that apps can be secured without worrying about the underlying device. Examples of third-party MAM include app wrapping, SDKs, productivity apps like email and file syncing, or partner ISVs that produce apps that have hooks for MAM products.

For Android, VMware will naturally be pushing the mobile virtualization platform, but remember that not all devices support it and it won’t be the right tool in all situations. Some cases will just call for third-party MAM. The Horizon Workspace and email apps are a start, and probably adequate for many use cases today. But if they want get closer to the cutting edge of EMM, VMware will need to get into more advance third-party MAM for Android.

Then there’s iOS. The MAM features that come with iOS 7 MDM are great, but there are plenty of situations where you want to leave the device alone and not use MDM. All VMware has for this right now is Horizon Workspace, so again, they’ll have to take a closer look at third-party MAM techniques, especially an email client.

Real MDM for iOS and Android - Some of the comments argued that MDM is a relic of the past, but the reality is that if you want to manage any random app (not just the specialized ones mentioned above) using OS-enabled MAM, or if you want use a device’s built-in email client, you need MDM.

Since VMware is already working on MAM for iOS 7 using the Apple MDM protocol, they should in theory be all set here for managing iPhones and iPads. But for Android, they’ll need to have something that can manage devices that don’t support mobile virtualization. Since they already have the technology to manage Android VMs, in theory it shouldn’t be too difficult. But in practice, going beyond the basics to support advanced manufacturer-specific management APIs will take more work.

Conclusion: So should they buy someone?

You can see that compared to the likes of Citrix, MobileIron, AirWatch, and others, VMware is only just barely beginning to be able to cover a small slice of potential use cases. For a few basic use cases, their products could be adequate (that is, once their iOS product comes out). But remember that as AppDetective mentioned, VMware has talked a lot about their commitment to EUC. If they’re serious about EUC and mobile, than covering just a few use cases won’t cut it. (And I didn’t even get into things like Windows Phone management, Mac OS X management, and other more peripheral parts of EMM.)

AppDetective already provided a lot insight about the idea of VMware acquiring MobileIron or other vendors or simply working out some partnerships. I don’t have much to add, but I’ll mention that if VMware did buy MobileIron, that would be a big threat to the remaining independent EMM vendors like AirWatch.

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I like your writing Jack, I truly do. but its funny this story posts about the same time that Brian writes a story about the Microsoft desktop not being dead and I think that infers they overshot their market in Win 8/8.1.

As I posted under AppDetective's story, MDM is looking to solve a problem that is overrated and being solved at other levels.

I belive that VMware has no real weakness for the non-market of MDM/EMM and should continue to focus on the desktop where they are getting real traction.  

Brian cites in his Windows Desktop story today that EMM is not taking off anytime soon and that is exactly what I was saying in AppDetective's story comments.  

Maybe others were confused in their comments but I am being quite clear, "This is not the year, nor the decade of MDM/EMM."  Vendors like Citrix, Microsoft, VMware need to quit chasing it and focus on the task at hand for the next decade - getting the desktops and users we have today and tomorrow  managed.

Microsoft overshot the market with Windows 8. Desktops and mobilty will co-exist, not collide.


Hi EchoChamber—

Thanks for your comments. I'll go ahead and take the bait :)

You’re suggesting that Citrix, VMware, etc. should just concentrate on desktops and not dilute themselves with other things like EMM. Okay, let’s say they do that. When Windows desktops are gone (in 10 years? 20 years?) then what will happen? Maybe we’ll just have mobile OSes, and everything will look like Minority Report… who knows? But for a company that just manages desktops, do they just continue to focus on them exclusively and ride them all the way down? Or do they also try to create products that can manage the apps and devices that are replacing Windows desktops? EMM isn’t perfect yet, and who knows what the future will bring, but we can’t continue to just focus exclusively on the desktop.

Adding focus on EMM doesn’t mean that focus has to be taken away from desktops. It’s like when parents with one kid have a second kid. They don’t love the first kid less when the second one comes along, have just have more love to give.