VMware’s long anticipated decision to buy into the mobility market via its acquisition of AirWatch will be embraced by impatient customers.
For all its success in the data centre, VMware has struggled to execute in end user computing.
The bravest of its customers leapt early into virtual desktop (VMware View) after enjoying strong savings from use of VMware tools for server virtualisation, only to come up against performance issues that either stalled pilots or required substantial investment in storage and networking kit.
By the time VMware revisited its delivery architecture and delivered a more satisfying VDI solution, VMware faced the prospect of competing not only with other product vendors (Citrix, Microsoft) but a cost-aggressive service provider that wishes to make a commodity of the virtual desktop (Amazon Web Services).
With its desktop architecture bedded down, VMware looked to the tablet and smartphone. VMware’s attempts to lock down enterprise mobiles also suffered false starts. Customers warmed to the company’s ‘Horizon’ vision - one platform for deploying applications to any device - but VMware arguably wasn’t able to execute to plan.
Whether by poor timing or design, Horizon Mobile came to market with a different solution for iOS devices (containerisation) as Android devices (a complete new OS running on a hypervisor). The latter, a prominent Australian analyst noted, was ‘cracking a hammer with a nut.’
Last year I joined many thousands of VMware customers on a national roadshow for which BYOD and the securing of enterprise mobile devices was a central theme. Most of those customers expressed a preference for VMware to deliver on the desktop or homescreen as they had on the server. They loved the Horizon vision, and waited patiently for VMware to deliver a genuine solution.
I predicted the company would use its VMworld conference in August to deliver one - either in the form of a new product or by announcing the purchase of MDM assets from elsewhere, as Citrix and IBM had with their respective buys of Zenprise and FiberLink.
I figured BlackBerry’s BES assets might be a good fit - despite flailing hardware sales, BlackBerry’s BES had matured into best-in-class when it came to mobile device and application management - including for the management of iOS and Android devices. And it was more than likely going cheap.
AirWatch is a better fit. In a crowded market for mobile security software, AirWatch has taken the most care to harmonise its products with the native MDM features being deployed by the two largest handset/OS vendors, Apple and Samsung, and was the first to adjust prices accordingly. Rivals followed suit.
For both VMware and AirWatch customers, the buy provides stability in the short term and a faster route to delivering applications to end users on any device.
The most pressing question for VMware customers is how VMware will integrate AirWatch into its Horizon suite. That much isn’t immediately clear beyond VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger telling Reuters:
"AirWatch will be the centre of our mobile activities. We are really bringing together the strength we have in PCs and desktops with AirWatch's in the mobility space."
Another key concern will be whether a VMware-owned AirWatch continues to develop tools for Microsoft environments. VMware has a history of profiting from agnosticism and customers should expect this to continue.
In any case, it won’t be long before the best years of VMware’s server virtualisation growth will be behind it, with some road still to travel to deliver off its Nicera acquisition and the concept of a ‘software-defined data centre’.
AirWatch is the running start VMware needed two years ago. Better late than never.