Taking Back IT

Oct 20 2011   7:42AM GMT

VMware mobile virtualization arrives, but with baggage

Colin Steele Colin Steele Profile: Colin Steele

VMware is finally bringing mobile virtualization to market, but it’s far from a slam-dunk solution to bring-your-own-device problems.

The VMware Horizon Mobile service will become available on Verizon Wireless smartphones within months, the companies said at VMworld Europe this week. Horizon Mobile is designed to keep corporate data and applications segregated and protected on personal smartphones, but issues around device compatibility and management may hamper IT adoption, experts said.

For one, Horizon Mobile will be available only on Android devices.

“You need more device and more OS support to make [mobile virtualization] valid at an enterprise level,” said Brian Katz, director of mobility at a major pharmaceutical company.

How Horizon Mobile works

Horizon Mobile relies on the Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP), a mobile phone hypervisor that VMware introduced  in 2008. MVP creates two environments on the same smartphone — one for personal use and one for business. IT administrators can monitor, secure and deploy applications to the business environment using the VMware Horizon Mobile Manager portal.

But Horizon Mobile Manager creates Android images that admins must manage. That may be a turn off in some IT shops, because it creates a lot of overhead, Katz said.

Mobile virtualization on Android only: ‘A messy situation’

VMware has said it’s working on bringing MVP to the iPhone, but Apple has shown no inclination (at least publicly) to allow mobile virtualization on iOS. If mobile virtualization ultimately solves  bring-your-own-device (BYOD) issues, this lack of iOS support will be a roadblock, because not all end users are Android owners.

“It’s kind of a messy situation,” said Ben Schorr, CEO of Roland Schorr and Tower, an IT consultancy based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Mobile virtualization isn’t even necessary on the iPhone or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Unlike Android smartphones, those devices have monitored app stores, and the applications come with a certain level of security, said Wes Miller, research analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. Miller pointed out that one of the biggest complaints about iOS — its lack of multitasking capabilities — is actually an asset when it comes to security.

“The applications are incredibly sandboxed, and … that is a great security solution, even though it limits the productivity of apps,” he said. “[Mobile virtualization] is an incredibly high-charged security approach, and that’s great, but the fatal flaw is that you’re having to consider this, on Android, because the platform itself is intrinsically not secure.”

Mobile virtualization: One aspect of BYOD?

It’s not an overall BYOD option, but Horizon Mobile can help IT get more control over end users accessing corporate data and applications on Android smartphones, Schorr said.

“If you don’t give the end users what they want, they find ways to get around it,” he said. “Mobile virtualization is going to be a solution if for no other reason than to placate those users.”

Katz agreed that mobile virtualization does have some valuable uses, such as for specific projects where every employee has the same device. But overall, it’s better to try to manage all mobile devices with as few tools as possible, he said.

“Do you handle your Android devices one way, do you handle your iOS devices another way, do you handle your Windows Phone devices a third way, or do you try to find a solution to best unite all three?” he said.

Horizon Mobile device details

LG Electronics will be the first manufacturer to offer Horizon Mobile on its Verizon Wireless devices. VMware also has a mobile virtualization deal with Samsung and is working with Google to add MVP to the Android kernel.

At the conference, VMware also disclosed a Horizon Mobile partnership with Telefonica, a wireless carrier that does business in Spain, Latin America and South America.

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