Many IT departments have been committing acts of virtualization for years. Servers, storage, networking and desktops all have fallen victim to our erstwhile inventiveness, while demonstrating with relative ease that virtualization readily scales up to meet the needs of human busywork.
But does it also scale down? The answer is yes, of course, and most corporate executives could testify as to at least one good and practical reason for making it so: the IT-issued mobile phone. According to VMware, 75 percent of corporate employees who use computers for work are using or interested in using smartphones for work. But for security, compliance and ease of management, corporations typically don't allow employees to access corporate assets from personal phones.
The usual result? Corporate workers are forced to carry two phones. Seeking to cut this requirement down to size, VMware at the Mobile World Congress 2011 hosted a demonstration of the Mobile Virtualization Platform, a tool that on the surface appears like any standard Android app. But what's happening underneath is something wholly other.
The MVP icon launches a virtualized Android environment in which a separate set of managed enterprise applications are available to connect to corporate back-end data systems via VPN. All data and communications are encrypted within this secure container, and the environment can be remotely wiped in the event of loss or theft.
An icon inside the virtual Android brings back the user's personal (native) environment, on which he might have family photos, Angry Birds or whatever. The user's personal smartphone environment is walled off from the virtualized Android machine, which stands ready to securely serve the empire.
In short, technology like this will give users more device choices while simplifying IT's provisioning duties and maintaining security of corporate data assets. In place of physical phones, IT would manage and provision virtual machine profiles that execute on phones purchased by (or issued to) employees.
Next: The Here And NowWhile MVP is not available quite yet, solutions such as those of Good Technology are available now to encapsulate Exchange to run securely on an iPhone, for example.
Beyond messaging, solution providers also are looking for ways to enable iPads and other mobile handhelds to connect to virtualized corporate back-ends or to execute (or control) applications written for Windows. Apps such as Citrix GoToMyPC, Wyse PocketCloud and others offer mature solutions for this purpose, but do little to provide pinpoint navigation with the dull instrument of the human finger.
"It's mature enough to be deployed and used, and seems great until you try to use it," said Bill Cassidy, CTO of IT Partners, a Tempe, Ariz.-based data center consultancy that specializes in virtualization.
"We're seeing enormous interest in desktop virtualization projects, not only for access to traditional desktops through thin clients virtualized with Citrix [XenServer] or VMware [View], but to come up on iPad and Android tablets." Cassidy says that such projects present the enterprise with choices similar to those of a prior era. When mainframes went passé, there were a whole series of applications to modernize so people wouldn't be looking at green screens," said Cassidy.
Today, the enterprise can opt to virtualize desktop apps for access from thin clients, browsers or handhelds; modernize their applications to execute on the devices; or encapsulate the workspace on a device, as do solutions from Good and the forthcoming VMware MVP. For many, the future holds some combination of two or more of these.
According to Bob Lindquist, vice president of business development at IT Partners, many SMBs can do quite well with Salesforce [for CRM] and Workday [financial services]. Add to that cloud-based e-mail, file services and other tools, and the SMB could be operated 100 percent in the cloud. "What's daunting is to create the user experience that an [employee] can achieve by downloading a file sharing app like box.net."
What the enterprise wants to achieve, he said, is an app with a great experience that's as easily accessible. "I'd have to rewrite the front end and modernize the app for the device and distribute it through an app store.
Next: Virtual Wave
For the future, there's only more virtualization coming. Gartner analysts are pointing to the maturity of competitive solutions, pricing models in flux and increases in penetration and saturation.
For his money, Cassidy foresees an increase in efficiency through the use of cloud-based virtualization. "I would be thinking less about [owning] Hyper-V or VMware and more about moving to the cloud environment," he said. "Business should worry about business, not IT."
Besides, with prices in flux (read: Microsoft and VMware poised for a price war), now is probably not the best time to purchase virtualization systems.
"VMware is acutely aware of Microsoft's Hyper-V [plans] this fall. Pricing will settle once the hypervisor becomes a commodity," said Cassidy, adding that the hypervisor itself will likely cost almost nothing.
"The real value will be up the food chain," in management tools, disaster recovery systems and in specialized bundles, Cassidy added.
"For instance, if you buy VMware View, you get really attractive pricing on the management component," he said. "There's really no value unless you have the server cluster on the backend, so what you're really buying is the VMware View Management component. The hypervisor is just along for the ride."
Virtualization systems great and small are upon us, and the practice of using tablets and smartphones to access virtualized resources is mature and firmly taking hold. What's less certain is the method by which apps and functionality will be delivered.
While the world awaits the arrival of Windows 8, the mechanical challenges of accessing virtualized Windows 7 apps remain. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should," Cassidy said, adding that the desire to do so remains strong among customer interests. And therein lies the opportunity.