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VMI powers remote apps on any mobile platform

Virtual mobile infrastructure allows IT to retake control of mobile apps by keeping them housed in the data center rather than on users' devices.

Staring down an avalanche of mobile apps and users calling for versions of Windows apps on their mobile devices, IT departments can look to virtual mobile infrastructure for a solution.

In a lot of ways virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a proof of concept for virtual mobile infrastructure (VMI). VDI established the idea of delivering something to users that doesn't actually live on their devices. But rather than deliver full virtual desktops, VMI delivers a mobile operating system and its applications from the data center to users' mobile devices.

Although the concepts of VDI and VMI are similar, the two technologies are not identical. Explore how VMI functions, the advantages it can provide and any drawbacks.

How does Virtual Mobile Infrastructure work?

VMI is powered by Android virtual machines (VMs) running on a hypervisor in the data center. To access a hosted application, users choose the client app on their mobile device, and a connection broker uses a remote display protocol to direct the user to the VM running the app. Because the remote apps are really only delivering pixels, the broker can route apps to any mobile operating system, including iOS.

Still, everything on the back end has to be Android-compatible because Apple does not permit iOS to run on another company's hardware. So, IT needs to host Android VMs on a scalable hypervisor or Linux container system.

What are the security benefits of VMI?

With VMI, applications and data live safely in an organization's data center rather than on users' devices. If a user loses a phone, for example, IT doesn't have to worry about someone finding the device and getting access to the corporate network. If an employee leaves the company, IT can remotely shut off access to any business apps. That built-in security layer makes virtual mobile infrastructure ideal for industries such as healthcare where privacy is paramount. Having data live in VMs rather than the devices also makes it easier to keep work and personal information separate because all the work-related apps run through a single client app.

What other advantages come with VMI?

The positives don't end with security. VMI can actually reduce network latency compared to regular application virtualization because the apps live closer to the data center. The result is fewer delays that slow down user productivity.

With VMI, applications and data live safely in the data center rather than on users' devices.

Plus, because VMI apps can work across any mobile OS, developers only have to build one version of an app and then can use VMI to deliver it to users on any device. They don't have to waste time creating the same app multiple times, and users won't have to worry that their choice of mobile device might hinder their access to corporate apps.  

VMI also delivers a better mobile experience than VDI because these remote mobile apps are designed specifically for a touch-based device. It can also provide a user experience closer to a native app because the client allows remote apps to use the device's local GPS or camera data, for example.

What are the limitations of VMI?

The main disadvantage of VMI is that users cannot access remote apps offline. If users are on a plane, in a basement or any other place where their Internet connection is weak, they won't be able to access their mission-critical apps. Users will not be happy when this happens, and IT can't afford to let down its user base too frequently because employees may become less productive or resort to shadow IT.

Even when the connection is perfect, the performance of a remote mobile app will never match that of native apps. To ensure that users have access to remote apps as often as possible, IT has to deliver fast and reliable VMI protocols that can address any issues with mobile connectivity, including the inherent fluctuations in wireless signals.

Developers also have some work cut out for themselves on the back end to make sure apps work properly across every OS, especially because Apple doesn't make it easy to build apps for iOS and Android comes in many different forms.

What does the future hold for VMI?

Some of the top vendors in the VMI market include Raytheon, Nubo and Hypori, but a few other companies with major resources could be throwing their hats into the ring soon. Citrix, for example, could use its Framehawk technology to help deliver remote apps despite unreliable networks.

Working in conjunction with BlueStacks, an application that creates an Android VM on a Windows computer, Microsoft could even channel its Universal Apps feature into VMI so remote mobile apps can recognize the device in use and adjust the interface.

VMI has followed closely in VDI's footsteps up to this point, but its fate will come down to whether IT admins see it as a viable option for securely deploying mobile apps.

Next Steps

Citrix paves way to VMI with acquisition of Virtual

Options for delivering virtual apps

How to deliver Windows desktop apps on mobile devices

This was last published in July 2015

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What do you see as the most intriguing aspect of VMI?
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In fact, Trend Micro is a leading player of VMI. Check it out at: http://www.trendmicro.com/us/enterprise/product-security/safe-mobile-workforce/index.html
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