VMware Horizon App Manager offers IT admins control in the cloud

VMware’s cloud application management tool Project Horizon is part of VMware's cloud strategy, as well as a response to the need for a way to secure enterprise cloud-based apps.

IT professionals who need strong control over enterprise cloud applications might turn to VMware's Project Horizon application delivery and management service. But the way this product works and where it resides have some administrators saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."

As previously reported by SearchVirtualDesktop.com, VMware Inc.'s cloud-based application portal Project Horizon became available this week. The initial release, called Horizon Application Manager, uses Active Directory or other directory services to authenticate user identities for Software as a Service (SaaS) and eventually on-premises corporate applications. This way, everything can be accessed from one console, behind a corporate firewall.

Some administrators don't like the idea of putting corporate applications on a cloud-hosted platform that lives in VMware partner data centers.

"The concept of cloud services is alluring from a cost/benefit perspective, and in a less hostile digital world, [cloud computing] would have broad acceptance as a sensible model for delivering all sorts of business services," said Alan McRae, president of managed services firm LANCops SecureNet Services LLC in Canton, N.C. "But as the number of major security breaches rise, there will be more and more caution and red flags waving at CIOs and CEOs."

IT pros are particularly concerned about opening up Active Directory to federate cloud applications.

But customers needn't be concerned on either count, said Noah Wasmer, VMware's director of advanced development and cloud services. "All of the user data sits in Active Directory behind the firewall and never traverses the Internet," Wasmer said. "We never see anyone's passwords. All we have is metadata."

VMware did not divulge which companies would provide the hosting service. The service-level agreement for Horizon is the industry-standard 99.5%.

Though many admins worry about putting their companies' "family jewels" in the cloud, low-value applications and services are ideal for cloud, McRae said.

Admins who are comfortable with cloud services see Horizon Application Manager as valuable because it's one way to set security and subscription levels, document encryption and sharing rules for cloud-based applications. Plus, the product gives end users the convenience of a single sign-on for all the applications they access via Horizon.

Ken Adams, CIO of Maryland-based law firm Miles & Stockbridge, has long used virtual desktops and the cloud for services such as document management. Whenever possible, he wants to move deeper into the cloud to reduce infrastructure support costs and requirements. Something like Horizon might help him manage that model.

"The only problem I can imagine is when you start looking at apps with interdependencies, you have to have them all virtualized or all local, or they don't work," Adams said. "Using cloud apps could pose that same all-or-nothing problem."

So far, Horizon App Manager supports about 50 commonly used cloud apps, such as Box.net, Google Apps, Salesforce.com, WebEx and Workday. VMware will add applications and features on a monthly schedule. A future release will support on-premises apps. Competitor Citrix Systems Inc. offers a similar platform called Citrix Receiver.

Horizon uses a browser so that end users can access the application interface from any device, but IT managers can set policies to restrict access from unapproved devices. For now, the management console doesn't tie into any other VMware management products. Future versions will tie into management tools from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware (though probably not vSphere).

Since VMware manages the software as a service, the company updates Horizon in the background without a need for IT intervention.  Administrators can decide whether or not they want to activate the new features and applications.

Project Horizon costs $30 per user, per year for unlimited applications.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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