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How VMware's AirWatch acquisition affects desktop virtualization

As desktop virtualization and enterprise mobility management grow closer, VMware's recent acquisition has significance for the future of thin clients.

Enterprise mobility management is starting to fuse more and more with desktop virtualization, so VMware's acquisition of AirWatch has some important effects on the desktop space.

Enterprise mobility management (EMM) is a blanket term that includes mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM) and mobile information management (MIM). Of those, the MAM and MIM technologies are most similar to what you do with desktop virtualization: provide users with the applications and data they need to do their jobs.

As Citrix … and other companies filled out their offerings, VMware fell more behind.

Early in the EMM era (which is a fancy way of saying about two years ago), the responsibilities for managing mobile apps and data often fell on the same people that work in desktop virtualization. That trend continues today -- and not just within companies, but also with the vendors.

Citrix has always talked about delivering any app to any device over any connection, and that was only talking about Windows apps. Gradually, it has also developed a mobile offering with mobile applications. Citrix filled the gaps with acquired technology such as ShareFile for data access and XenMobile for MDM and MAM.

VMware's mobile journey

VMware was trying to do the same, but it fell short by focusing on virtualization a little too long.

In the youth of EMM, VMware started by putting a hypervisor onto Android phones, touting how secure it is to run two separate OSes on each phone -- one for work and one for personal. This idea, as cool as it may sound, only worked with specific wireless providers on specific brands of phones, all while requiring two plans because the virtual phone was completely virtualized from the "host" phone.

To its credit, VMware also created Horizon Data for device-agnostic access to data, but as Citrix made the Zenprise acquisition to create XenMobile, and other companies filled out their offerings, VMware fell more behind.

During this time, Android became more fit to be used on thin clients and managed by MDM packages. Citrix struck a partnership with ViewSonic, and Dell built an Android thin client designed to be managed by its own MDM tool, all for less money than a typical thin client. Now you can manage any Android thin client with the same management console and tweaks that you use to manage employees' phones, so there's less management infrastructure, too.

So when VMware acquired AirWatch for around $1.5 billion, it wasn't terribly surprising. It had some catching up to do in a space where its competition was assembling tools that had more features people actually used. Remoting Windows applications to mobile devices is a Band-Aid solution at best, and even though VMware's mobile client is very useful, there was a gaping hole in the platform.

Will AirWatch acquisition bring thin clients?

VMware's AirWatch acquisition means that it can take advantage of the company's technology not only for a straight-up EMM play -- configuring and deploying applications to mobile devices -- but also for things like thin clients.

More on VMware mobility

What Twitter had to say about the AirWatch acquisition

Why VMware needs to buy an EMM vendor

First impressions of the VMware AirWatch acquisition

In the past, I haven't been a fan of Android as a thin client, but that's when they're being marketed as something more than just a thin client. The idea of a converged device for work and play never sat well with me, but if you strip all that away and use it as an access platform, there's a lot you can do with it.

Citrix and Dell shops have seen products built on this premise over the past year, and now you can be certain you'll see VMware do so as well. It's not even close to being the only reason VMware bought AirWatch, but it's probably the biggest aspect of it that touches desktop virtualization administrators.

If you're like most companies, though, the fact that traditional desktop virtualization companies are now paying lots of money to acquire EMM tools should put this front and center on your radar. The things that differentiate desktop virtualization and EMM are becoming superficial, and the platforms you use to deliver each technology are converging. That's the real takeaway from this AirWatch acquisition, and it's why we're already starting to lump it all together under the term end-user computing.

This was last published in January 2014

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