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SAN FRANCISCO -- VDI gives IT pros a way to deliver Windows and corporate applications to tablets, but it isn't ideal. VMware hopes its upcoming Horizon Suite will offer a better method.
Delivering existing apps to tablets through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) makes practical sense, especially when IT is expected to enable mobility right now on a tightly controlled and small budget, said Randy Padal, Lifecycle Team Lead for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), during a session here at VMworld 2012 on the use of VDI by federal agencies.
Sending a Windows experience to a tablet isn't the ideal way to do it.
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Doctors working for the VA don't want to be tethered to a stationary desktop and they expect to be able to "remote in on their iPad and check on patients and get updates," he said. It would cost too much money and take too long for the VA to mobilize existing medical applications, he added.
The VA, defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Agency all have to deal with strict compliance regulations, scrutinized budgets and the reality that they have to enable the use of tablets for many employees by any means necessary.
A national hardware chain that has deployed 8,000 Apple iPads to employees uses Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenDesktop to deliver a combination of Microsoft applications including Internet Explorer, Lync and Office 365, alongside homegrown legacy applications that haven't been ported to a mobile environment yet, said a systems engineer for the retail chain, who requested anonymity.
It's "mobility with the feel of their office," he said. Users don't always love the approach because the performance of running a virtual desktop on a iPad can be spotty, but it's better than nothing, he said.
VDI is a good approach to quickly and securely deliver existing enterprise apps and data to a tablet, but that's at the expense of enabling a native mobile productivity experience, said Gunnar Berger, an end-user client analyst for Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner, Inc.
"Sending a Windows experience to a tablet isn't the ideal way to do it," Berger said. "Windows is designed for point and click. Tablets are designed for gestures."
Still, Berger said, simply delivering a virtual Windows desktop to an employee's tablet helps enable a mobile workforce right now, and most end users will be happy enough to have that.
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Enter VMware's Horizon Suite
VMware Inc. hopes to offer an alternative to using VDI for mobility through its updated Horizon Suite, announced during the company's annual user confab this week.
The Horizon Suite re-brands five existing VMware products to unify application management and policy, deploy various apps across a range of endpoint devices -- notably tablets -- and deliver user data in a secured environment.
It will include ThinApp, Horizon Mobile, Project Octopus (rebranded Horizon Data) to deliver user data, Project AppBlast to deliver traditional desktop apps through an HTML5 browser and Horizon Application Manager to broker the services onto devices.
In many ways, VMware is playing catch-up in this space even though most of the products within Horizon Suite are already available.
"Companies are going to have to address workspace aggregation, and VMware isn't the only vendor addressing this problem," Gartner's Berger said.
He noted that Citrix rolled out a similar suite this summer with CloudGateway 2, and Centrix Software offers a product called Workspace Suite.
Some VMware customers like what they see in Horizon though.
The retail chain's system engineer noted that the AppShift feature, which layers a touch and gesture-based interface onto Windows legacy apps that are used on a tablet, "looks pretty slick." Not having to rewrite legacy Windows applications for mobile devices will be important for enterprises that want to better support a mobile workforce without abandoning its Windows investments, he said.
Unfortunately, AppShift is not integrated with the Horizon Suite yet.
The two lingering questions among IT pros are when the rest of the Horizon Suite will be generally available and how much it will cost.
VMware did not offer a general availability date, but Scott Davis, CTO of end-user computing at VMware, said the beta will release during the fourth quarter. The company did not comment on how much it will cost for the integrated product, except that it would be less to license the bundled suite than it would be to license all the apps individually.
Also included in Horizon will be a single-sign portal to access virtual desktops through VMware View or the recently acquired Wanova Mirage client, Software as a Service applications and mobile email with an updated Zimbra client. To the surprise of many, Horizon will also offer management support for Citrix's XenApp and eventually, Microsoft's App-V "if there's customer demand for it," Davis said.