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Desktop Virtualization's Role in Mobile Device Management

Mobility is defined mainly by who you ask to define it. For instance, ask Citrix and mobility is all about apps, desktops and data on any device. Ask Cisco and mobility might be about wireless. If you ask other folks in the industry, you will learn that mobility is about mobile device management. Ask me and I say mobility is about all three of them combined and not separated as they fulfill a complimentary role to one another.

Desktop virtualization is definitely a building block when it comes to mobility. The influx of mobile devices from smartphones to tablets has invaded enterprises and users have demanded their applications, desktops and data to be accessible on these devices. Desktop virtualization directly addresses these concerns and enables the user access to applications, desktops and data on any device. Still, that is not the sole definition of mobility. How do we control these devices? How do we separate personal data from business data and how do we secure it, encrypt it, remotely wipe it? All these questions and more lead me into Mobile Device Management, aka MDM.

While desktop virtualization is very important in an enterprise' mobile device strategy, you will quickly find that every user probably does not need access to apps, desktops and data, but every user most definitely has one or more mobile devices at any given time. In retrospect, these devices are now going to be connected to the enterprise network and could pose a potential security and regulatory risk. So how do we control them? There are two popular approaches. There is the traditional premise-based approach of installing software and using it to manage these devices. There are also now plenty of choices in the cloud, in the form of SaaS, which allow you to bring order to this chaotic spread of consumerization.

The [premise-based approach is a traditional model where software like Microsoft's upcoming System Center 2012 can be deployed in the enterprise to manage these mobile devices of different makes and models. This approach of course comes at a premium -- you have to invest in acquisition costs for software and hardware, invest in training and on-going management costs and of course upgrades and upkeep of the environment. The solution, however, is quite impressive and very feature rich. I have a detailed article coming up in the print version o f Virtualization Review specifically about Microsoft SCCM 2012, so make sure you pick up a copy.

And then you have the cloud! SaaS offerings in the MDM space have become very popular and very feature rich. Companies like MobileIron, OpenPeak, Airwatch and others are offering alternatives that don't require a CapEx investment and make for a very compelling OpEx play, all the while shortening the learning curve and time to deployment. But even in the SaaS approach you have choices. After all, it is in the cloud, so the sky is the limit. When selecting a cloud-based SaaS for MDM, it is important to know what type of platform the vendor is offering. There are two approaches:

  • Native management of the device--This approach manages the device natively, which means it does not isolate the enterprise data in any container. Instead, it manages the device and the applications installed on it and also secures the entire device.
  • Secure Container--Type-2 hypervisors is exactly what the name implies. Vendors deploy a secure container which holds the corporate data and aplpications and manage that container on the phone, rather than the entire phone.

Now, in the second approach I am talking in general here -- there are vendors who will offer one or two features here and there that go a bit beyond the definition, but in general the idea is to manage the container. VMware's project Horizon Mobile for instance does just that: It deploys a virtual phone, complete with applications and enterprise security policies and allows you to control and manage that portion of the phone, leaving the user's traditional device completely intact. It is worth mentioning here that Project Horizon is strictly a smartphone solution. As a result, you cannot use it on other devices yet and support for operating systems other than Android do not exist just yet.

Now in closing, I want to leave you with wireless. Many organization forget the effect of consumerization on the organization's wireless infrastructure. As you craft your mobility strategy, it is imperative that you assess your current wireless infrastructure, understand the current and expected load and then design it accordingly, especially if you will be deploying desktop virtualization and extending that to mobile devices. Remember, if your infrastructure is not solid, everything else you build atop it will also not be solid.

I would love to hear your comments on how you are going about dealing with mobility in your enterprise, what are some of your challenges and how you are proposing to address them. Post here or send me e-mail.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 11/29/2011 at 12:49 PM


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