Mobile enablement is not about infrastructure -- does VMware have a disconnect going on?

As organizations, and their employees, grow ever more mobile, technology vendors are racing to provide answers to their needs. How is VMware doing in this area?

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A few months ago I attended VMware's annual global conference (Disclosure: VMware covered my travel and expenses to attend the event). At the conference, VMware's head of mobile, Sanjay Poonen, was excited to announce a new partnership between VMware and Microsoft. Poonen was quick to point out that the fact that these two traditional foes were partnering at all was akin to an end of the Cold War.

Indeed, a newly open Microsoft is embracing partners left, right and center. But announcing a partnership and really making inroads into a new way of thinking are two different things.

In the space that Poonen heads up, mobile computing, I have long been critical of traditional technology vendors who have brought what I call an infrastructure-centric view towards the mobile problem. Companies like Citrix and VMware have taken their traditional focus (that of delivering infrastructure to corporate IT) and simply re-thought it for a mobile world.

Generally, the view of these vendors is that enabling mobile workers is best delivered via app virtualization -- the idea that a traditional desktop application can be re-purposed and pushed onto a mobile device. I've always thought of this as a square peg in a round hole sort of an approach as it tends to both provide a sub-optimal user experience while also failing to take advantage of the new innovations that mobile devices can power.

If we look at what VMware announced at the vent alongside Microsoft, the focus was around Project A2, a series of tools that help enterprises with the process around upgrading end users to Windows 10. The idea being to create a holistic management layer for Windows 10 devices, both mobile and fixed. While there is no denying that Windows 10, and a more complex device management requirement, is certainly an area that needs to be solved, it is one that feels very much like infrastructure to me. While there was some talk of the fact that Project A2 will make applications lightweight and easy to deliver, it seems to be more of a traditional enterprise mobile management solution, rather than anything game changing.

In a follow-up email, Poonen told me that in his view, massive shifts taking place in end-user computing, the old legacy players, like Citrix, Blackberry and even startups like MobileIron, Good and others are all dying. That's a pretty brash statement and one which takes some justification. The somewhat ironic thing here is that one of the more innovative mobile and situational application companies that I've covered in recent years, Podio, was actually acquired by one of those companies that Poonen is so critical of, Citrix. Podio has, it has to be admitted, died something of a premature death within Citrix with little apparent support, nurturing or external evangelizing. As an aside that is a very sad situation given the promise that Podio, with its democratized platform to build situational end-user applications, offered.

Poonen told me that he believed that apps (and Desktop Virtualization) are only one piece of the puzzle in terms of delivering on VMware's vision of ANY APP, ANY DEVICE. But unfortunately, these infrastructural approaches seem to get the vast majority of the attention from VMware and its sales teams.

I was reflecting on this when talking to a high-level VMware executive who admitted to me that when talking with customers in the field, he often recommends another solution that I'm very bullish about, Capriza. Capriza is a really interesting solution that enables organizations to create customer, lightweight, situational applications that leverage data from core enterprise systems. Capriza is, in my view, an example of the way modern mobile initiatives should be delivered: in sympathy with existing enterprise assets, but with a strong view of truly mobile solutions.

Focusing on infrastructure, and enabling a mobile workforce are, in my view, two diametrically opposed aims. So how can VMware make its mobile ambitions come to fruition?

It can stop trying to articulate to customers that device management is the key problem to solve with regards to enterprise mobilization. It can cease to see Window 10 migration tools, albeit that they are important, as doing anything substantive to move the needle on true mobile enablement. And it can look to solutions to Capriza as tools that really offer organizations the dual requirements of keeping existing assets in situ while enabling contextual interfaces and experiences in mobile situations.

Poonen knows all this but is up against a sales organization that is hooked on traditional revenue streams. He has to temper his message for the traditional enterprise IT leaders who have always informed much of the VMware strategy. My perspective is, however, that the sands are shifting rapidly and that VMware is going to have to move far faster, and far further, if it truly wants to offer its customers a compelling mobile enablement solution.

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