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Is VMware Horizon Suite the last word on end-user management?

VMware's Horizon Suite gives customers integrated tools to manage end users, but the suite isn’t perfect and could be expensive to implement for some.

IT pros tasked with managing a flood of end-user applications and devices are asking themselves an age-old question: Is it better to go with multiple “best of breed” products, or hunker down with an imperfect but integrated suite?

VMware Inc. hopes its customers will do the latter after the company pulled back the curtain this spring on its long-in-development Horizon Suite, which combines several VMware end-user computing management tools, such as View, Mirage and Application Manager. It also introduces two other products: Horizon Workspace and Horizon Data (formerly Project Octopus).

Currently, the integration between Mirage and View is fairly minimal and the integration between Workspace and View requires updating to View 5.2, the most recent version of VMware’s virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product.

With every subsequent update to the VMware Horizon Suite, however, integration between those individual products will grow tighter, said Ben Goodman, VMware Horizon’s lead evangelist.

Eventually, the goal for VMware is to provide IT departments with a single admin console and server back end to manage physical and virtual desktops, hosted and on-premises applications, mobile devices and even cloud storage and mobile data sync, which is now a necessity thanks to the popularity of Dropbox, said Goodman.

“What IT will manage in the future is a combination of employee identity and their data with policy and context layered around that,” said Goodman.

All your infrastructures are belong to us

There’s been a lot of pressure on VMware to deliver the full Horizon Suite, which has trickled out in bits and pieces since late 2008. But the company is playing the long game, believing it’s better to deliver an integrated product that works well, Goodman said.

For now, IT departments will have to wait for a truly integrated VMware Horizon Suite, but there is still plenty to like about the product, said Dan Brinkmann, a vExpert and solutions architect based in Denver, Colo.

Horizon Workspace is one of those things. Workspace aggregators like it -- such as RES Software’s workspace virtualization platform or WorkSpace Universal from Centrix Software Ltd.-- have yet to gain traction in IT departments. But as enterprise computing environments continue to evolve at a breakneck pace, a management tool that provides security, orchestration and the delivery of services will be hugely beneficial, said Gunnar Berger, an analyst at Gartner, Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn.

“Workspace aggregators will be important as we rethink what the traditional desktop means in the era of working from home and using personal mobile devices,” said Berger.

Columbia Sportswear, an apparel company based in Beaverton, Ore., wants a way to deliver the apps and services to whatever device its 4,000 geographically dispersed employees want to use. The challenge is doing that in a secure manner without causing the backend infrastructure to swell, said Suzan Pickett, Columbia’s manager of systems engineering.

The company’s servers are 97% virtualized on VMware’s vSphere. Most of its on-premises applications, however, are published through Citrix Systems Inc.’s XenApp. For some applications, XenApp hasn’t been sufficient so they also use VMware’s ThinApp. They are beginning to add VDI with 200 View licenses.

“We’re trying to provide an agnostic device experience for end users, and what we really want is the ability to deliver all these applications and services with the same ease and central management as delivering a virtual desktop,” Pickett said.

In defense of Forever Alone tools

Columbia’s IT department is kicking the tires on VMware's Horizon Suite and hoping to do a phased-in deployment over the next several years. For organizations without that existing VMware investment, it remains to be seen whether VMware can convince them of the integrated suite approach.

“The suites don’t make you very agile,” said Matt Kosht, an IT manager for a Michigan utility company.

Kosht prefers to adopt the best tool for the job, whether it’s virtualizing servers, delivering applications, managing mobile devices or offering single sign-on for Software as a Service apps.

Managing those different pieces might be easier from a single console, but each one has unique needs and requirements that only a tool purposefully designed for that task can offer, he added.

A unified suite means that IT departments would have to trade the tools that work for their environment for ones that might not. There’s also the problem of being locked into a single vendor with one management tool, Kosht said.

“Three years ago everyone was using BlackBerrys. That’s not the case presently,” Kosht said. “If I need a better tool to manage my mobile devices to account for that changing environment, I can do that easier when my mobile management tool isn’t intertwined with my desktops and applications.”

If the mobile disruption in organizations has made anything clear, it’s that the computers we use to be productive at work will constantly evolve in both form and function.

For IT departments, it will be paramount to use management and support tools that can adapt to those unforeseen forms of computers that employees might one day want to use, said Benjamin Robbins, principal at Palador Inc., an enterprise mobility consulting firm based in Seattle.

“It’s mobile now, but what we do on mobile isn’t going to stay mobile,” said Robbins. “The challenges will still be the same unless IT departments prepare to support anything from a laptop to Google Glass to an Apple wristwatch.”

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