ORLANDO – An emerging Citrix XenMobile feature may overcome one of the biggest barriers to mobile application management adoption.
Future versions of XenMobile will be able to containerize any publicly available app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Citrix previewed the feature, called dynamic containerization, at this week's Synergy conference here, where attendees expressed a mix of excitement and skepticism.
"If [Citrix] can do that, then they're well ahead of everybody else," said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.
Containerization is the process of adding software to an application or group of applications to enable additional management and security features. Typically, to containerize at the individual app level, an enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendor needs to access and modify an app's source code. Every EMM vendor's modifications are different, so if a software developer wants its app managed by multiple EMM platforms, it has to create multiple versions of its app.
But most developers do not want to go through that trouble, or give their competitors an advantage. (Microsoft, for example, does not allow third-parties to containerize its Office mobile apps, because it has its own EMM product.) As a result, EMM vendors manage only certain apps, and it's difficult for businesses to find an EMM platform that meets all of their app management needs.
"The whole thing is a mess," said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research in Natick, Mass. "It's not the way it should be. It's just creating more chaos and complexity."
With dynamic containerization, however, XenMobile can manage any iOS or Android app. IT simply creates a link to a public app and makes it available through the enterprise app store. When a user clicks on the link, XenMobile applies the container as the app is downloaded and installed on the mobile device.
Apple in the way?
Citrix would not disclose the technical details of how dynamic containerization works. But it will comply with all licensing rules and terms of service that prohibit third-parties from modifying publicly available apps, said Chris Fleck, Citrix's vice president of emerging solutions. Apple's rules are particularly stringent.
"Apple's our partner," said Rajiv Taori, Citrix vice president of mobile products. "That’s something we obviously need to work through and figure it out."
Citrix customers have their doubts.
"I'm not sure how you get around that," Klein said. "That's always been the problem. … I don’t think that's necessarily what Apple or Google want people doing."
Apple has stopped Citrix and other enterprise software vendors in their tracks before. The company put the kibosh on a Citrix XenClient that would have virtualized Mac OS X on Windows PCs. And it never allowed VMware to release its Mobile Virtualization Platform hypervisor for iOS.
All of XenMobile's management and security capabilities for traditionally containerized apps will be available for dynamically containerized apps, Fleck said. New features demoed this week, such as mobile screen sharing and the ability to use Citrix's X1 mouse with apps, will also work with dynamic containerization, he said.
Despite the promise of XenMobile dynamic containerization, questions remain about the viability of third-party mobile application management (MAM). All of the major operating system vendors have built some MAM or containerization capabilities directly into their platforms, such as Apple's Managed Open In and Google’s Android for Work. Like XenMobile dynamic containerization, those features can also manage any public app, but they have their own set of drawbacks.
"I wonder if it's a better strategy for Citrix to embrace what's happening at the platform level," said Bob Egan, CEO of Sepharim Group in Falmouth, Mass.
And containerization is not a top priority in enterprise mobility because of its complexity and associated infrastructure requirements, Gold said.
There is no scheduled release timeframe for XenMobile dynamic containerization. It is not part of XenMobile 10.1, which Citrix also announced this week.
This story corrects a previous version. Virtual, a small mobile application virtualization company Citrix acquired last year, did not contribute to the creation of dynamic containerization technology, according to Chris Wade, Virtual’s founder.
Colin Steele is Associate Editorial Director of TechTarget’s End-User Computing Media Group. Contact him at [email protected]