Why VMware paid $1.5 billion to leap into mobile

AirWatch is the biggest acquisition in VMware's history. Sanjay Poonen, head of VMware's end-user computing business, explains why it's the right buy at the right time

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InfoWorld: What about on the desktop management side? That's one area where very few of the enterprise mobility management vendors play.

Poonen: Yes, that's one of the propositions, though not the only one. A vendor can heterogeneously solve these three problems: management, security, and virtualization, as it applies to end-user devices. It could be a desktop, it could be a laptop, it could be a tablet, it could be a phone, it could be a car. But ultimately, it's an end-user computing device. The management aspect of it includes things like policy, workflow, compliance. ... Our desktop virtualization and image management products, View and Mirage and so on, have been enormously successful. The mobile market is wide open. In that market we were hearing from customers that AirWatch had the gold medal.

InfoWorld: What is it about AirWatch that wins with the customers? There are others, such as Mobile Iron.

Poonen: They're all good. I'm not here to slam them -- they all do things very well. But what I was hearing from customers was ... they love the AirWatch user experience. It's simple, it's easy to use: That was number one. And with end-users it has to be Sesame Street simple. Number two, they ... had cloud and on-premises. I think 60 to 70 percent of their customers are in the cloud, either a public cloud or dedicated private cloud type of setup. Third, customers liked the breadth of their portfolio, everything from mobile device management to mobile app management to mobile content management to email management.

InfoWorld: What about the virtualization end of mobile? VMware looked at it three to four years ago and it didn't really go anywhere. What do you see as the opportunity for virtualization on mobile today? Especially when Google, Microsoft, and Apple are saying "don't touch our stuff."

InfoWorld: In the case of Apple, they have a walled garden. With Android, we built a Type 2 virtualization called the Mobile Virtualization Platform, and we're working with OEMs and with telcos to have it deployed. It's basically a container that allows you to toggle between the private world and your corporate business world fairly easily -- and still have the business world be contained and run inside that virtualized platform. If you buy, for example, a Verizon Samsung phone, it comes loaded with VMware Switch. Now, it runs only on Android, because Apple doesn't let you do that. So we've been thinking through the future of containers and the future of virtualization platforms. It's too early to tell which approach is going to win.

InfoWorld: But there's been a ton of these over the last four years and the markets are really, really tiny.

Poonen: Exactly. That's why we couldn't have built a business on just the mobile virtualization platform. The asset that we built is a good piece of technology, but it's far from sufficient. What we will do is fold that into the AirWatch family of products. The AirWatch brand will be the brand of all of our mobile products.

InfoWorld: It sounds like one possible use of that technology is to extend AirWatch's container approach to maybe a larger container for industries that need essentially a virtual machine that people don't perceive as such.

Poonen: Exactly. It's hard for me to predict, but in the future maybe some of the Android-based ruggedized phones in the military may need a very virtualized platform -- security at a Type 2 hypervisor level is very secure. You can't touch that thing.

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