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VMware jumps into mobile, but lacks network control

While the AirWatch acquisition was necessary, it doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of customers looking to manage and secure mobile devices.

Last month, VMware made a big splash in the Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) market by plunking down over $1.5 billion for AirWatch. EMM, formerly known as mobile device management (MDM), has been one of the hottest market segments in tech, primarily due to the seemingly unstoppable force know as BYOD. This acquisition comes a little over a year after Citrix purchased Zenprise to complement its mobile offering. IBM also acquired FiberLink in late 2013, signaling the market for EMM is finally going through some long-awaited and badly needed consolidation given the vendors’ mad rush into it.

The AirWatch acquisition makes a tremendous amount of sense for VMware, as the company has been trying to strengthen its position in both the end-user computing market and the mobility space. AirWatch will roll up to Sanjay Poonen, an executive whom VMware hired to run the end-user computing space. VMware had hired Poonen away from SAP, where he led that company’s mobility strategy. VMware is the de facto standard today in server virtualization and is looking to parlay that position into success in mobile computing.

Like most of the EMM solutions, the AirWatch mobility suite enables IT departments to better manage mobile devices through features like remote wipe, device monitoring, and application management. AirWatch is primary sold through a hosted model and should fit nicely into VMware’s larger cloud strategy.

While the AirWatch acquisition was necessary, it doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of customers looking to manage and secure mobile devices. AirWatch and other EMM vendors certainly help with the management of the device, but my belief is that it’s impossible to remove security threats solely by managing the mobile devices when many threats are initiated from the network.

I had a chance to discuss this concept with Aruba Networks’ Founder and Chief Technlogy Officer Keerti Melkote, and he told me that this concept was one of the key drivers of Aruba’s ClearPass solution. In his opinion, and I certainly agree with these thoughts, the only way to truly secure mobile devices is to start with a robust, highly secure multi-vendor network access control (NAC) solution, such as ClearPass.

A robust NAC solution would not only prevent malicious access to the network, but would also tell the EMM solutions how to configure policies on the end points they manage. Without the use of NAC, EMM-based policy configuration is really more of a guessing game, and the solution may fall short.

Remember, mobile computing is a network-centric compute model, unlike PC computing, which is device-centric. This means organizations should look for solutions that leverage network intelligence instead of trying to manage thousands of mobile devices. As the name suggests, network access control brings the network into the mobility equation and actually adds more value to the EMM solutions already purchased.

So, VMware, welcome to the mobility game, but understand that AirWatch plus VMware View doesn’t make a full mobility solution. Perhaps VMware’s next move should be to partner with a NAC vendor, like Aruba Networks, to bring a full solution to market.

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