Virtual Mobile Devices

By | 14th July 2015

“Virtual Mobile Devices” – now that’s an expression you don’t hear often. First thing that pop-up in my mind is the platform for developers – Xamarin, which isn’t really correct, because it’s a way to code your apps in C# and instantly make them available cross-platform – iOS, Android, Windows Phone.

Turns out there is a company that tries to make a living out of “Virtual Mobile Device” concept – remotium.com.

Fancy sales slogans – “VIRTUAL MOBILE DEVICES LET YOU WORK WHERE YOU ARE”. But wait, I can already work where I am using a number of other crazy technologies such as Inbox application (which is really good) on my Android or a laptop configured with a VPN or DirectAccess to my enterprise network, “why do I need this product” – was the question I’ve asked myself.

This post cleared out some confusion:

Let’s start with the basics.  VDI was originally developed to free desktops and desktop apps from the chains of form factor.  Once a desktop is virtualized it can be accessed from any device that supports a viewer.  But mobile apps don’t need to be mobilized – they already run on mobile devices.  So virtual mobility is done for a different reason: to give IT simple, bulletproof controls for managing mobile apps and data.

VDI solutions simply run the stock Windows OS, and cannot provide the levels of application control and visibility that VMI solutions like Remotium Virtual Mobile Platform provide.  Working from the base Android Open Source Platform (AOSP), we have unparalleled visibility and control over app behavior.  For example, Remotium VMP enables IT administrators to apply HTTP and iptables-style filtering to individual apps.  VDI can’t do that.  Neither can it override app permissions to prevent specific apps from accessing contacts, calendars or location data – all built in functions in Remotium VMP.  The audit trails that Remotium VMP can create with an instrumented OS leave VDI solutions in the dust.  VDI might be able to deliver a mobile app, but it can’t secure it the way VMI can.

So the product is all about security measures and auditing for your already written enterprise mobile applications.

What happens on the technical side is that you download a client application on your phone that receives streaming data from a server. Application (a mobile application) is run on server side and the visual data is streamed to your phone.

remotium

This allows for all sorts of security lockdowns – buffer, screenshots, network.

Navigation is only inside the app, with switching between different applications that are available in a locked down environment. There is a built-in 2-step verification with an additional PIN for accessing the app itself – “Workspace”.

In my opinion the streaming protocol could be better, I would say the experience is uncomfortable and not just for graphics-heavy content – even writing an e-mail feels like earlier versions of Citrix solutions. Here are a few demo videos – one and two.

Remotium requires an always-on internet connection (what doesn’t, nowadays?), so there were some technical glitches along the way – “Error – could not connect to remote session.” and time outs/black screens.

Traffic usage is something to keep in mind aswell. I’ve used the app for about 10 minutes and it consumed ~15.58Mb over my Wi-FI network, that’s about ~93.48 Mb per hour.

Remotium is a lot like XenDesktop/XenApp only for streaming mobile apps with all the benefits this brings, it will do what is advertised if you need to lockdown a specific enterprise app.

Sometimes it will be easier to code additional changes to the original application instead. Sometimes it will be easier to use the pre-build bundle of enterprise productivity applications (mail, calendar, file sharing) applications from one of the Enterprise Mobility Management vendors – VMware AirWatch, MobileIron, Citrix, IBM, Microsoft and etc.

Sometimes you can re-use what you have and lockdown using this solution. And maybe restricting/securing and managing apps on mobile devices is not worth the effort for most organizations. We shall see.