Quite a few EUC vendors have been dabbling in AR and VR for business for a few years. It’s a hot trend and AR/VR demos are visual, pretty, and usually help get a lot of traffic to a booth. But, are there real products beyond the hype?
Gabe Knuth wrote about both Citrix and VMware’s progress and focus over three years ago, which is a good starting point. Back then, Citrix was focusing on improving its HDX VDI protocol to support sufficiently high-frame rates for VR under a project called V2R. Meanwhile, VMware was talking more about the management of VR applications and devices such as Head Mounted Displays (HMD); VMware’s then-embryonic Blast Extreme protocol didn’t seem up to the high-graphical demands of VR.
What’s going on today? For now, we’ll concentrate on VMware’s various AR/VR for business efforts. There’s a lot to cover, and I have more articles coming.
VMware’s Spatial Computing group
In early 2019, blogs and information started emerging from VMware’s dedicated AR/VR team; at the time I was slightly surprised as I didn’t realize VMware had such a team. Since then, VMware’s efforts have been increased in this area and the group has evolved to cover “Spatial Computing.” VMware’s current push in this area is now under a group called the OCTO (Office of the CTO) and there’s a clutch of pretty good high-level articles on applications and use cases on their Spatial Computing Blog.
VMware’s own website says, “Spatial Computing (also known as XR – eXtended Reality) is an umbrella term for technologies relating to displaying and manipulating digital information in spatially contextual ways.” It’s becoming a fairly common term in fields like CAD/3-D graphics, and basically to me it means interacting with a computer beyond a screen/keyboard/mouse. This would cover AR/VR headsets (HMDs), haptic devices (magic gloves), and devices that process or deliver the audio world.
Basically, it’s about the computer interface becoming part of the 3-D environment around the end user. Of course, to make this happen there may well be a whole clutch of passive technologies that the user doesn’t manipulate, control, or need to be aware of; particularly technologies that would fall into the IoT bucket, e.g., sensors that process and interpret sound, temperature, or detect where the user is.
A new focus on applications beyond device management
There are, in fact, two groups within VMware focused on AR/VR for business: the new Spatial Computing unit, as well as the traditional business unit of EUC working on Workspace ONE integration. The Spatial Computing group under OCTO is essentially a research and innovation group focused on new use cases, AR/VR application needs, and VMware’s own internal IT and business use of AR/VR technologies. The EUC side of the business is focused on supporting and managing the infrastructure of AR/VR endpoints. Of course, there’s a bit of overlap and co-development between the two groups. Key people in the OCTO supported projects include Alan Renouf and Matt Coppinger, Duncan Epping was also involved for a three-month span, with much of the work encapsulated in an effort called ProjectVXR. I’ve been told on good authority that some of VMware’s teams are rolling out these technologies internally.
Spatial Computing demos
The demos VMware delivered at VMworld Europe in late 2019 give us a good idea of where VMware’s Spatial Computing group is focused (check out an overview from Alan here). There were three showcase demos:
- Secure AR/VR Workspace on any device
- Immersive training using virtual reality
- Augmented workflows using augmented reality
The first demo was about authenticating users for security via Workspace ONE but also to potentially deliver a personalized experience. For all of the demos, a type of universal secure client app was deployed which can be used to run AR/VR applications on different devices with different OSes (e.g., Android Oculus Quest, Linux Magic Leap, Windows PC).
The immersive training and augmented workflow demos were based around the same task—building a Dell server—but resulted in very different experiences depending on which type of endpoint AR/VR device was being used. It’s worth considering how differently an application may need to be presented and behave when using an AR versus VR endpoint. An AR endpoint will often have some support for computer vision and the ability to recognize the environment around the user, and the controllers available may also vary.
What VMware did in coupling two different versions of essentially the same application is extremely interesting as it could be a first move (note, this is only preview technology) to provide ISVs with a multi-modal platform for applications. The potential is that a vendor could bring an app to the platform on a server, and then the VMware client supports deployment to “any” device. There’s certainly a gap in the market for platforms to enable universal apps for AR/VR endpoints, and this addresses that need.
Workspace ONE and AR/VR and head mounted displays
The Spatial Computing team is very much focused on software and application delivery, whereas the traditional EUC business unit has continued to focus on infrastructure and endpoint support. Workspace ONE already has a degree of support for managing AR/VR endpoints and HMD’s, etc., because most of these devices run a regular OS, whether that be Windows, Linux, or Android (e.g., Oculus is Android based and HoloLens is Windows 10 based).
There’s a high-level overview of their support that promises to enable you to “Gain greater visibility and simplified management across all endpoints, including Google Glass, HTC VIVE, Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus, Pico, RealWear, and Vuzix HMDs” and a wearables whitepaper that lists some of the AR/VR vendors VMware support.
The more technical users, though, may want to compare the OS versions of their headset to those listed in the Workspace One documentation for an idea of the integration level. Check out the Platform Guides on the left side of the Workspace ONE documentation page to find support for devices by OS. (A big thank you to VMware’s Matt Evans for tracking down this OS support documentation as it’s pretty well hidden.)
There was also a brief announcement made around VMworld Europe in November 2019 that promises “New Management Support for VR Headsets (Including Pico, Vive, and Oculus, including streamlined onboarding and configuration, app deployment, and security management).”
Virtualizing AR/VR for business
In terms of virtualizing and remoting, AR/VR applications are amongst the most demanding possible on graphics stack. Remember that back in 2017, Citrix’s efforts were focused on protocol capabilities and VMware seemed to have a gap. However, some very interesting things have happened since then, though, which put VMware in a very good place to deliver on the graphical demands of AR/VR for business. I’ll cover this in an upcoming article.