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Framehawk Says BYOD Is Not Rocket Science

Startup Framehawk, which counts a former NASA physicist as a co-founder, uses desktop virtualization and its own communications protocol to safely extend corporate apps and data to tablets and smartphones.

May 08, 2012
InformationWeek
by Patrick Houston

Leave it to a rocket scientist to provide one of the most promising approaches to solving an IT challenge tantamount to landing a human on Mars. But that’s just what a former NASA deep-space-communications expert and his real-time data delivery co-founder may have done with a startup that aims to resolve the dilemma of extending corporate applications to the edges of the anywhere, everywhere, and anytime workplace.

It does so in a conceptually simple way: Taking desktop virtualization beyond its bottlenecks—sending pixel-based images of data instead of the data itself via its own, new highly efficient communications protocol.

The co-founders are Stephen Vilke and Peter Badger. Their company is Framehawk. By declaring the four-year-old San Francisco startup a success after its barely gotten off the ground, I boldly go where no one has gone. But I’ll risk being wrong, if only to launch a healthy debate about the growing number of mobile device management alternatives, including the recent dual-OS solutions like the one that being proffered by ARM as featured on InformationWeek’s Valley View Webcast.

To understand where Framehawk is heading you have to understand the career trajectory of Vilke, the company’s 41-year-old CTO, and Badger, its 44-year-old CEO. Vilke was a NASA physicist who worked on developing data reduction and graphic display software for spacecraft communications. (Think of Voyager as mobile device!) He connected to Badger during a stint at Barclays Global Investors, where they were worked on developing high-security, real-time data systems used for stock market trading.

They found themselves spending years of their respective careers trying to resolve the latencies encountered by client-server networks. Eventually, they came to see desktop virtualization as key to real-time performance. In 2008, they left Barclays together to start a self-described “better-Citrix” VDI company of their own—only to be waylaid by the Great Recession. That, in turn, sent them on their way to consulting companies on a variety of VDI solutions, at which point they came to two revelations.

The first: “VDI vendors are terrible,” Badger told me. They represent a slow, bad user experience caused by unreliable mobile networks and the core TCP communication protocol, which is optimized, as you know, for accuracy not throughput. The second: Along with the smartphone, the tablet especially would forever change the complexion of corporation applications.
So Framehawk’s space communications wizards—like Vilke, the company’s core R&D team came from NASA—created their own UDP-based protocol that, the company claims, is fast and consistent even over low-bandwidth networks with highly variable latency, loss, and jitter. They call it Lightweight Framebuffer Protocol, or LFP, in the alphabet-soup argot of these things.

Framehawk works like this: Corporate data and apps feed into Framehawk’s server platform—with, get this, the whole shebang remaining behind the corporate firewall. Its architecture sends neither application nor data beyond. Instead it transforms the output into an image that’s sent to a tablet or smartphone.

What’s more, Framehawk puts a thin skin on the corporate app to adapt it to the mobile device, allowing for things like control by touch gesture instead of a desk-bound mouse.

I’ve seen (admittedly cursory) Framehawk demos of Salesforce and, better yet, one of those ceaselessly updating trading desk apps work on an iPad. The apps looked nothing like their desktop uses but instead took on the look and feel of a native tablet app.

Even my rudimentary explanation should make the benefits obvious. With Framehawk, there’s no need to write a corporate app for mobile. All the heavy processing is done on the data center’s industrial strength servers. Most of the data fetching takes place over its big pipes. And most of all, the data stays put—only visual representations of it go out. No data transmits over the mobile network. None remains resident on the mobile device itself. So the risk of its being hacked, stolen, lost, or misplaced diminishes.

Yes, there’s cause for skepticism. For one thing, Framehawk so far lacks an offline capability, which was raised as an issue by a panel of IT pros assessing it at the recent Under the Radar conference where I first learned about the company.

Savid Technologies CEO Mike Davis, an Information Week contributor and security expert, raised other concerns in a chat we had. While Framehawk looks great for the highly visual dashboard applications it sports in its demonstrations, neither one of us has seen it work with apps demanding fine motor skills, like filling in the cell of a spreadsheet. And while I’m bullish on Framehawk’s approach, Mike, for one, believes the future of MDM lies with the dual OS approach, because it represents a path of least-resistance, available to corporate users from mobile carriers or in the hardware itself.

When compared to those two options, Framehawk isn’t cheap. The company tells me it sells its services as a cloud-based subscription starting at $250,000 year—and going up from there.

But there’s more, not less, to like about Framehawk. It isn’t a bootstrap. It’s raised $16.5 million in venture capital funding. It’s claimed an impressive beta client in the form of the wealth management arm of Switzerland’s UBS banking behemoth. And it was the “mobile access” category winner as voted by an audience of 350 CIOs, IT pros, cloud entrepreneurs, and VCs attending the Under the Radar conference.

While Framehawk might not be the be-all, end-all answer to the BYOD dilemma, it still goes a long way to proving that a solution exists, here and nearby, not at the unreachable distances of deep space.

Framehawk Says BYOD Is Not Rocket Science

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