Smartphone Virtualization? Oooooh shiny…

I love virtualization, really I do. Ever since my first encounter with it back in university when I didn’t have the spare cash to build another PC to run Linux so I could compile my projects at home I’ve had a fondness for it and the flexibility it provides. This web page is coming to you from a virtualized Server 2008 instance on VMware’s vSphere 4 and the switch from workstation was both painless and fruitful. So when VMware announced a while back that they were planning to do the same thing with smartphones I was excited, but back then with Android still being a small player I wrote it off as cool but probably not something I’d want or need. Recent news however has changed my mind:

VMware has flagged smartphones as the next platform in the evolution of virtualisation, but at least one major competitor, Microsoft, says that it sees no demand for the technology.

Speaking to Computerworld, Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware’s head of mobile phone virtualisation said the company’s vision for virtualisation on smartphones went beyond the basic dual-boot prototypes currently in development to one that ran both a private and work operating system and profile at the same time.

“We don’t think dual booting will be good enough – we’ll allow you to run both profiles at the same time and be able to switch between them by clicking a button,” he said. “You’ll be able to get and make calls in either profile – work or home – as they will both be live at any given point in time.”

Bringing virtualization to the smartphone platform opens up some very interesting possibilities. The first thing that comes to mind is that for developers like me who want to target all the major platforms (Windows Mobile, Android and iPhone) we have the potential of loading up several phone OSs on our hardware, allowing us to quickly test against real hardware. Whilst I’m sure that Apple won’t release an iPhone image to use with it there’s still quite a bit of value in being able to quickly test on real hardware. The simulators only go so far.

The other interesting thing that might be possible would be the integration of this virtualization with some of VMware’s current line of products, like VMware View. In essence view decouples the OS from the underlying hardware and the bulk of the hard work is done by a backend server. It’s reminiscent of the old days of dumb terminals hooked up to a giant mainframe however it has the benefit of user’s data being centrally located (and protected) whilst giving them the flexibility to say, move from office to office and take their desktop with them. The same could potentially be done with smart phones which would give admins unprecedented control over their user’s mobile environment. RIM and Microsoft give you a pretty decent amount of control over your user’s phones already, but something like this integrated with view would allow you to see what you’re user is seeing on their phone (like RDP for phones). I can bet there’s more than a few admins who would like that.

It’s also one of those products that lets you get more out of your hardware, something I’m very fond of. Whilst I’m not going to be constantly switching between OSs I can easily see myself hearing about a new cool app on the Android marketplace and wanting to switch over to try it. VMware are currently marketing it as having one image for work and one for home which is a damn good idea when you consider that many companies will require encryption on your device if it has work emails on it. If I could avoid having to put my PIN in every time I wanted to use my phone by having a second OS then I’d be all over it.

As with most of VMware’s products it will take a while to find its place in the world. I’d be guessing that the first few versions will work as advertised on certain handsets until they get some real demand for it. Right now it seems to be firmly stuck in the developer’s plaything market but as it matures I can see quite a few awesome possibilities that could turn your regular old smartphone into something that could almost qualify as a pocket desktop replacement.

I’ll be keeping my eye on them for the next year, that’s for sure.

2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Sounds like a solution looking for a problem to me. In addition to that, we would need to see a large increase in the amount of memory and processing power put into phones for this to work.

  2. It is a bit, since the market for it is quite a narrow niche. Processing power isn’t so much of a problem when the other OS will basically be idle, but you’re spot on with the memory issues. I think the most I’ve seen phones come with is 512MB of RAM, and that would definitely need to be bolstered so that neither of the OSs suffered because of the other.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.