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VMware seeking a driver for mobile virtualization

By Stephen Lawson
October 1, 2010 04:55 PM ET

IDG News Service - Virtualization is on its way to mobile phones and could allow consumers to buy cheaper smartphones, download a wider variety of apps, or have a single device for both personal and businesses use, according to executives from VMware and other vendors.

Just as it does on PCs and servers, virtualization on phones allows different software to run in isolated environments, bolstering both security and user choice, the executives said during a panel discussion at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco on Thursday. One handset could run applications on different mobile operating systems, according to Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director for mobile solutions at VMware.

"Each icon could be, underneath the covers, running in a virtual machine or completely different operating system," Krishnamurti said. "From a consumer standpoint you don't really care, you just want to get the app and run it."

This capability could be a boon to enterprise employees, many of whom carry two devices today, Krishnamurti said. With virtualization on the application processor of a smartphone, they might be able to run business applications and store business data on the iPhone or Android handset they bring from home, he said. VMware is already talking with CIOs about making this possible, he said.

But Krishnamurti cautioned that mobile virtualization, though promising, isn't ready for the kind of explosion of popularity that began a few years ago for VMware's PC and server technology.

"Our belief is that on mobile phones, we haven't quite found that kind of a compelling use case with a clear [return on investment]," Krishnamurti said. The mobile world is different from data centers and PCs because users can't simply choose to install bare-metal hypervisors on their phones. Rather, the handset makers and carriers have to sign on to the concept, Krishnamurti said.

"It takes a while for all these people in the ecosystem to get the hang of it, figure out how they're going to make money, before it actually takes off," he said.

Open Kernel Labs President and CEO Steve Subar, who sat next to Krishnamurti, said virtualization is already widely used in mobile.

OK Labs has been working on mobile virtualization since its founding in 2006, but the field has evolved, Subar said. It began with virtualizing the mobile phone baseband processor, which handles communication, and in the past two years has evolved to being used in application processors. The company's virtualization technology has been used in a string of Qualcomm platforms, including the Snapdragon chipset used in the HTC EVO 4G and other devices, he said.

One thing that virtualization has done is to lower the cost of cell phones by allowing manufacturers to incorporate more types of software without building in specific hardware to run it, according to Subar. This phenomenon is opening the door to a new generation of "mass-market smartphones" that have browsing, social networking and gaming capabilities but cost less than full smartphones, he said. Subar said virtualization cut the parts cost of the Motorola Evoke, an early virtualized phone introduced about two years ago, by $46. That translated into a $200 lower consumer price, he said. These types of phones have a big role to play in the prepaid cellular market, where consumers pay the full price of the handset, Subar said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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