Will VMware Bring Virtualization Technology to Your iPhone?

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Dec 15, 2010

First came workstation virtualization, then came server virtualization, then the virtual desktop became a hot item. Now, virtualization can be described as ubiquitous in the data center and well understood, albeit not widely deployed, on the desktop.

A recent deal between VMware and LG brings virtualization technology to the mobile device world. Could the iPhone be next?

And now virtualization is moving yet further downstream. Last week, VMware announced it had partnered with LG to enable virtualization on its Android-powered phones and ideally make employee-owned smartphones palatable to security-conscious enterprises,

LG has a strong and growing presence in the consumer market, but it is dwarfed by BlackBerry in the enterprise market. LG will work with VMware to integrate its end-user computing technology into its phones. This will "enable users to adopt the mobile device of their choice, while allowing corporate IT departments to manage sensitive data on those devices with enterprise-level security and compliance," a statement from VMware said.

The initial implication of the technology is expected to be available on smartphones beginning in 2011. Both pricing and exact timing have yet to be determined. This virtualization technology will enable LG smartphones to run two operating systems (i.e., Android and BlackBerry) and thus run one account in isolation from another. In layman's terms, this means a user can securely run a work account separate from his or her account on the same mobile device.

Network World revealed how the phone itself is likely work:

The home and work spaces would each have its own set of applications. However, phone calls and reminders for either the work or personal profile would come through at any time. Allowing both phone numbers to work seamlessly, including letting users put a personal call on hold to answer a work call, was one of the thorniest technical challenges, company officials say.

The hypervisor itself, it noted, will appear as an app.

This is not unlike the model associated with other client devices. Citrix, for example, has long cited desktop virtualization and employee computers as a secure, cost-savings combo, particularly for freelancers and contract workers. Virtualization on a mobile device takes this a step further.

Smartphones are a huge security issue for enterprises, especially with employees often circumventing firewalls to use a preferred, nonapproved mobile device. The iPhone may not be officially sanctioned, for example, and few workers want to carry two phones and maintain two calendars. If this combination is successful, it is a huge win all around: Enterprises have the security they require; employees can now have everything they need in one device; and LG has a potentially significant advantage over the iPhone. Until VMware partners with RIM or Apple to build a similar solution, anyway.

The move also takes VMware into new territory. Mobile communications is an aspect of nearly every employee's life. Many of the issues that come into play on the desktop also apply to smartphones, and virtualization capabilities will bring with them the same benefits. By providing the technology to resolve them, VMware will offer virtualization solutions that span (and ideally integrate) the entire enterprise technology stack.

VMware also, as Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director of mobile technology for VMware told Network World, has no intention of limiting itself to LG, and it is "talking to a lot of OEMs and carrier partners."

With the recent release of Windows phone and Citrix moving into the mobile hypervisor space, it would be short-sighted to think VMware has sealed up the market.

What this does demonstrate, however, is that virtualization adoption and development is far from slowing down, and opportunities are growing as fast as demand.

Amy Newman is the senior managing editor of Internet.com's server vertical. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in 2009.

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