VMware Eyes Smartphones as Next Virtualization Bonanza

VMware, a provider of virtualization solutions for PCs and servers, wants to get into mobile phones, carve up their software and create virtual operating units — much like the company’s products already do with servers in enterprise data centers. The company announced its intentions Monday regarding its nascent VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP), which uses technology it acquired from Trango Virtual Processors last month.

The basic idea of abstracting the applications and data from the hardware itself has several reasons behind it, the first of which is aimed at helping device manufacturers reduce development time. The second focuses on end users, who presumably would be able to install a broader set of applications on a wider variety of mobile phones.

Faster Manufacturing

Handset manufacturers are spending a lot of time getting new phones to market because they have to code for multiple chipsets, operating systems, and device drivers across their product families, according to VMware.

“There’s a benefit to the manufacturer — it’s lower cost in terms of development because you can have software on a number of different devices, and it doesn’t need to be tweaked for each device, just for the virtualized environment,” Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless for The 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld.

However, there’s more behind the push for virtulization on mobile platforms, and the results could benefit both carriers and end users.

Brain Boost for Traditional Mobile Phones?

Some handset manufacturers are warming to the idea of building handsets that use open operating systems. However, core phone functionalities and private data need to remain secure and working.

“A mobile phone has core features and responsibilities, and that’s voice — being able to work with a carrier network — and that operating system is tightly controlled by the carrier and the device vendor,” Hazelton said.

“And then you have this virtualized environment that would be open to developers or open to the user to add and install applications to customize the phone as they want — it’s this sandbox that’s very distinct and separate from the core features of the phone, and it won’t disrupt the carrier network,” he explained.

In this situation, he noted, virtualization could be used to make a traditional mobile phone act like a smartphone, without necessarily requiring all the development effort that goes into building a smartphone.

“It will take a couple of years before this gets some traction,” he added.

Despite the vaporous nature of this announcement — VMware hasn’t released any timelines — market research firm Gartner is a believer.

“Gartner sees virtualization in the mobile space as a very promising and potentially a fast emerging market,” noted Monica Basso, a research vice president for Gartner.

“We predict that by 2012, more than 50 percent of new smartphones shipped will be virtualized,” she added.

VMware also introduced the idea that consumers could have multiple personas for their phones — one for work, for example, and one for personal use. The virtualization could help IT departments in the enterprise keep important work data and applications separate and unaffected from applications and data installed on a phone by an end user for more personal use.

Evolution of Phone to Computer

“The arrival of the iPhone and the G1 Google phone, along with the Windows-based smartphones and BlackBerries, are getting people to think about exactly what is a smartphone?” Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

“In the traditional sense, a smartphone was basically a cell phone with a PDA strapped to it. BlackBerry took a step further by optimizing for e-mail and instant messaging, and I think what we’re looking at now, with the iPhone and G1 — and some devices that are on the way — are full-fledged hand-held computers,” he said.

“At a certain point, you have to say, ‘If I have a handheld computer, what is the best way to utilize the system resources?'” King noted.

“And I think that’s the question VMware is looking to address,” he added. With all of the different types of applications that can run on a phone, it would be fairly easy for system resources to become overtaxed. “Virtualization may be a means by which developers and phone vendors could make sure those resources are utilized in an intelligent manner,” he explained.

Virtualization may even be a way to ensure better security.

“What happens when hackers start targeting malicious code at the smartphone market?” King said. “The browser could be isolated from the rest of the phone, or you could isolate e-mail, to keep the greater system from being damaged,” he said.

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