Mobile Virtualization: Hypervisors Go Small

smartphone hypervisor
Virtualization is a major industry trend. Server virtualization is especially popular in many corporate data centers. Veeam Software publishes a V-index which monitors server virtualization in the enterprise and their 2011 third quarter report showed that over one-third (38.9%) of all enterprise servers were virtual. While desktop virtualization is not as popular, surveys indicate that almost ¾ of organizations are evaluating or using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions. These products use hypervisors, which are software programs that manage multiple instances of the same operating system on one computer.

Now hypervisors are making their way into mobile form factors. Much like their big brothers in the server and desktop world, mobile hypervisors can provide the ability to create separate instances of a mobile operating system on a single smartphone or media tablet.

In the hypervisor world, there are two flavors: Type 1 and Type 2.

  • Type 1 hypervisors, also known as bare-metal hypervisors, are at the hardware level and are built into the device. While Type 1 is considered more secure than Type 2, they must be installed during the manufacturing process. Companies offering solutions include Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs microvisor), Red Bend Software vLogix Mobile (from acquired company VirtualLogix) and Wind River (a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel Corporation).
  • Type 2 hypervisors are virtual machines that are placed on top of the operating system. While Type 2 hypervisors have the flexibility of being installed after the device is built, many consider them less secure than Type 1 hypervisors. Some mobile operators are jumping into this game, with AT&T launching Toggle (powered by technology developed by Enterproid) while Telefonica and Verizon Wireless are working with OEMs such as LG, Samsung, and Motorola Mobility to provide virtualization capabilities through VMware Horizon Mobile.

One of the key benefits of mobile virtualization for enterprises is the ability to separate personal information from corporate information on the same device. It provides IT with the ability to manage the ‘business profile’ to meet policy requirements while leaving the ‘personal profile’ unfettered, which is ideal for bring your own device (BYOD) programs. It also eliminates the need to carry two devices: one for business and one for personal use.

However, it is not without its challenges. The solutions may require switching between personal and business views. This may be awkward and won’t provide the ‘single view’ into business and personal information that many users want. There could also be performance issues with running multiple instances of a mobile OS. However, with dual-core processors available and quad-core processors emerging, this may be less of an issue in the future. Right now, the product offerings are focused on Android only, so you’re out of luck for other platforms (at least for now).

Solutions like mobile virtualization may be the catalyst for a more widespread adoption of Android in the enterprise. But as with many enterprise-centric tools and services, the real litmus test will be user acceptance. With a number of new product launches in 2012, maybe this is the year that hypervisors going small will be big…

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