VMWare Is Banging The Smartphone Virtualization Drum Again

I did a quick search on our site, and it looks like Todd first wrote about VMWare’s smartphone virtualization back in September 2009. During Mobile World Congress demoed their Mobile Virtualization Platform on a LG smartphone running Android. The following video shows how it works:

We are approaching two years of this talk from VMWare and yet to see virtualization be incorporated in any meaningful way on smartphones. The most likely reason why we haven’t seen virtualization on smartphones is that it is currently a solution looking for a problem.

Many of us carry two smartphones, one provided by our employers and the other that we personally own. If you ask most of us who carry two phones, we would love to only being carrying one phone, but there are currently some challenges with making that happen. Our employer provided phones are tied to calling and data plans that our employers directly pay for. Many of us have unlimited calling and data plans, but if you don’t, you don’t want work calls taking up the voice minutes that you pay for, nor do you want work data transmission taking up personal data caps. No form of smartphone virtualization that uses the same phone service is going to address the problem I just describe.

Companies worry about the risk of data loss with employees using their personal phones to access company e-mail and files. Much of the corporate e-mail we receive is confidential. Imagine someone sends you a presentation on your company’s sales strategy for the upcoming year in an e-mail attachment that you can see on your phone, and you lose the phone and it gets in the hands of a competitor.

Most companies utilize remote data wipe and on device encryption to mitigate the risk of losing data. If you lose a company smartphone, you are to call the IT department, who will initiate a command that wipes the phone, restoring it to the condition it was in when first shipped from the factory. If you use a personal smartphone to access corporate e-mail on an Exchange server, your employer has the ability and the right to wipe your personal smartphone. Bear in mind, they might not only wipe the phone when it is lost, but also when you leave the company.

VMWare’s virtualization solution shown in the video addresses the concerns that both companies and inviduals have with using personal smartphones to access corporate information. The solution basically splits the phone in two, one half being personal, the other being corporate. The corporate half could be encrypted and remotely wiped without affecting the personal half. VMWare’s solution seems logical, and as companies starting forcing knowledge works to provide their own tools (computers, smartphones, etc..) it may be only practical solution.

I think the reasons why we haven’t seen smartphone virtualization are performance and ubiquity. The best virtualization performance requires a hypervisor between the phone hardware and operating system, which means that hypervisors would need to be available for the majority of the phones that we use. Another factor preventing smartphone virtualization is that it might require carriers to allow multiple phone numbers and plans associated with a single physical phone, one for each “virtual smartphone.” I understand smartphone virtualization’s appeal, I just don’t see enough handset manufacturers, operating system vendors, and carriers interested in making it happen.