by February 12, 2011 0 comments

Today, it’s possible to apply virtualization to just about everything in the computing space–desktops, laptops, servers, networking, and storage. That only leaves one area that virtualization tech has not been able to tap-smartphones. Well, now even that’s possible using mobile virtualization. With the operating systems running on smartphones becoming increasingly powerful, modular, and open, it’s easy to add virtualization capabilities to them as well.

Types of Mobile Virtualization

There are two ways to do virtualization-one is to put a Hypervisor and load different Operating Systems on them. This is the approach that was taken by Wind River (acquired by Intel a few years ago). Wind River has a Hypervisor, which will allow a single platform to host multiple mobile operating systems, be it an iOS for the iPhone, the BlackBerry OS, Android, etc.

The other way to virtualize the apps themselves. This has been done by a company called Myriad for Android based apps. Myriad has developed a software known as Alien Dalvik, which allows operators, OEMs, and app store owners to run Android based apps on non-Android phones. In fact, it would be demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Later the same technology will be available for the MeeGo platform.

Another company called OK Labs also offers a virtualization that offers both types of virtualization. It has a microkernel architecture that can host guest OSs, apps, and standalone programs. It even allows paravirtualization of Linux and other embedded OSs.

The need for mobile virtualization

There’s a stronger need than ever before to have virtualization on smartphones, because these apps live in their own silos. When a user shifts from one mobile platform to another, his favorite apps don’t go with him. He has to find other equivalents, which may not always be the best. With the ability to virtualize apps and run them on other smartphones, users can shift mobile platforms more easily. In fact, they can choose their favorite smartphones, which they couldn’t buy earlier because it wouldn’t run their favorite apps. Or alternately, they could buy a smartphone or tablet and then choose the Operating Systems they want to run on it. Today, these mobile devices have become powerful enough to run multiple OSs and apps.

Benefits to Corporates

Mobile phone virtualization also becomes a boon for organizations, who want to roll out mobile applications for all their users. They will no longer be required to hand-out specific phone models to their employees just to run their mobile apps. Users will be able to bring their personal smartphones to office and still be able to run their enterprise apps. So the dilemma of carrying two+ smartphones will be gone. Moreover, since the apps would be virtualized and not ‘installed’ on the platform, this would increase the security and reliability of these apps.

The Way Ahead

Whether mobile virtualization becomes all the rage only remains to be seen. A critical success factor for this technology would be for the various mobile OS platform vendors to embrace and promote it. Platforms like Android, which are already open seem more willing to adopt it, but what about the other closed platforms? It should be an interesting way ahead for the mobile platform.

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