VMware's virtualization of Android smartphones makes two-phones-in-one possible

Mobile hypervisor helps IT departments secure and manage employee smartphones, offers more flexibility with corporate phone policies

Combining the words "virtualization" with "smartphone" is probably a great way to get a corporate techno geek to poke his head up from his cubicle long enough to pay attention to what you are saying. That's exactly what VMware and LG are trying to do with their latest announcement.

Virtualization giant VMware has been talking up the sexiness of virtualizing multiple operating systems on a smartphone for quite some time, and its new partnership with smartphone manufacturer LG seems to finally deliver on that vision.

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VMware calls this technological union of virtualization and mobile computing its Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP), and the company has been talking about it for at least two years. In November 2008, VMware announced plans to bring virtualization and its benefits to mobile phones thanks to the innovative technology it acquired from Trango Virtual Processors. Since then, VMware had been fairly quiet about any sort of product release, and changes in the mobile market haven't helped VMware's quest for mobile virtualization dominance either.

The companies are kicking things off by positioning their offering to the enterprise -- a market that is certainly no stranger to VMware. Much like the benefits to the enterprise from virtualizing desktop endpoint devices, VMware says this mobile virtualization technology will improve security and control of sensitive corporate data while enabling more flexible access and choice when it comes to employee-owned mobile devices.

Corporate IT departments are finding it more and more difficult to get employees to give up their personal phones in favor of a secure, managed, corporate-issued alternative because these company devices are usually very restrictive as to what you can do with them. On the flip side, employees aren't thrilled with the idea of having to carry around two phones, one for personal use and one for the company. Something has to give.

What VMware and LG are talking about is offering employees a single phone running a small virtualization layer -- in essence, your work phone becomes an application that you access from within your personal phone. The personal phone sits at the Android layer as it would today, but the work phone would live as an additional application within the personal phone, each with their own phone number and their own separate environment. The work environment alone would be managed and controlled by the IT department, leaving employees the freedom to use their personal phone as they see fit.

For corporate IT departments, this solves another big problem to do with compatibility. Much like virtualization has abstracted away the underlying hardware for desktops and servers, this new solution could help with supporting content securely across various handset types by providing IT with a method of being able to manage a common, single virtualized OS on every phone regardless of the hardware being used.

Initially, the company said the virtualization software will only work with Android-based smartphones. VMware hopes to get it operational on other mobile OSes in the future, but will let market demand determine where to focus their attention. Android seemed to be the obvious choice for the initial platform since it is open source and so widely distributed and popular with consumers.

In terms of distributing the new virtualized mobile app, company officials commented that they have yet to decide whether it will preload the application onto the Android-based smartphones, or make it available for download on the Google Android Market.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but the goal is to have this virtual environment working on LG Android smartphones sometime in 2011. Specific launch dates will be determined by telcos in their respective markets.

Because this new mobile virtualization platform is being written on the Android platform, it makes me wonder why it couldn't operate on Android-based tablets as well. That would certainly make this announcement even more interesting, wouldn't it?

This article, "VMware's virtualization of Android smartphones makes two-phones-in-one possible," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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