VMware Wants to Bring Virtualization to Your Smart Phone

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-11-10

VMware Wants to Bring Virtualization to Your Smart Phone

VMware is looking to bring its virtualization technology into the smart phone market in 2009, with a small hypervisor that will allow nearly any mobile device to run multiple virtual machines.

On Nov. 10, VMware will announce that it will release a new virtualization platform called the Mobile Virtualization Platform, or MVP, which consists of a small, bare-metal hypervisor-20KB to 30KB-that will work with a number of mobile devices based on an ARM processor.

To bring a hypervisor to the mobile handset device market, VMware acquired a company called Trango Virtual Processors in October. VMware did not release the financial details of its latest acquisition and kept the deal quiet until the Nov. 10 announcement of the new virtualization platform.

There are only a handful of companies creating virtual platforms for smart phones and other mobile devices. In addition to Trango, OK Labs and VirtualLogix are some of the other vendors looking to create hypervisors-the thin layer of software that makes virtualization possible-that work with these ARM-based mobile devices.

When Xen.org released the 3.3 version of the Xen hypervisor earlier this year, there was talk of allowing this open-source hypervisor to work on smart phones as well.

While this market has great potential, especially as people look to smart phones as a way to access the Web and application such as e-mail, its remains a niche within the overall virtualization market. In a recent report from Gartner, analysts estimated that about 10 million hypervisors for smart phones will ship by the end of 2008. However, there are only a few handsets that customers can buy with the embedded hypervisor.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research, said virtualization is rapidly becoming like many other technologies such as 64-bit microprocessors and high-capacity hard disk drives that start in the data center and begin to spread into other devices, which then spawn whole new uses for the technology.

"Pushing virtualization into even smaller devices is an indication of how powerful those devices have become, but it also indicates how powerful and how flexible virtualization is," said King. "The fact that VMware is getting into the smart phone market means that a lot of other players are going to pile on. Microsoft certainly has a big investment there with the Windows Mobile platform."

Although VMware, still considered the leading supplier of x86 virtualization for server systems, announced MVP Nov. 10, it will not likely hit the market until late 2009. Srinivas Krishnamurti, a director  of product management for VMware, said VMware is working with a number of handset markers to have them embed the hypervisor into new smart phone and cell phone designs.

Multiple OSes, Just Like Virtualized Servers and Desktops

Krishnamurti declined to discuss which handset makers VMware is talking with at this time, but noted that the hypervisor will appear in smart phones first before regular cell phones. VMware is also working with ISVs to develop applications and virtual appliances that will take advantage of these virtual machines.

"This virtualization layer that we have is just like the one on the server and desktops, and it will allow customers to run multiple virtual environments on the phone," said Krishnamurti. "We think there are some interesting use cases. One is that many people have one phone for work and another is a personal phone. With virtualization, you can have one device that runs both environments in two isolated virtual machines. The work profile and the personal profile are completely separated."

With the VMware MVP platform, the hypervisor will sit bare metal on a smart phone the same way VMware's ESXi server sits on top of a server. The hypervisor then decouples the software in each virtual environment from the underlying hardware. In this case, the VMware hypervisor will work with devices based on ARM processors, including devices based on the newer ARM Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 chips.

Right now, the VMware MVP platform will support a number of mobile devices based on Linux, Windows CE and Symbian, which is now owned by Nokia. Later, Krishnamurti said, VMware will add support for Google's Android operating system.

The use of open operating systems such as Symbian and Android is important, since many handset vendors do not publish APIs for their own proprietary operating systems but users are demanding that more applications work on their smart phones.

"Those guys have a lot of ISVs writing applications for those open operating systems, and so the handset vendors are starting to say, -If I deploy an open operating system, then my customers can have a lot of content that they can use on the phone,'" said Krishnamurti. "So they are moving away from these proprietary operating systems to these rich operating systems."

At the same time, handset vendors can use the virtualization technology to isolate certain custom services, such as digital rights management and billing software, from the richer operating systems.

When it comes to the handset market, King believes that most of the energy from application developers is being focused right now on Apple's iPhone and the Google Android. King expects that iPhone and Android might be ripe for what VMware is offering.

The move by VMware into the handset market is also part of CEO Paul Maritz's vision for the company as virtualization moves deeper into data center management, especially as cloud computing comes into its own.

At the VMworld conference in September, Maritz discussed VMware View, which will allow an IT department to deliver an application to a number of different devices, including handset devices.

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