How to Use Virtualization to Deliver Mobile Innovation

By Michel Gien  |  Posted 2009-02-18

How to Use Virtualization to Deliver Mobile Innovation

In the innovation life cycle, innovative ideas emerge when technology meets needs. Ideas are innovative when they are developed in a timely fashion and are supported by a sound business model. Delivering late to market in today's market can drastically reduce the benefits. Innovative organizations require fertile grounds for seeding ideas, a vehicle for bringing them to reality and a business to drive revenue.

Today's mobile solutions result from tedious integration of hardware (chip sets and peripheral devices) and software (system, frameworks, applications and services). The most successful players in this marketplace have the resources required to rapidly integrate new technologies and bring them to market.

Ironically, very tight coupling of the components is a detriment to open innovation in this market. These dependencies have led to risky product development cycles where non-optimal choices in the selection of a single component have increased time to market and minimized the products' return on investment.  

The mobile marketplace is in need of a unifying architecture that encourages independent innovation in each of the key technologies, while serving as a catalyst for open innovation mash-ups and promoting new business models aligned with today's Internet services business. Virtualization is an excellent candidate for enabling this new way of building mobile devices.

Challenges to Innovation in the Mobile Market

Challenges to innovation in the mobile market

Despite valiant efforts over the years, phone makers are still taking 12 to 16 months to build "first-of-a-kind" phones based on new chip sets, peripheral devices and software. The following are four challenges that mobile vendors face when delivering innovation into their products:

Challenge No. 1: Architecture entropy

Today's mobile phone architectures are very complex, requiring simplification and better alignment of technical and business architecture. This complexity manifests itself when adding new services to a precertified platform. This often results in increased cost for integration and testing, as well as unpredictable behavior. Architectural entropy must be reduced to truly reap the benefits of the open-software platform or it can relegate back to being a closed consumer device.

Challenge No. 2: Fragmented product platform

Different market segments require different hardware and software features to be delivered.  As a result, most vendors have adopted a multiplatform approach across their product portfolios. Because of this highly fragmented space, innovative ideas require a steep investment-often demanding multiple platform support in order to gain maximum market penetration. The entire mobile ecosystem is in great need of a simple and consistent way of adding value and innovation without having to port it to each of the unique platforms in the market.

Challenge No. 3: Tight coupling of hardware and software

Contrary to the mature PC market (where resources are abundant), the constrained mobile devices often require tight coupling of hardware and software to repeatedly produce predictable performance. As a result, any major changes in hardware can significantly affect the current behavior of the software. We need to decouple the hardware and software vendors so that they can independently innovate and, hopefully, aggregate these innovations into compelling products while maintaining predictable behavior.

Challenge No. 4: Protecting intellectual property rights and product differentiation

The current strong interest in open source for mobile devices is stimulating a great amount of innovation at the hardware and system software level. Still, chip set and OEM vendors remain sensitive about protecting their intellectual property rights and their key products' unique selling points. Isolation of these business-critical assets from the open-source licensing becomes a key business decision in preserving the value and ROI for their innovation efforts.  

Virtualization: Architectural and Radical Innovation

Virtualization: Architectural and radical innovation

Today's mobile phones are based on architectures that have evolved as a result of incremental and modular innovation. Rare have been the radical innovations that involved changes to the core concepts, the components and the way that they are linked together. The most attractive innovations can be both incremental and radical. These are used to migrate legacy components forward, while offering a new paradigm for building new systems. Together, isolated containers, shared hardware resources, open framework and common platform services are a catalyst for new technology innovation.

1. Isolated containers

The ability to create purpose-built execution containers with dedicated hardware resources (better known as virtual appliances) is the basis of this new software architecture for mobile devices. Through the use of isolation mechanisms and sharing of the hardware resources, the hypervisor can define and manage the independent execution of software applications and services such as security into separate software containers (see Figure 1). This approach creates a new environment where each of the key players in the ecosystem can innovate independently without taxing overall device performance and predictability.

Figure 1 - A new software architecture based on software containers

2. Common abstraction and sharing of hardware resources

The hypervisor is specialized in sharing core hardware resources and controlling access to shared peripherals. It allows designers to deliver consistent software architecture across heterogeneous hardware architectures for the phone. Its flexibility is important in gaining more cohesiveness across product lines, and accelerates the adoption of new hardware architectures and technologies. 

3. Open framework for adding shared devices

As shown in Figure 1, the software containers may be used to rapidly integrate new peripheral devices with the platform. Through reduced porting drivers and testing, an open framework helps deliver new innovative devices to more platforms in less time.

4. Common platform services

Because hypervisors control access to key hardware resources, we can easily define common services that will provide guidance to the hypervisor on how to best allocate the resources based on identified platform variables and constraints. This separation of policy from implementation provides some control on behavior without changing the hardware or software, as we can effectively change the power management parameters for the platform based on current use condition, for example.

Virtualization as a Business Enabler

Virtualization as a business enabler

As the innovative idea transforms into a proof of concept and first release, virtualization goes from innovation enabler to innovation accelerator via the business value it brings to the mobile ecosystem:

1. Ecosystem synergy

Virtualization provides a unifying architecture that would create new synergies amongst the hardware, peripheral and software vendors, including significant cost savings and innovation. The new software architecture also allows for rapid and non-intrusive integration of the innovation whilst fueling innovation mash-ups.

2. Catalyst for the services business

The fragmentation of product platforms is a significant barrier to the establishment of the Internet services model in the mobile space. Although there are some efforts to consolidate platforms (Android), fragmentation will persist for quite some time in this market, placing a significant burden on establishing the mobile Internet services business. Virtualization can accelerate the transformation from closed consumer devices into an attractive open Internet services platform.

3. Time to market

A large amount of product delivery time is consumed by integration and system testing activities. Virtualization significantly reduces time of delivering innovation to the phone market by allowing for independent development and testing of key hardware and software components of the system, and rapid integration into heterogeneous platforms. 


Mobile virtualization technology can serve as an innovation accelerator for two key reasons. Technically, it offers a new software architecture that promotes a non-intrusive way of delivering hardware and software innovation to the device for all members in the ecosystem. From a business perspective, it accelerates time to market for open innovation and serves as a catalyst for new business models and innovation mash-ups.

Early adoption of virtualization technology will most likely see the migration of existing components into a simpler architecture, creating the head room required to refuel innovation in their products. When vendors fully understand and embrace the full potential of this technology, much more radical innovation will emerge, leading to exciting new devices and new business models. Virtualization will change the game, initially, as an innovation enabler and, subsequently, as an innovation accelerator.

Michel Gien is co-founder and executive vice president of corporate strategy at Virtual Logix Inc. Michel has more than 30 years of experience in the research and software industry. His passion for technology, working with customer issues and his commitment to excellence are the foundation of VirtualLogix's culture. Prior to co-founding VirtualLogix as its first CEO in August 2002, Michel was co-founder, general manager and chief technology officer of Chorus Systems. He became the first Distinguished Engineer outside North America at Sun Microsystems when they acquired Chorus Systems in 1997.

Prior to founding Chorus Systems, Michel worked as a director at INRIA (French public IT research center) and CNET (France Telecom's research labs), leading research projects on computer networks, UNIX and distributed operating systems from 1971 to 1986. Michel also founded, co-chaired and then chaired the European Unix Association (EUUG, then EurOpen) from 1980 to 1990. Michel graduated from Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures de Paris, France, in 1971. He can be reached at


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