But what it can do continues to fascinate, especially in context of the larger mobile marketplace and what it means for people who use smartphones and lots of apps.
Carrying two mobile phones is not unusual. People will often need one device for work and a second for personal use. Virtualization on a mobile device wold mean just one smartphone with virtual partitions so people could use it for both for work and their personal lives.
It would mean that people could download a far greater variety of apps. And it has the potential to drop the cost of a smartphone for the end user.
What is Mobile Virtualization?
According to Open Kernel Labs, there are some differences between enterprise virtualization and its mobile counterpart. But the virtualization technology is by definition pretty much the same. Just as a PC can be isolated to run separate apps, so can a smartphone.
The problem? Current mobile processors lack virtualization support in the hardware. People can not add the virtualization to their own device. It has to be done by the manufacturer. That means full integration may take some time happen.
Dimitri Sirota is co-founder of Layer 7 Technologies. The company integrates data centers to the Internet and cloud-based systems. It supplies on-premise hardware, software, virtualization technologies and cloud services. For example,the company works with telecomnmunications companies to provide access to APIs for developers.
Sirota says that an operating system like Android is not viewed as that secure. The apps have access to everything on the handset and Android doesn't screen them. Virtualizing creates a completely segmented environment where secure apps can run without worry about frivolous apps getting acccess:
That's why U.S. President Barack Obama can use a Blackberry.
"Different profiles (corporate versus personal) need different security protocols--take President Obama's BlackBerry, for instance. He can have highly locked-down apps running in one virtual environment on his phone that allow him to communicate with his Chief of Staff. He can also have his fun apps on the same device, but they'll never be able to get access or break into a more secure app because of the complete segmentation of profiles."
Why is Mobile Virtualization Important?
OK Labs give three reasons why mobile virtualization is important:
Security: Although this is not a major concern for consumers now, it will become increasingly important as mobile banking and other similar applications gain popularity. Also, as open operating systems such as Android become more and more ubiquitous, mobile devices will become more vulnerable to hacker attacks and malware. Mobile virtualization can help protect the critical data on those devices.
For Work and Play: Think of this as a personal world and corporate world on one device that meets the security needs of corporate requirements. In addition, consumers will be able to access their favorite applications for a variety of platforms (Android, Windows, Blackberry, etc.) on the same phone. It addresses consumer behavior preferences - corporate employees who want to "bring their own device" to work, will be able to do so, while still meeting the needs of IT.
Smartphone Market: It drives the market through cost savings. According to analyst firm, Vision Mobile, smartphone platforms account for less than 20 percent of the more than 620 million handsets shipped globally in the first half of 2010, while more than 80 percent of total shipments are driven by feature phones. Through hardware consolidation, mobile virtualization lets manufacturers provide smart phone functionality for the cost of a feature phone. This is especially important for the consumers, in most of the world, who cannot afford smartphone prices today.
Mobile virtualization is emerging in importance. As apps proliferate,so will malware attacks on mobile devices. Virtualization provides the security from those attacks. But almost more so is the need for better efficiencies in terms of costs and consolidations.
A mobile phone that can run multiple types of apps at a fraction of the cost will mean the proliferation of the device to millions of users.
But for now, the challenge is getting the virtualization on the hardware. That will happen as the efficiencies and security issues emerge as important factors for market advantage.