Virtualization Coming to the Smartphone

Wayne Rash
When I last wrote about virtualization in smartphones,  it seemed like it might be a good idea that might show up eventually. The idea at the time was to have two independent operating systems on the phone that would exist independently of each other. Suggested uses included the idea of having one environment for work and another for home use. But I also didn't think that it would happen anytime soon.

Well, maybe I was wrong. VMware and LG Electronics have announced that VMware is working on a hypervisor for LG phones. The idea would be that the smartphone would have an enterprise-friendly, secure operating system for work, and another, completely independent OS for daily use. The idea is to support the growth of employee-owned devices in the enterprise, which is a practice that's already growing. However, in today's configurations, the employee has everything on a single device, and effectively carrying company data around where it's easily accessible at all times.

As you might imagine, there remain several hurdles to successful implementation of virtual devices in a smartphone, the two most obvious being the amount of memory available and mass storage. The first can be overcome by simply adding more memory to a smartphone-a trend that's already happening. The second will require a means of partitioning the Micro SD cards that phones use for mass storage in such a way that one partition can't be accessed by the wrong OS.

There are other questions: What do you do about phone numbers? In current phones, this is a hardware function with the phone number stored on a SIM card for a GSM phone or the equivalent memory location for a CDMA phone. Would these dual-purpose phones need two phone numbers?

There are also questions about performance: How long will it take to shift between your home phone and your work phone? Will you simply press a key or will this require a restart?

I'm sure these questions will eventually be answered, but right now they indicate that there's a long way to go before we can expect to see such virtualized smartphones in the stores. And before they show up, there's one additional hurdle: making the work version of the OS really inaccessible so that it will meet the requirements of the enterprise. It'll be interesting to see how these questions are answered, but I don't think they'll get answered this year.

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