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VMWare To Bring Virtualization To Mobile Devices

November 10, 2008

VMware is seeking to bring its VMWare Mobile Virtualization Platform, or MVP, to smartphones and cell phones by next year. 

The platform uses a tiny, bare-metal 20-30KB hypervisor, and will allow nearly any mobile device based on an ARM processor to run multiple virtual machines. 

Hypervisors are the thin layer of software that makes virtualization possible.

VMware, considered the leading supplier of x86 virtualization for server systems, announced the new MVP today and is using its October acquisition of Trango Virtual Processors to help bring the platform to the mobile handset market.  The acquisition had been kept quiet prior to the announcement.

There are currently only a few companies making virtual platforms for mobile devices. In addition to Trango, OK Labs and VirtualLogix are some of the other suppliers looking to create hypervisors that work with ARM-based mobile devices.

Earlier this year, following Xen.org’s release of version 3.3 of their hypervisor, there was discussion of allowing the open-source hypervisor to work on mobile devices as well.  It’s a market with significant potential, but remains a niche within the virtualization market as a whole.

A recent Gartner report estimated that roughly 10 million smartphone hypervisors will ship this year.  However, only a few  handsets currently come equipped with an embedded hypervisor.

Pund-IT Research analyst Charles King said virtualization is rapidly becoming like many technologies that begin in the data center before spreading to other devices that eventually create entirely new applications.

“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,” King told eWeek.

“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.”

Srinivas Krishnamurti, director  of product management for VMware, said the company is working with a number of mobile device markers to have them embed the hypervisor into new smart phone and cell phone designs.

Although he did not disclose details about the specific companies involved in the discussions, he added that the hypervisor will initially appear in smart phones before cell phones.  VMware is also working with ISVs to develop applications and virtual appliances that utilize the 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,” Krishnamurti said.

“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 MVP, the hypervisor will sit bare metal on a smart phone much the same way the company’s ESXi server sits atop 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 chips, including the newer ARM Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 processors.

The MVP currently support a number of mobile devices based on Linux, Windows CE and Symbian, now part of Nokia. Krishnamurti said the company would add support for Google’s Android operating system in the future.

The use of open operating systems such as Android and Symbian is critical, since many handset suppliers do not publish APIs for their own proprietary operating systems.  However, users are increasingly looking for more applications that work together 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, “ËœIf 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.”

Meanwhile, handset makers can use the new technology to isolate certain custom services, such as billing software and digital rights management, from the fuller-featured operating systems.

King believes that most of the energy in the handset market is currently coming from application developers, and is being focused on Apple’s iPhone and the Google Android.  He expects that iPhone and Android might be good candidates for VMware’s technology.

VMware’s move into the handset market plays into CEO Paul Maritz’s vision for the company as virtualization moves deeper into data center management, particularly as cloud computing comes into its own.

Maritz discussed the company’s VMware View, which allows corporate IT departments to deliver applications to a number of different devices,, at the VMWorld conference in September.

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