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VMware MVP and the emerging mobile virtualization era

VMware is finally bringing its Mobile Virtualization Platform to market, but there is still some concern about the maturity of VMware

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mobile virtualization. VMware MVP faces performance, development and other challenges as it tries to make a name for itself.

The Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP) hypervisor allows users to run multiple operating system instances on top of a phone’s physical platform. That means employees can manage a personal and work phone on one device, simplifying life for IT administrators.

Still, there is a lot of development and testing that needs to be done to convince enterprise IT staff that VMware MVP has a place in their mobile virtualization strategy.

Understanding and using VMware MVP
The Mobile Virtualization Platform essentially creates two usable phones on the same physical device by installing a guest OS in a virtual machine (VM). Because VMware MVP is a hosted hypervisor, you can have two OSes running on the device, resulting in a work environment that is isolated from a user’s personal applications and data. Currently, VMware MVP works only on Android devices. If VMware gets MVP into the Android kernel, you could theoretically run even more than two OSes on the same mobile device.

VMware MVP extends an enterprise’s  bring your own device (BYOD) initiative beyond laptops and tablets to phones. With it, an employer can centrally manage an OS image and isolate corporate applications such as email from apps that users download for personal use, which have the potential to corrupt corporate data.

Running VMware MVP makes subtle changes to the Android OS interface. When you look at the Android phone’s notification bar, you’ll see events for two mobile virtualization partitions – both the work and personal data. These appear in different colors to differentiate between the events that occur in each partition. When you respond to a notification, the Mobile Virtualization Platform hypervisor intelligently switches the phone to the appropriate partition and application.

The VMware MVP work partition is managed by VMware’s Horizon Mobile Manager, which is currently only offered by Verizon for use by business customers. By using Horizon Mobile, IT departments can provision, manage and cut off mobile devices over a cellular signal. The software also allows managers to push applications to the device and set policies for the corporate profile. That means it’s no longer a huge problem if you lose your mobile device, as the business can easily retrieve corporate data.

Horizon also allows direct access to Windows applications and Software as a Service tools. Employees can access a catalog of corporate-approved applications, which load directly onto the phone’s work profile.

There has been substantial manufacturer support for VMware MVP. LG and Samsung both build phones containing VMware’s mobile hypervisor. One of the biggest benefits of developing phones with the Mobile Virtualization Platform is that it makes the devices more attractive to the corporate sector. Still, manufacturers will be competing against RIM’s popular BlackBerry mobile devices, which feature a secure enterprise server connection and are very popular in the enterprise.

VMware MVP challenges
As with most new technologies, there are some challenges facing VMware’s Mobile Virtualization Platform and Horizon Mobile. Here are three major concerns about VMware MVP that have been voiced in the IT community:

Battery life and performance. Battery life, as with any smartphone, is always a concern. You are potentially running two full instances of the Android OS to support the VMware MVP environment. Couple that with applications running on separate virtual slices and there are serious concerns as to how long a battery will last. Although the hypervisor itself may be very thin, active users operating multiple apps and running on a 4G network should be prepared for some decreased performance and shortened battery life.

What about the iPhone? At this time, VMware MVP only supports Android devices . To see truly widespread adoption of MVP, VMware will have to get access to Apple’s portion of the smartphone market. But if VMware is developing an Apple iOS implementation, they are probably already aware of Apple’s notorious ability to lock down its OSes. If VMware wants to run the Mobile Virtualization Platform and Horizon Mobile on iPhones, they may need a different strategy with Apple products.

Android development fragmentation. It’s well known that Google depends on carriers and phone makers to test, deploy and update users on any OS changes that may occur. So, there is sometimes a significant time gap between Google’s updates and when the carriers or manufacturers actually deploy the update.

This places VMware in an awkward situation with its Mobile Virtualization Platform. VMware doesn’t have control over Google’s development cycle and won’t know when it needs to push VMware MVP updates to the end user. That means there may be instances when Android phones receive updates and their secondary OS no longer functions. VMware will need to work with Google, the phone manufacturer and the carrier to make sure its mobile virtualization hypervisor is always supported and updated.

This was first published in November 2011

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