VMware foresees mobile virtualization in 2010

At some point next year, the company says, user data on mobile phones will be a portable file that can be moved from handset to handset.

Sally Whittle Special to CNET News
3 min read

Virtualization company VMware says that its new platform to let organizations virtualize smartphones and mobile devices will show up in handsets next year.

The mobile phone is now as important to businesses at desktop computers, and acts as a mobile computer in many cases, said Stephen Herrod, VMware chief technology officer, speaking at the Interop industry conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Although Herrod said the project is still in its "early stages," researchers at VMware are working on a VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform, which will create a virtual machine for mobile devices, allowing users to move their phone to different handsets.

VMware is currently negotiating with handset manufacturers, and the technology should be included within new handsets at some point in 2010, said Fredrik Sjostedt, VMware EMEA director of product marketing. "The technology is there, and up and running, but it needs to be something that is on handsets when they're purchased," Sjostedt told ZDNet UK on Wednesday.

Virtualization of mobile phones means user data on phones will be a portable file that can be moved from handset to handset. This means users who lose or damage phones will be able to retrieve data more easily, and corporate IT departments will have fewer support headaches, said Sjostedt. Potentially, companies could also run more than one virtual smartphone on a single handset.

"Configuring e-mail, secure Web access and corporate applications on phones is a nightmare, particularly where users have gone out and bought themselves a new handset. This means you have an abstraction layer between the application and the phone's operating system, so you can deploy the same image on a Nokia or a Motorola handset, very easily," Sjostedt said. "Companies will be able to say--just bring your phone to us and we will create a corporate identity that can sit alongside your personal identity. Users can still have their own files and photos, without putting corporate security or data at risk."

Mobile virtualization will also mean handset manufacturers will be able to roll out new features and applications more quickly, Sjostedt added. At present, handset companies may spend 18 or 24 months testing new features on various platforms and phone models--but this could be eliminated using virtualized phones. VMware is currently in advanced negotiations with all the major handset manufacturers, Sjostedt said.

Mobile-phone virtualization is probably still an idea ahead of its time, according to Clive Longbottom, a research director with Quocirca. "At the moment, there's an element of 'what's the point?' but it's certainly interesting a year or two out," Longbottom said.

Longbottom believes the most valuable application of mobile virtualization will be in corporate settings, where it can be difficult to get full functionality from enterprise applications on mobile devices.

"I can see that a field engineer might find it useful to be working using a scheduling application, then have the ability to switch to his laptop image and see boiler plans and instructions when the need arises. Being able to divide mobile devices into different systems could potentially be very powerful," he said. "However, at the moment, I don't think devices like the iPhone are necessarily sophisticated or powerful enough to handle this kind of technology."

Sally Whittle of ZDNet UK reported from London.