Smartphone Virtualization

Enterprise Mobility

Smartphone Virtualization

By Michael Stanford  |  April 25, 2012
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

Server virtualization is an essential technology driving the cloud computing revolution; desktop virtualization lets me run Windows and Linux in windows on my Mac. And now virtualization is coming to smartphones.
 
On a traditional server, the operating system runs directly on the computer processor. With virtualization, a software layer called a hypervisor is sandwiched between the operating system and the computer processor. The hypervisor enables multiple instances of the operating system (or even multiple different operating systems) to run concurrently on a single processor, each instance ignorant of the others. The hypervisor layer can slow things down, so for some years now Intel and AMD (News - Alert), the main server processor manufacturers, have enhanced their hardware to improve virtualization performance.
 
All smartphones, and many embedded systems (like cars and set-top boxes) use processor cores developed by ARM (News - Alert). The latest version of ARM’s architecture, ARMv7-A, is the first to include hardware support for virtualization. So at the end of this year, the first smartphones with hardware support for virtualization will start to ship.
 
For some years, smartphone makers have occasionally used software-only flavors of virtualization to simplify porting and to reduce costs. But hardware support and a growing problem may make virtualization common on smartphones.
 
The growing problem is BYOD. Bring your own device is a nightmare for IT departments; historically, they have kept chaos at bay by supporting only a limited number of devices and software setups. But in the era of BYOD, employees demand to use a vast and ever-changing variety of devices. Virtualization enables them to add a standard corporate software load to any phone.
 
This way, a single phone has a split personality, and the hardware virtualization support keeps the two personalities securely insulated from each other. On the consumer side, the user downloads apps, browses websites and generally engages in risky behavior. But none of this impacts the enterprise side of the phone, which remains securely managed by the IT department.




Edited by Jennifer Russell
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