VMware’s mission to bring virtualization to the mobile market gained a major supporter last week when Samsung pledged to use VMware software to build business-friendly smartphones and tablets.
VMware already offers the View desktop virtualization client for Android and the iPad (but not the iPhone), allowing remote access to a Windows desktop from a mobile device.
But a more ambitious project known as Horizon Mobile will let Android phones use virtual machine technology to run a second instance of Android, in much the same way virtualization works on servers and desktops. The user essentially has two completely separate phones running on one device, and can switch from the personal one to the corporate one by clicking a “work phone” icon. VMware believes this will appeal to IT departments by isolating an employee’s work environment from his or her personal environment, while giving IT a Web-based management console to control what the employee may do on the work portion of the phone.
At the same time, the two environments won’t be much of a hassle for users. For example, phone calls will be received no matter what user profile is active. Although virtual machines on desktops and servers don’t necessarily run as well as a purely physical machine, VMware and its partners say the performance impact will be “minimal” and that Horizon Mobile will work on both single- and dual-core processors.
While the technology could theoretically be used for any mobile operating system, the initial focus is on Google’s Android, in large part because it is open source. LG signed onto the project last December, but the addition of Samsung gives VMware access to a much larger Android customer base. Horizon Mobile will work on Samsung’s Galaxy S II phones and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 tablets. Actual devices from LG, Samsung and “other” unnamed manufacturers of smartphones and tablets are promised “in the coming months.”
Android phone owners can already do work on them, connecting to e-mail and calendars through Exchange ActiveSync or editing Microsoft Office documents with third-party software from vendors including QuickOffice and Documents To Go. But some IT departments are reluctant to grant mobile device users access to company resources because of fears about malware or the possibility of a phone being lost.
With VMware’s Horizon Mobile, malicious software downloaded on the phone’s personal environment shouldn’t affect the virtual “work phone.” And IT shops can manage the virtual phones in much the same way as they manage virtual desktops, provisioning phones with standardized templates and pushing out application updates over-the-air, reviewing the health of the phone from a dashboard, setting policies restricting what the phone may be used for, and remotely locking or wiping the work portion of the phone.
Horizon also allows direct access to Windows applications and software-as-a-service tools. Instead of the Android Market, employees can access a catalog of corporate-approved applications. Bolstering this ability is an application manager based on VMware’s ThinApp application virtualization software, as well as the ability of Android phones to use VMware View desktop virtualization software. VMware View is available on the Android Market as a “tech preview,” indicating that it is not yet recommended for large corporate deployments.
For VMware, mobile virtualization is a way to profit from the growing mobile market, and an important technology for simplifying how IT departments manage consumer devices that connect to enterprise systems.
“As we look at how enterprise computing is evolving, it is clear that computing is no longer just about PCs and Windows,” VMware Mobile Senior Director Srinivas Krishnamurti writes in a blog post. “The ball-and-chain relationship between users and their PCs is broken… Our vision for this new paradigm is to allow IT to manage users, not devices. Each employee has multiple devices and devices come and go so that cannot be the unit of management anymore. VMware Horizon is our umbrella initiative that will allow administrators to provision any application to any device that a user happens to use.”