VMware moves into mobile virtualization

The virtualization firm has announced a mobile platform, promising corporate IT departments the ability to roll out "corporate phone personalities" across a range of handsets.

VMware has announced a major push into the mobile market with a new virtualization platform tailored for handheld devices.

VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP) was announced on Monday, and builds on technology VMware bought from Trango Virtual Processors last month. According to VMware, the platform will "help handset vendors reduce development time and get mobile phones with value-added services to market faster" through the use of virtual machines.

Business users were also a focus in VMware's announcement, which suggested MVP would let IT departments roll out a "corporate phone personality" across employees' personal handsets, leading to enhanced security while supporting a broad range of devices.

"VMware is excited to extend the benefits of virtualization, which we pioneered for x86 hardware, to the mobile-phone market," said the company's president and chief executive, Paul Maritz, in a statement. "By abstracting the applications and data from the hardware itself, we expect that virtualization will not only enable handset vendors to accelerate time to market but can also pave the way for innovative applications and services for phone users."

The company described MVP as a "thin layer of software" that will be embedded in handsets and "be optimized to run efficiently on low-power-consuming and memory-constrained mobile phones".

Asked whether MVP would offer something different from the abstraction already provided by mobile Java, VMware's European product director Fredrik Sjostedt told ZDNet Asia sister site ZDNet UK that MVP would require less recoding.

"If you want to have an application run on a Java-specific appliance, you need to code it for Java," Sjostedt said. "What we're introducing with MVP is an [embedded] abstraction layer below that, between the physical hardware and the software layer."

Sjostedt also suggested that MVP would make it possible for various mobile operating systems, such as Symbian, varieties of Linux and Windows Mobile, to "co-exist on the handset as well".

The chipset design firm ARM is involved in the project, with ARM's vice president of marketing and processors, Eric Schorn, pointing to a "rapid and growing demand for virtualization technologies from both the designers and consumers of next-generation mobile devices utilizing the ARM Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 processors".

The Cortex-A8 and Cortex-A9 processors could soon find their way into Netbooks and mobile Internet devices (MIDs) as well as smartphones, which would increase the potential market for MVP.

ZDNet UK has asked ARM about the extent of its virtualization support, which the company claimed in the statement would be "enhanced" through the VMWare program, but had not received a reply at the time of writing.

MVP is promising handset manufacturers an opportunity to "deploy the same software stack on a wide variety of phones without worrying about the underlying hardware differences". Isolating device drivers from the handset's operating system would also allow manufacturers to spend less on porting applications between models, VMWare claims.

The virtualization firm is also tapping into the trend toward open source mobile operating systems, claiming MVP will "allow vendors to isolate [trusted services such as digital rights management, authentication and billing] from the open operating system and run them in isolated and tamper-proof virtual machines so that even if the open environment is compromised, the trusted services are not impacted".