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Mobile Phones – The Next Frontier

[photo of Srinivas Krishnamurti]

Posted by Srinivas Krishnamurti
Director of Product Management and Market Development

You may have seen the announcement about the VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform in November 2008 or the MVP demo in Steve Herrod’s Future of Virtualization keynote at VMworld Europe 2009 and wondered what we were doing in this space, given our heritage in virtualizing x86 systems – desktops and servers.  I wanted to share our thoughts and vision for mobile phones to explain why we entered this space and what we intend to do.

Why Mobile Phones?

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Mobile phones – then and now … (source: Freefoto.com)

Mobile phones are fundamentally and rapidly changing in many ways.  If you think about your mobile phone from 5-7 years ago, it was primarily a communication device that allowed you to save telephone numbers.  Now compare that with the mobile phone you have now (well, this exercise is only for those of us who have a smart phone…)  You can now check your emails, browse the internet, play games, watch TV/videos, listen to music and many other things from your mobile device.  Today’s mobile phones are computational devices, not mere communication devices.  They really are a small computer in your hand; the next generation PC!  In some cases, you can do more things on your mobile phone now – GPS technology has allowed developers to bring forth a vibrant set of LBS-type applications that are very useful and cool.  Mobile payment applications are another category that is catching on as well…

If you think about mobile phones as the next-generation PC, it is only reasonable to expect all the good and bad things about PCs to be relevant on mobile phones, if they aren’t already.  Some of the good things include a huge collection of applications; more powerful devices with more CPU horse power, more memory and better graphics capabilities that allow you to watch videos/TV, play better games, etc.  Some of the bad things include security of the device and headaches in managing devices that are more mobile than laptops.

We formulated a three-prong strategy that allows us to bring innovative solutions in this new market.

  1. More applications:  RIM’s BlackBerry got us all hooked on checking emails from mobile phone and for the longest time, emails were the killer application for mobile phones.  Apple has since shown that if it is easy to develop and get applications, developers will build mobile applications and consumers will download them.  Now consumers are downloading all kinds of applications onto their mobile phones.  As I was thinking about my usage pattern, I realized that there are some applications that I use more on my iPhone than on my Mac – the Facebook app is one example.  I still use the application on my laptop but I find that I can do many of the common things from my iPhone and it is more accessible.  The second thing that I realized is that there is tremendous innovation in the consumer space that eventually gets rolled into the enterprise when us old geezers finally “get it.”

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    You may be thinking, ‘yeah, ok, but what does that mean for me?’  Let’s say you are out at your kid’s soccer game and receive a call that a server is down.  Instead of rushing to find the nearest PC, what if you can restart the server from your mobile phone?  We believe enterprises will like that type of flexibility to perform some operations irrespective of where you are.  To that end, we recently launched a technology preview for VMware vCenter Mobile Access.  vCMA will allow you to monitor and manage parts of your internal cloud.  Over time we will figure out what other parts of vCenter and other products need to have a mobile phone interface.

    To download vCMA, visit: http://communities.vmware.com/community/beta/vcmobileaccess.  Also, the vCMA team has a VMworld session on this topic so if you are attending VMworld in SF later this month, please attend this session.

  2. Accessing your desktop:  We are getting a lot of traction for our VDI initiative that allows enterprises to completely redefine how they think about deploying and managing PCs.  Users really care about a set of applications and data and not very much about the particular device they need to use to be productive.  IT folks want to effectively and efficiently manage these applications and data that their “customers” depend on.  By virtualizing the desktop and running that in the cloud, users can now access their desktop from a desktop, laptop or a thin-client device.  Under the VMware View umbrella of products, we are releasing a great set of functionality that allows IT to manage these virtualized desktops.

    Most mobile phones now have WiFi capabilities and with the data networks getting faster and faster with 4G and WiMax deployments starting up, we believe mobile phones will become the next generation thin clients.  Imagine connecting your phone into a monitor and keyboard to access your desktop running in the cloud.  We believe this will take mobility and accessibility to the next level.  We realize that there are a few usability issues and technological shortcomings that need to be addressed and expect that they will be either by us or our partners.  As you think about your desktop strategy, you should incorporate some thoughts about this model.

  3. Virtualized phones: Most everyone who first hears about mobile virtualization scratches their head wondering why you need virtualization on a mobile phone.  If I had a dime for every time people asked me for the elevator pitch on this, I definitely wouldn’t need to work for a few years.  While there are many benefits across the value chain all the way from the semiconductor vendors to handset OEMs to carriers to enterprises to consumers, I want to focus on the enterprise use case in this note.

    There are two major trends in enterprises when it comes to mobile phones.  First, more and more enterprises are purchasing and giving out mobile phones to more and more employees because the productivity benefits associated with this move are well understood.  Second, more and more employees already have a very cool and capable personal phone and wonder why they cannot simply use that device instead of getting a second device from IT.  Due to security concerns, IT has traditionally not allowed employee-owned devices to connect to or manage corporate resources so the unfortunate implication is that a good number of employees carry two phones.  If accessing your email and calendar is the only thing you want to do from a mobile phone, this isn’t much of a problem since Active Sync provides some basic management capabilities but we are seeing an increasing trend where many enterprises applications are being ported to mobile phones.  See point 1 above about vCMA.  You certainly don’t want your IT folks managing your datacenter from their personal mobile phone, do you?  When you start thinking about doing more than just email, you will realize that the security concerns of allowing employee-owned devices are legitimate.  This is where virtualization will play a key role.

    Mobile virtualization is like server virtualization in that it allows you to run multiple isolated virtual environments on a single device.  With server virtualization, you run multiple server or desktop workloads in virtual machines on a singe physical server.  With mobile virtualization, you run multiple virtual phones on a single device i.e. you run your home and work phones on a single phone in two isolated containers with completely separate identities – two telephone numbers, two contact lists, two calendars, two sets of applications, two set of rules/policies, two bills for telephone and data charges, etc.  There is a clear separation of church and state or in this case, home and work on your device.

    The benefit is that employees can now use a device they already own while IT can efficiently manage the “work phone” running on this device.  You can see some early demos of this at:

    The MVP team has a session on this topic at VMworld so please attend this session to find out more details.

I hope this gives you a bit of insight into what we are up to.  Your feedback is most welcome.  Also, I will blog more on each of these initiatives in the future so look out for more information.

One final thought: VMworld 2009 is right around the corner in beautiful San Francisco, CA from August 31 until September 3rd.  The track owners told me that the sessions will be great and having attended a few meetings about keynotes, I can assure you that you will like both Paul’s and Steve’s keynotes.  More than anything else, VMworld is a great opportunity for you to network with your peers and VMware employees, and see what else is happening in the virtualization ecosystem.  If you haven’t registered yet, do it now!  You won’t regret it!  Hope to see you there.  Happy Summer!

[Follow Srinivas on Twitter at skrishna09]

3 thoughts on “Mobile Phones – The Next Frontier

  1. Bill Weinberg

    Hi Srinivas
    Cool demo on the Nokia N800 webpad. I have some questions, however, about use cases and logistics:
    1) The N800 is an open device, suitable for post-load of a Type I hypervisor (bare metal). How would you deploy on (closed) real-world devices with limited post-load options? Type II hypervisor?
    2) If the answer is Type II, how would performance compare with Type I?
    3) The multiple application OS guest use case makes a great demo, but how common is it, requirement-wise? Do IT depts really want unique OSes or just a secure partition?
    4) Are mobile phones really provisioned to host multiple application-level guest OSes?
    Bill W.

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