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Telefonica, Verizon ready VMware schizophones

Persona Android Grata

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VMworld Europe VMware rules the x86 server virtualization racket, giving physical servers multiple personalities. And now cell phone operators are lining up to support its Mobile Virtual Platform (MVP) hypervisor on smartphones.

At the VMworld Europe conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, VMware announced that US cellphone operator Verizon and European operator Telefonica are the first service providers to ink strategic partnerships with VMware to support the MVP hypervisor on ARM-based phones running the Android operating system.

Dubbed Persona Android devices, phones running MVP will be able to run a host Android instance on the phone and then load a second and distinct guest copy of Android, with different settings and isolated from the host Android, on the same physical device. The idea is to give business users the ability to run a whole phone personality and enterprise apps inside the guest Android instance, thus keeping it under control of the enterprise without messing up a personal smartphone's settings.

The MVP hypervisor will work equally well on ARM-based fondleslabs, and Hoofar Razavi, director of product management for global solutions at VMware, says that LG, which inked an OEM agreement for MVP for its smartphones and tablets in December 2010, and Samsung, which did the same in July of this year, will eventually support MVP on their tablets. And while VMware is not previewing any partnerships with Apple, VMware does offer hypervisors for Mac OS-based computers and it is logical to assume that eventually it will offer a hypervisor for iOS-based iPhones and iPads.

"We started off with Android, but we intend to offer something for iOS," Razavi admitted after a certain amount of pinching and poking from El Reg.

MVP is a type 2 or hosted hypervisor, and most smartphones and tablets using dual-core ARM chips have enough oomph to run more than one guest VM, says Razavi, but for now, it is limited to just one guest.

But if you are thinking that you will be able to get MVP support on any old phone and have a single device have a personality for every member of the family, you are getting ahead of VMware and its service provider partners. For now they are merely focusing on enterprise users who need dual-mode phones. But at some point, it is reasonable to assume there will be a phone with as many numbers and personalities as you have members of the family, and people will grab a phone off the sideboard table where you pile up the junk mail just like you pick an umbrella out of the stand right next to the table when it is raining. The first person to leave every morning will get the best phone, but they will be interchangeable.

The MVP hypervisor – which was rebranded VMware Horizon Mobile back in August – is not exactly what VMware had in mind when it bought Trango, a French software company that had created a hypervisor for mobile phones, in November 2008. The Trango Virtual Processor was a type 1 or bare metal hypervisor, like VMware's ESXi for x86-based servers. Type 1 hypervisors offer more isolation between guest VMs, but they take longer to certify for new iron, says Razavi. He said that this is a big problem in the smartphone market where the development cycle for a mobile phone is two years and the economic life of the phone is perhaps nine to 12 months. Having to certify a type 1 hypervisor on each phone would add to the development cost and time, and the time, in particular, would eat into whatever profits the handset makers can get. "A type 1 hypervisor, we found out, is a non-starter," says Razavi.

But the type 2 hypervisor imposes very little time overhead. If it works with a particular Android release, you're done. The Android release is the abstraction layer for the underlying hardware.

Don't be surprised if VMware and the cell phone service providers partner up to peddle the Horizon App Manager, which can push VM guest images and manage access to corporate applications running on those images, in conjunction with the MVP hypervisor and schizophones. ®

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