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VMware To Virtualize Mobile Phones

LG will soon offer an Android handset with the ability to run a VMware client hypervisor and take on a business profile managed by IT.

Key new employees often get a company phone as well as a laptop as they settle into a new cubicle. What if they could use their personal phone instead, with IT putting a business profile on it for company use separate from their personal use? Many employees would like to carry only one phone -- and they'd prefer that be their personal one.

VMware has taken a first step toward enabling such a scenario by joining hands Tuesday with LG Electronics Mobile Communications, a Korean handset supplier to several telecommunications carriers. By enabling handsets to host virtual machines sometime next year, LG is taking a step toward letting one mobile device serve two distinct purposes through different virtual machine profiles.

Next year, LG will make an Android handset available with the ability to run a VMware client hypervisor and take on a business profile managed by IT, said James Park, director of strategy and business development for LG, in an interview announcing the partnership. "We are not announcing model names or carrier involvement at this time," Park said. But he added, "We will bring a (virtualized) phone to market soon."

"It will be like merging an iPhone and Blackberry together," said Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director of mobile solutions at VMware. He was speaking metaphorically about combined personal and business use -- at least until Apple and RIM both agree to such a thing, which isn't likely anytime soon. One thing a virtualized phone could do is respond to a business phone number as well as a personal number.

If an employee left the company, the virtual machine on his personal phone could be wiped clean and future access to the company network and data denied. It sounds too good to be true. Thus far, IT has justified resisting support for personal devices on the grounds of added complexity and security risk. Virtualization potentially solves the dilemma of letting employees use the personal phone they want without jeopardizing corporate data.

More and more observers believe the enterprise of the future will adapt to employee's existing and preferred devices, as opposed to asking them to adapt to standard-issue devices. Sun Microsystems, prior to its acquisition by Oracle, experimented with a virtual desktop that followed its workers around to different campuses or home; Paul Martine, CIO of Citrix Systems, a VMware competitor, says his staff is already charged with supporting the laptop of the employee's choice rather than the one it provides.

The complexity issue is multiplied by the frequency with which consumers tend to upgrade their personal phones. Enterprise IT has little appetite for taking on one or two-year upgrade cycles for the proliferating mobile devices that might come under its purview, if employees' own phones were subject to support. A virtualized business user profile could transfer, however, from one version of a device to the next.

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