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CES 2012: VMware Shows Android-based Virtual Machines

VMware was at CES 2012 showing how its virtual machine platform for Android makes it possible for smartphone users to keep there personal and work lives separate without having to own two phones.

Apparently for VMware, virtualizing desktop and server operating systems isn't enough. At CES 2012 in Las Vegas, the company is demonstrating how it can now run a separate instance of Android in a virtual machine that is hosted by an Android-based smartphone. VMware demonstrated this capability on LG's newest handset; the Revolution VS910.

According to VMware director of product management Hoofar Razavi (see embedded video below), the ability to have a separate instance of Android running on an existing Android handset opens up a world of possibilities. But the key advantage accrues to those who want to keep their handset-bound digital personas for work and personal life completely partitioned from one another. For example, the host version of Android that's running on the smartphone's bare metal can have all of your personal life stuff in it; your Facebook app, connections to your personal email accounts, personal contacts, etc. Then, the version of Android running in a VMware virtual machine can have all of your mobile work apps in it along with connections to your work email and contacts. For additional security, the VMs are fully encrypted as well.

This architecture has serious (and very positive) implications in the area of consumerization of IT. For example, when employees have their work and personal lives intermingled in the same instance of a mobile OS, any attempt by the IT department to manage the work-related stuff results in "management" of the personal stuff too. Let's say an employee leaves the company and the IT department decides for security reasons that the phone must be remotely wiped. The net result is that everything gets wiped; all the work stuff and all the personal stuff. The user must then go about rebuilding all the personal stuff.

In a scenario where all the work stuff is kept in a partitioned VM, the IT department doesn't have to remotely wipe out the entire handset. It just wipes out the VM instead. Another scenario that this sort of VM architecture works well in is the one where a user loses their phone. Not only can the IT department remotely wipe the VM out, it can also restore the VM (from a backup) to the replacement handset.

Much like on desktops and servers, mobile developers will greatly appreciate the virtualization capabilities because of how easily they can create differently configured VMs for testing purposes.

Razavi also claimed that the mobile version of VMware doesn't necessarily need a heavily resourced smartphone like one of the new ones with lots of memory and a multicore processor. "We're aiming for mass market devices" said Razavi. "The capabilities of the system are more than adequate in your mid-level device today to support this."

Unfortunately, there's one big group of mobile users who are still out in the cold when it comes to VMware Mobile; iOS users. Razavi said that VMware is always looking to extend the company's virtualization solutions to other platforms but that the company has nothing yet to announce regarding virtualization of iOS. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to people who follow the virtualization space. While VMware Fusion allows Mac users to run Windows on the Mac (in a virtual machine), the company hasn't yet offered the ability to run Mac OS X in a virtual machine.

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