The most widely deployed mobile virtualization solution
This blog entry originally appeared on the VisionMobile blog at http://www.visionmobile.com/blog/
Imagine one phone with two personalities – one to fit your personal life, the other for business. Instead of carrying around two or more devices, you’d be able to access multiple virtual phones on a single handset.
This article introduces mobile virtualization and the range of its use cases, with implications that span from silicon to smartphones to shrink-wrapped software to operator services. It also expands upon two key applications: building mass-market smartphones, and enabling secure mobile services.
Virtualization is new to mobile, but established in the data center, fundamental in cloud computing and increasingly popular on the desktop.
Mobile Virtualization lets handset OEMs, operators/carriers and end-users get more out of mobile hardware. It decouples mobile OSes and applications from the hardware they run on, enabling secure applications and services on less expensive devices today and deployment on advanced hardware tomorrow.
Virtualization provides a secure, isolated environment for operating systems that is indistinguishable from “bare” hardware. This environment is called a virtual machine (VM), and acts as a container for guest software. A software layer called a hypervisor provides the virtual machine environment and manages virtual machine resources.
Resources and performance of mobile devices differ markedly from data center blades and desktops. So do business requirements. Mobile virtualization is different from virtualization used in enterprise and personal computing in several ways:
Mobile virtualization is a flexible technology with a range of use cases:
Most mobile OEMs and operators/carriers look to mobile virtualization to address a combination of use cases. Let’s examine two of particular interest: mass-market smartphones and secure services:
Smartphones increasingly drive the global mobile ecosystem. According to Gartner, total mobile phone shipments in 2009 surpassed 1.2 billion, of which 172.4 million units were smartphones, an uptick of 23.8% over 2008.
Smartphones are critical to the fortunes of mobile OEMS, MNOs, chipset suppliers, and providers of applications and services – they drive data traffic, improve hardware margins, expand silicon design-wins, and drive software sales through app stores to increase post-load revenues. However, broader adoption of smartphones has been slowed by retail pricing of smart handsets and cost of accompanying data plans.
A mass-market smartphone offers smartphone capabilities at a feature-phone price point. To deliver such a high-functioning yet low-cost device, OEMs must deploy a full-featured open OS and applications on more modest mobile hardware.
Current smartphones utilize high-end chipsets with dedicated CPUs for application and baseband processing. This approach contrasts with featurephones, where both stacks run on a single CPU and simpler embedded OS (Real-time operating system – RTOS).
Virtualization enables OEMs to build smartphones with less expensive single-core chipsets (see figure). Such chipsets can also enable using lower-cost components for other functions (display, battery, etc.) not compatible with high-end mobile silicon.
The mass-market smartphone is more than just a concept touted by visionaries. Real devices have been delivered, such the Motorola Evoke QA4, with more to come.
Mobile virtualization also facilitates a range of secure services, enabling enterprise-grade security on standard handsets. Virtualization can help secure mobile platforms, applications, and services by keeping trusted software to a bare minimum – the hypervisor itself and carefully chosen additional components – and then isolating them from threats arising from vulnerabilities and faults existing in today’s complex software stacks.
Virtual machines, containing a bare minimum of essential software, can be dedicated to secure services. A single phone could contain a virtual machine optimized for execution of secure services, deployed side-by-side with other mobile software, with practically no incremental BOM costs.
Secure service examples include:
Building mass-market smartphones and deploying secure services with virtualization are complementary use cases and emphasize doing more with less: virtualization enables deployment of smartphone capabilities on lower-cost hardware; it also makes possible the introduction of new secure services on currently-available mobile devices.
As illustrated above, mobile virtualization offers a flexible solution to many design and deployment issues for devices and services on them. Despite its many use cases and successful deployment in products shipping in volume, mobile virtualization faces systemic challenges to even broader use:
These challenges are gradually being overcome; mobile OEMs and operators/carriers are increasingly attracted to the use of virtualization to bring down the cost of Android devices, while recent performance benchmarks at key OEMs have tempered concerns about the performance overheads.
Mobile virtualization has been shipping in mobile phones since 2009. Despite challenges to adoption, the mobile/wireless ecosystem is turning its attention to this flexible technology, especially to bring down the cost of building and buying smartphones. Coupled with emerging needs to provide secure services on mobile devices, mobile virtualization should play a key role in the deployment of the next 500 million phones.
Posted by Steve Subar on June 22 at 07:05 AMblog comments powered by Disqus
About Steve Subar:
Steve Subar, CEO and President of OK Labs, has been an honored leader in the technology industry for 20 plus years and has received several accolades for his work. Steve is an avid runner who can also be found communing with his surfboard in Bondi Beach, Australia; skiing the slopes of Beaver Creek, Colorado; or searching for the perfect Pinot Noir all over the world.