Whatever happened to mobile virtualization? Just a couple years ago, there seemed to be a ton of hype about mobile virtualization. The goal was to be able to run multiple isolated virtual instances on a single physical device. I remember walking the expo floor during the VMworld conference that year and seeing all the demo phones on display; I also saw a demo of the technology during one of the keynote presentations. Then, focus seemed to move over to network virtualization.
Well, it appears that mobile virtualization might be making a comeback. Cellrox Thinvisor is a mobile virtualization platform that enables multiple virtual mobile instances that all coexist on a single Android device. At the same time, the actual OS virtualization is achieved at the Linux kernel level, operating below the Android application framework. Cellrox points out five key benefits that it brings to the table. It gives mobile devices:
Cellrox is taking a different approach in that it is not containerizing the application, but rather offering full application transparency, which enables the Android applications to run unmodified. While the applications are running, the usage model will be a single foreground instance with multiple instances in the background. The user of the mobile device will only interact with the foreground instance, and this foreground instance will have access to the hardware and all of the device features. Meanwhile, the background instances could be given shared access to certain specific hardware when that hardware is not required by the foreground instance. This is part of the isolation of the instances to enhance security and protect privacy.
Now, in the last couple of years, cloud technology, applications, and services have exploded, with a large number of formerly in-house applications being migrated over to the cloud. Has this migration to the cloud changed or evolved the use case for mobile virtualization? I would say that it has. I remember a time when a good number of people I knew were physically carrying more than one phone or smart devices. The cloud has made accessing these applications a great deal easier. Although there will be plenty of use cases for virtual phones, I think the need for mobile virtualization might not be as strong as it seemed a few years ago. It might even continue to shrink further as we continue down the rabbit hole to the cloud.
So, in my humble opinion, I think this might truly have been a missed opportunity in the industry. I could be wrong, and mobile virtualization could totally take off. However, I think this will have a slower road to acceptance in comparison to its cousin, server virtualization. How much of a foothold will mobile virtualization end up with? Time will tell, but meanwhile I am going to say that I am not really as thrilled about the technology compared to the first time around.