Cloud computing becomes mobile

If the rise of cloud computing and the buzz about VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, discussed in a recent blog posting here ) haven’t demonstrated that virtualization is exploding well beyond its back-room origins, two announcements last week hammered home the point.

VMware and Citrix, two of the three largest virtualization vendors, announced initiatives to move virtualization all the way to the mobile device-just think, virtualization in your hand!

VMware’s announcement was intriguing. The company purchased a small virtualization software provider called Trango a month or so ago and then last week announced it would ship a bare-metal hypervisor for ARM-powered devices like the iPhone and Blackberry.

There is a lot of promise in this; most phones that seek to allow end user customization have to use multiple chipsets: one for end-user modifiable software, and the other for software controlling mechanisms that must not be modified by end users, e.g., the software controlling the phone’s radio’s frequency and power. While a multiple chip solution works, it obviously increases costs and-crucially-power draw.

Now VMware is talking about putting a hypervisor on a single chip and segregating two operating systems, one for system-specific software and one for end-user software. Even more intriguing, I saw some discussion about the announcement by someone at VMware, who posited that users might have a personal OS (actually, it was referred to as a “persona,” which is jargon for individual) which would migrate from device to device. Imagine, no having to enter your contacts anew for every phone or trying to get some clunky synchronization software to work properly!

This “persona” notion is intriguing because it would represent a real break from today’s mobile world, where you’re pretty much tied to whatever phone you happen to have: change phone and/or carrier, and everything gets tossed. It’s real lock-in.

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Coming soon: virtualized iPhones

Expect to see a love-hate response from both device manufacturers and network operators. Their cooperation with this technology is crucial, because it can’t be installed without their commitment. On the other hand, the telco industry is famous (or infamous) for resisting openness. So, they’d love it for reducing the costs and making their life simpler, but hate it for reducing their control (unlike most industries, the mobile industry often refers to having a billing relationship with a user as “owning the customer,” which should tell you a lot about their worldview). Allowing individuals to control their own phone operating environment would denigrate the providers to commodity status, which no one likes.

The Citrix announcement, by contrast, focused on extending a Windows desktop out to the iPhone. Presumably leveraging its well-established application virtualization technology, this moves client virtualization way out of the desktop league. Enabling access to an application, while ensuring that security is enforced through data partitioning (i.e., the data resides back in the data center) supports mobility while reducing security issues. Since the iPhone uses ARM technology, it seems to me that other devices could be supported as well with incremental engineering effort.

The upshot of these two announcements: virtualization will soon extend from the handset to the cloud. If you’re an IT organization, you need to examine your virtualization plans with a much more sophisticated eye. Tomorrow’s virtualization will not be a data center-bounded technology of interest only to IT.

Virtualization will be much more like Parallels is today-a quasi-consumer technology designed to enhance individual productivity. Of course virtualization will continue to transform the data center; it’s just that the role of infrastructure supercharger will be superseded by a role of end-to-end computing. If we’re really fortunate, that role will be accompanied by a breakthrough regarding mobile openness, moving competition and innovation to the operating environment.

Bernard Golden is CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, which specializes in virtualization, cloud computing and related issues. He is also the author of “Virtualization for Dummies,” the best-selling book on virtualization.

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