New details on iPhone virtualization: VMWare, Citrix

Virtualization on mobile devices is becoming more and more of a reality. After last week’s VMWare Inc. release of further details on its forthcoming smartphone hypervisor, Citrix Systems Inc. has joined the fray with a mobile version of their application virtualization software, XenApp.

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Coming soon: virtualized iPhones

The new initiative would offer a free XenApp plug-in available from Apple Inc.’s AppStore that would allow Apple’s iPhone to connect to any enterprise applications hosted on a XenApp server. (This functionality will also be available for dozens of Windows Mobile and Symbian devices as well.) It’s expected to go online in the first half of next year.

Chris Fleck, Citrix’s vice-president of solutions development, said that the move toward XenApp on the iPhone was really motivated by customer demand. The company’s Web forums have been deluged with requests for more iPhone compatibility, he said—even from non-Citrix users in the consumer space.

Now is a good time to move virtualization onto the mobile device, and especially the iPhone, said Fleck. “There’s bigger screens, faster networks, and the ability to use ‘gestures’ to pan and zoom. Before, there was only the small form factor, painfully small screens, and inconsistent networks,” he said.

This was behind VMWare’s recent VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP) release as well—first mentioned at September’s VMWorld conference, VMWare released further details last week.

Srinivas Krishnamurti, director of product management and market development with VMWare, said that VMWare also wanted to cash in on the growing smartphone market. Said Krishnamurti: “Two years ago we looked at the mobile phone market as the next frontier, and we wanted to build a hypervisor on a mobile device. These phones are no longer a communication device, but a computation device.”

(VirtualLogix and Open Kernel Labs have also debuted mobile device virtualization so far.)

The MVP hypervisor will be embedded in certain smartphone models. “We don’t expect people to go to our website and download it,” said Krishnamurti. “We’re speaking with a number of handset and carriers about proof-of-concept right now.” With the long lead time of phone manufacturers, he said, the products should arrive in around 12 to 18 months.

“This will also make it easier on the handset makers (as devices can be more OS-agnostic),” said Info-Tech Research senior analyst Group’s Mark Tauschek.

Now, Citrix’s Fleck said, there will be myriad business-oriented options available to iPhone and other smartphone users, including doctors being able to securely access and update patient information, salespeople being able to check customer files, and the ability to utilize workflow and ERP programs remotely. Security will even be enhanced, he said, as data won’t be left on the actual device.

The strategy is also a play for areas that Citrix hasn’t infiltrated yet, said Fleck. He said, “Lots of companies don’t deploy Citrix for certain applications, so if they’re not necessarily using it for all their applications, there will be a long-term increase at the departmental level where it isn’t now.”

IT staff productivity will go up as well, said Krishnamurti: “Many people have personal phones and corporate phones, so it will reduce the cost of having to buy corporate phones for people (since they can run each virtually).”

They would also cut down on support time for messed-up mobile software, since the virtual client could be easily wiped to start over, said Tauschek.

IT will definitely have to keep an eye on this market, however, he said, as it will fall to IT staff to help build policies around who should have virtual clients on their business phones. He said, “If it’s a mass user, it will be a push-out. You’ll have to play a big role initially and decide, what role will benefit from this access?”

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