Mobile Virtualization Poised To Tackle Bring-Your-Own-Device Challenges

Not long ago, businesspeople were carrying around two devices: one for work and the other containing the digital content of their personal lives. But this juggling of devices, while necessary for security reasons, was a very clunky solution to the problem.

Plus, it made people look kind of silly -- like bumbling technology caricatures swimming in airs of self-importance.

Mobile virtualization, a term used to describe various technologies that strike the long sought after balance between device security and usability, stands to change all that.

By dividing a device into two parts, one for work and the other for one's personal life, mobile virtualization addresses the IT risks that stem from the bring-your-own-device phenomenon while allowing the productivity benefits of the trend to flourish within organizations.

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[Related: VMware On Mobile Virtualization, BYOD ]

"Security has, and will be, at the top of mind when thinking of mobile devices, but often it's seen at odds with end-user usability," said Jason Nash, data center solutions principal at Varrow, a Greensboro, N.C.-based virtualization solution provider.

Vendors have different approaches to mobile virtualization, but all strive for an identical look and feel across smartphones, tablets and notebook PCs. "It also needs to be easily provisioned and secured by corporate IT, with minimal effort from the end user," said Paul Kunze, director at IntraSystems, a Braintree, Mass.-based solution provider.

Dan Weiss, CEO and co-founder of Varrow, says mobile virtualization will clear up the gray area that currently exists within organizations that have given up trying to stop their employees from using personal devices at work.

"We have control -- or perceived control -- when it comes to Windows. And we have lots of tools that we are familiar and confident with to manage desktops and user's data," Weiss said. "What we don't have is a lot of control over the BYOD concept. If employees are using apps and accessing the corporate network with their own devices, there's not an easy way to manage a device that the company doesn't own."

Mobile hypervisor, which allows employees to purchase their own mobile device and operate a separate OS that's exclusively for corporate apps, seems to be the answer to this problem, though not without some debate.

There are two types of mobile hypervisor: Type 1, also known as "bare metal," operates at the hardware level and is installed by the mobile device OEM; and Type 2, which runs as a secure application on the device. Type 1 is regarded as more secure but takes longer to implement, while Type 2 is seen as offering greater flexibility.

In the Type 1 camp is Red Bend Software, a Waltham, Mass.-based vendor whose vLogix Mobile 5.0 product is used by Panasonic and other Android OEMs, as well as carriers. Open Kernel Labs, another Type 1 vendor, is working with LG to develop Android smartphones with hardened security for the Department Of Defense.

NEXT: VMware To Enter The Market With Horizon Mobile

Despite their security advantages, Type 1 mobile hypervisors are not garnering as much industry interest, at least at this point in time, as their Type 2 counterparts, according to Brian Lesniakowski, CTO at AEC Group, a Bridgeville, Pa.-based solution provider. He has seen "very slow adoption" of Type 1 hypervisors to date.

"We see more of a migration to the enterprise app store approach, where the apps are delivered to whatever device, and from that you can secure and manage devices with whitelists and blacklists," Lesniakowski said. "You can verify what is running on the device and change permissions once it connects to the network, based on the outcome of policies executed against it."

VMware's Horizon Mobile, unveiled last September at VMworld and expected to launch later this year, is a Type 2 mobile hypervisor. Early customers include industry support from Samsung and LG on the handset side and Verizon Wireless and Telefonica on the carrier side.

Horizon Mobile uses virtualization to create a secure and isolated phone-within-a-phone that walls off a user's mobile workspace from their personal space, and it also comes with advanced management features that allow IT to remotely provision and de-provision devices as needed. It is the mobile piece of Horizon App Manager, VMware's application management and single sign-on offering for SaaS applications.

"[Horizon Mobile] sends me, over the wire, a complete virtual Android phone and all of the applications on it," VMware CTO Stephen Herrod said at an industry event last September. "We see the notion of a dual persona, where IT has control of their world, as something that people are really interested in."

While mobile virtualization is attracting interest, the products to date are all Android-based. Apple doesn't support mobile virtualization for iPhones and iPads, and given the massive volume of these devices that are making their way into businesses, its absence could slow the market's development, according to solution providers.

NEXT: Desktop Virtualization, A Possible BYOD Solution

Desktop virtualization is always an option, and some organizations are turning to Citrix Receiver or VMware View to handle their BYOD issues with iPhone and iPads. Robert Germain, vice president of engineering at Hub Technical Services, a South Easton, Mass.-based solution provider, is seeing some customers turn to Citrix while they wait for mobile virtualization products to arrive.

"When someone comes in with their iPad, they can download Citrix Receiver for free, and we give credentials to control it with Microsoft Active Directory, giving them access to corporate data," Germain said. "This approach is for companies that don’t want to manage the phones, just the access."

Desktop virtualization faces its own set of challenges, however, as many projects have been derailed by higher than expected infrastructure costs, technical complexity and a sluggish return on investment.

The promise of mobile virtualization has been bubbling up for years, but the mobile device boom is drawing more attention to the technology than ever before. Now it's up to vendors to bring products to market that solve the tough issues that BYOD poses to IT, without getting in the way of the productivity advantages of consumerization.