Mobile Virtualization – a natural evolution
Over the past few years virtualization technology has proven itself as a valuable and green technology. What is virtualization technology? Simply stated virtualization software provides a platform that allows multiple instances of other environments/operating systems to operate simultaneously on one physical device (usually servers). Since most of the time most servers use only a fraction of the available resources this allows a much better overall utilization of the most important resource – electricity. It also equates to cooler server rooms that are doing the same job with less physical machines. It is therefore reasonable that this technology could be used in other environments and why not mobile?
The top benefits of Virtualizing the Mobile Device
- Support for multiple environments
- Easier product development cycle
- Extend Legacy software window
- Improved Security
- Cost Savings
Support for multiple environments
Because a virtualized environment is operating system agnostic phone vendors can develop both their own Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS) and use other popular operating systems such as Android, Linux, Symbian or even Windows. These environments could even be multiple versions of the same Operating system allowing you to operate both a work/security optimized version as well as a personal version all on the same phone, securely and easily.
Easier Product Development Cycle
Since there is a consistent platform that sits between the phone hardware and the operating system engineers will not have to re-invent their products for every new hardware platform that OEM’s produce. This will mean instead of designing 2, 3, 4 or even more versions of an RTOS or OS builds they can build one and it can be used across all virtualization equipped phones. This equates to major cost savings as well as shorter development cycles for new products.
Extend Legacy Software Window
By controlling the underlying system you now have the flexibility to continue to run older versions of software on a newer phone without having to port them over to the platform. This will increase the window of time that a given RTOS or Operating System build can be used.
It has already been suggested that a security optimized version or “work” version of an OS could be offered adjacent to a personal use environment. In addition to that flexibility there is definitely some innovation occurring from the security perspective. Open Kernel labs run their OKL4 Microvisor in the privileged secure cells. This information was provided directly via OKL:
“Mobile/embedded virtualization, as realized in the OKL4 Microvisor, works by using on-chip memory management to isolate guest OSes from one another. On architectures lacking hardware-assisted virtualization (e.g., ARM), OKL4 also employs paravirtualization to replace privileged instructions in guest OSes with calls to OKL4 “hyper APIs”. Paravirtualization ensures 100% isolation among Secure Cells with minimal overhead compared to native (bare metal) execution.
OKL4 is unique among mobile virtualization platforms in several ways. First, it implements “true virtualization”, fully isolating and managing all guest OSes as equally “untrusted” software in Secure Cells (virtual machines). Second, OKL4 is built over a real-time microkernel, with a small memory footprint for easy certification (minimal trusted computing base), and with APIs to support stand-alone software in lightweight Secure Cells (e.g., shared device drivers). Third, OKL4 provides secure and configurable communication among guest OSes, allowing safe sharing of system devices and other resources.”
Joe’s Security Summary – some very sophisticated security apparatus have been used to allow secure multi-use of phones. This will allow users the flexibility of using their work phone for personal use without worrying about compromising the work environment.
The independence achieved via the virtual environment also creates additional cost savings above and beyond those already addressed in the product development and legacy software support. OKL CEO Steve Subar gave an example where the end user price of the Evoke phone was cut substantially because of the flexibility of screen choices. At the manufacturing level they saved ~$45 which equates to ~$100 Wholesale and up to ~$200 retail. This coupled with the ability to use single core processors and smaller batteries can drastically reduce the overall cost of the phone to the end user.
While really only scratching the surface here of what is really an impressive and exciting technology this should serve as a good primer into some of the benefits it offers. Since there are benefits for OEMS, wholesalers, providers, businesses and consumers alike it is likely that this technology will continue to proliferate in the marketplace.