The agreement announced this week by VMware and LG electronics will act a proof of concept of VMware's virtualization technology on mobile devices, but may not do either VMware or LG much good otherwise, analysts say.
The partnership is a strategic one designed to help both companies explore "bring your own device" (BYOD) computing models, according to Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director for mobile solutions at VMware.
Under BYOD, employees use devices of their own choosing — iPads, iPhones, Android devices — and IT integrates them into the application and security infrastructure of the business.
"There are pretty clear studies showing people are more productive on their device of choice," according to Chris Wolf, research vice president for Gartner's IT Professionals service. "Some people really want that choice; I may want to travel with my iPad and have access to my applications. IT just wants to make sure that access is secure."
Under the plan announced by LG and VMware, IT would install a VMware hypervisor on an LG smartphone and create a secure work profile that would run on top of the native operating system. The "work" part of the phone would remain separate from the personal data, applications and settings, but users could switch over by rebooting.
They would have separate numbers for the work and personal versions of the phone, Krishnamurti says.
As the third-largest phone manufacturer in the world, LG looks like a good partner for VMware, according to Ian Song, research analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC). LG has specific weaknesses in certain market areas, though — smartphones and phones running Android specifically, Song says.
The OSes for Apple's iPhone, RIM's Blackberry or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 are too closed to be easily tweaked for virtualization without a lot of help from the developer, Song says, therefore Android is a prime candidate for its openness.
LG and VMware need to do something fresh to attract more than just attention, but even the dual-profile capability is already on the market, Song says. Nokia E71 and E72 phones, for example, can hold two SIM cards, each of which gives the phone another identity.
"It's not virtualization, but the difference might be hard for consumers to see," Song says. "I don't have any data on this but I'm guessing LG wasn't [VMware's] first choice."
VMware might not have been LG's either, if LG is looking for the most advanced virtual phone.
Citrix' Receiver virtualization client "runs on just about everything," including Android smartphones, Wolf says.
Citrix is also rumored to be repackaging its products and services to make it easier for customers to use its virtualization, remote-access and cloud services to offer in the short term the kind of virtual work-device for which VMware views the LG deal as a proof of concept.
The industry is still two years or more away from wide-scale adoption of any kind of BYOD enablement or the common use of virtual clients as the norm, Wolf says.
Companies like VMware and LG have to start putting together their technology, partnerships with carriers and use cases for customers now, however.
Users who want to operate much or most of the time from smartphones or very small mobile devices will probably remain a niche, but one big enough that any IT department will have to serve them, if only to avoid snubbing or reducing the productivity of employees in the field.
At Intel a migration toward virtualized, always-connected smartphones has made workers more productive and led to significant changes in how well IT and business units cooperate, according to Dave Bucholz, the principal IT engineer in charge of evaluating new internally deployed technology at Intel.
"We've really had an explosion in the number and type of devices people bring in [to the office]" Bucholz says. "We're using several kinds of virtualization to deliver servcies across those devices — it might be a streaming OS and apps, or even launching a VHD on that device. And we end up having several tiers of service based on what the device is and what it can do.
"A couple of years ago users viewed us as kind of the 'no' guys," Bucholz says. "You come to us and ask and we say 'no.' This has made us more of a partner, an enabler. It's a nice improvement in the relationship."