Mobile virtualisation: a valid response to consumerisation in the workplace?

Given the push towards platform virtualisation as a way of optimising hardware resources, it was only a matter of time until mobile popped into the mix. Mobile virtualisation has been around for a couple of years now, and while it has a few proponents, it has been met with a lukewarm response from many. In terms of the end user domain – both consumer and enterprise – mobile virtualisation is still very much in its infancy. However, several companies, VMware and OK Labs have already invested heavily in this area and are starting to push it in a big way.

Is mobile virtualisation something that needs to be on the CIO's radar however? Like all new developments in IT, it can be difficult to separate the hype from the substance. While it is undeniably early days for the technology, it is worth examining just what mobile virtualisation might deliver, to the benefit of both users and the companies they work for.

Read previous Freeform Dynamics analysis of virtualisation here

Undoubtedly, the concept is an interesting one – allowing a phone to run multiple operating systems (OS) and a range of applications that don't need to take into account the platform, potentially gives users more flexibility in terms of what they really want from a mobile device. But at the end of the day, to many, this may seem a somewhat idealistic, nice-to-have solution. Do everyday consumers really need to run more than one OS on one device? Probably not. Individuals will often display a greater loyalty to one particular OS running on one specific device precisely because it delivers the interface and the applications that the user wants in the form that they want, and the need to change and extend that is questionable.

For example, people buy an iPhone or a Blackberry because of the whole package – physical device, interface and applications. And the importance to the end user of this relationship between the OS, applications and physical device should not be underestimated. From a consumer perspective, people often seem to value lock-in over flexibility, which renders arguments around mobile virtualisation redundant.

A more important potential benefit raises its head when we think about how mobile devices are being provisioned in the workplace. On the one hand, companies are increasingly focussed on the rising cost of mobility in the business, and there is a downwards pressure on corporate mobile subscriptions. On the other hand, they are having to more explicitly acknowledge the expectations of users in terms of form, function and desirability of technology they have been exposed to in their non-working lives as consumers.

A follow on from this is, with the proliferation of ever more seductive smartphones, users increasingly want to bring their own multifunctional, all-singing and all-dancing device into the office, in preference to using a dull, application-light corporate issue one.

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