09/07/2010 12:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

OK Labs Forging the Mobile Virtualization Movement

This is the latest post in our series, Technical MashUps, which focuses on the various technologies that are being leveraged to improve and redefine our lives.

When we think about virtualization we think about industry leaders such as VMware and Citrix. These companies are best known for their server and desktop virtualization. This technology has garnered a great deal of support and acceptance in the Information Technology space. This is primarily due to enhanced security, application management and hardware replacement savings. Over the past few years there has been a slow and gradual adoption -- that has been nurtured by Open Kernel Labs -- mobile virtualization.

Mobile Virtualization is technology that enables handset suppliers, operators and end-users get the most out of existing and emerging mobile hardware. It decouples mobile OSes and applications from the hardware they run on, enabling more secure, robust and flexible applications and services on less expensive devices today and deployment on advanced hardware tomorrow.

-- Steve Subar -- CEO and President of Open Kernel Labs (via Services Mobiles)

Open Kernel Labs is a five-year-old company that has quickly become a leader in the mobile virtualization space. The company works with Qualcomm, Motorola and Samsung to bring mobile virtualization to the mainstream market. The company's microvisor, OKL4, is now in more than 500 million devices and supports mobile OS' such as Android, Symbian and Linux. The microvisor is the bell of the ball. This is what the OKL4 virtualization architecture gives you:
  1. Uniquely addresses virtual machines and individual applications of drivers
  2. Separating an application from the OS reduces its trusted computing base
  3. Native OKL4 applications are reusable with multiple OSes
  4. Isolating an additional application does not require introduction of another OS Microkernel provides scheduling, isolation, and communication services
  5. Communication between cells only allowed where explicitly authorized
"... today the amount of software you have on a mobile phone is equivalent to the amount of software that you have on a desktop," Subar said.

So why should we care about mobile virtualization -- primarily because virtualization stands to make smartphones cheaper and featurephones smarter. In a mobile economy -- that stands to make billions and overtake the static web by 2014 -- Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), Semiconductor Suppliers and OS Vendors -- would love to see more handsets being purchased by consumers. We would gladly buy more of these mobile products -- especially if they are cheaper and smarter.

So you might be asking -- where are these virtualized mobile phones? OK Labs has worked with Motorola to produce the World's first virtualized mobile phone -- Evoke QA4. There is a great teardown of the Evoke by are good friends at Linux Pundit -- Designing and Deploying with Mobile Virtualization.

The following perspective has been provided by my co-author Joe Hackman -- who first introduced me to the mobile virtualization space.

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:
  1. Support for multiple environments
  2. Easier product development cycle
  3. Extend Legacy software window
  4. Improved Security
  5. Cost Savings
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.

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.

If you would like to read Joe's complete analysis on mobile virtualization please follow this link -- 5 Reasons Why Mobile Phones Will Go Virtual.