VMware acquires Trango, debuts mobile hypervisor

Mobile phone hypervisor frees applications from hardware, VMware says

VMware is launching a hypervisor for mobile phones, letting handset makers design applications for multiple operating systems.

VMware is launching a hypervisor for mobile phones, letting handset makers design applications for multiple operating systems and potentially letting customers use phones with two profiles: one for personal use and one for business.

VMware, the market leader in x86 server virtualization, didn't build the phone hypervisor on its own. Instead, it acquired a French company called Trango Virtual Processors in a deal announced Monday. It's rebranding Trango's product as the VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform.

(View a slideshow on the hottest tech M&A deals of 2008.)

VMware sees mobile phones as the next frontier of virtualization, allowing mobile phones to run multiple operating systems just as servers do, says Srinivas Krishnamurti, the vendor's director of product management and market development.

"This is a market that is very much in its infancy, and a lot of stuff is going to evolve before it becomes mainstream," he says. "Trango allows us to get to market faster."

The hypervisor abstracts applications and data from the hardware, letting phone makers deploy the same software on many phones regardless of underlying differences in hardware. Vendors will be able to get phones on the market faster because of virtualization, Krishnamurti says. Several handset makers are evaluating the mobile phone hypervisor, which is available for sale now, he says.

The hypervisor, which is about 20 to 30 kilobytes, initially supports three mobile operating systems: Windows CE, Linux and Symbian. Notably absent from this list are Google Android, Windows Mobile, and the iPhone operating system.

VMware plans to add support for more platforms but isn't offering any details on which ones. "Our goal is to support all the different operating systems that our customers want us to," Krishnamurti says.

Gartner predicts that more than half of new smartphones will be virtualized by 2012, according to VMware's press release.

While the hypervisor is targeted at phone makers, VMware says virtualization will eventually provide noticeable benefits to consumers. Many people today have a work phone and a personal phone, and virtualization will allow them to have one phone with a work profile and a personal profile, Krishnamurti says. Virtualization will also let them transfer profiles to a new phone, he says.

This ability will become more important as smartphones become more like computers, with a rich set of functions personalized for each user, Krishnamurti says.

Virtualization, if prevalent enough, will also let users download any application to their phones, regardless of what hardware or operating system it runs.

"We envision a world where, once you have a hypervisor on the phone you can get any application," Krishnamurti says.

VMware would not say how much it is charging for the hypervisor or how much it paid to acquire Trango. Several other start-ups are also trying to tackle mobile phone virtualization, including Virtual Logix and Open Kernel Labs. 

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