Virtualization developer VirtualLogix has extended the range of operating systems supported by its VLX hypervisor to Symbian. This platform is the first which can be virtualized using the technology, and makes up the lion's share of the smart phone market. The ability which it provides to run applications on different operating systems may be of particular interest in the m-banking sector.
VirtualLogix makes an interesting case for using virtualization technology on mobile phones. In essence, it offers either single-processor phones, keeping costs down through the use of baseband plus application processors, or, where there is a separate application processor on board, the ability to run different operating systems (OSes) without separate drivers for Windows, Linux, Symbian or a proprietary OS. In that context, for example, Linux may be a compelling way of keeping the cost down for hardware management, while Symbian would be responsible for the applications on top.
The VLX for Mobile Handsets has actually been around for a while, but the specific version in question, VLX for Symbian OS, was announced at the recent Symbian Smartphone Show in London. Since the vendor started life developing virtualization for networking gear, particularly for the carrier market (switches, media gateways, base stations and so on), it clearly has a background in virtualizing both proprietary OSes and Linux. This is particularly pertinent, as Linux is the open source OS of choice for vendors in the space when they want to offer new applications on their boxes while retaining legacy applications on their own OSes.
Thus, Linux on handsets is no challenge for VirtualLogix. In expanding to Symbian, however, the company is significantly increasing its focus on the mobile space. In doing so, it targets the silicon vendors (it runs on both ARM-based and Intel x86 platforms, including the new Atom platform for low-power scenarios); OEM manufacturers of handsets to run software stacks in virtual machines (VM); and telecoms operators, enabling them to offer value-added services such as security and policy management in a separate VM.
This ability to run specific applications on different OSes - such as a security application on one and a wireless stack on another - is of particular relevance in the financial services arena, where it may be of use in m-banking services, for instance. Symbian would argue that its product is well suited, on account of its Platform Security initiative which has built security in over the last few years.
The target here is interoperability: an authentication routine could run in one VM and the actual transaction in another, while the wireless stack for connectivity runs on the same processor in yet another. Although this may sound like a proliferation of OSes with the potential for overload, VirtualLogix says otherwise. Firstly, the company argues, because CPU utilization by the actual virtualization software is negligible, around just 1%. More importantly, however, the OSes would of course be sharing, but most apps would be sequential rather than concurrent, with only the wireless stack needing to run at the same time.