A return to the Garden of IT with mobile device virtualization?

Mobile device virtualization paves the way to a dual persona, but is that good for IT?

I am not a mobile device virtualization maven, but I have to play one in an upcoming article. Reporting for this story, I got a sense of the sheer magnitude of technical calculations and vendor claims (not to mention their backstabbing, trash-talking and gossip -- whoa, these vendor guys can be fun) CIOs must sort through when deciding on a new technology.

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci

Mobile device virtualization comes in many flavors, including the relatively rare "true virtualization offerings," which require a Type 1 or Type 2 hypervisor put right on the device (not so easy), and the more common "containerized application" approach. The cast of potential characters ranges from a big virtualization software maker to smart-talking, think-tanky, whiz-kid upstarts to mobile device management (MDM) providers masquerading as mobile virtualizers -- "masquerading" because (cue the trash talk) they don't control the root. (Joke from a Type 1 hypervisor vendor: "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the display driver.")

Then, of course, there is the army of MDM companies laughing all the way to bank as they cash in on the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend by selling a "good enough" alternative to the complexities of virtualizing a mobile device. For -- make no mistake -- the technical subtleties, political battles, and marketplace warfare brewing in the quest to make a virtual smartphone/tablet/TV/automobile/washing machine are mind-boggling.

While IT departments regain control of corporate assets, they do not encroach on users' personal tech freedoms. Separate but equal.

But the really big surprise for me, in this foray into mobile device virtualization, was how a topic as wonkily straightforward as "What is mobile device virtualization and why would CIOs use it?" holds a conundrum -- actually, philosophical agonies -- for the  CIO as he or she plots a path to enterprise mobile IT.

Mobile device virtualization can mean many things, I am learning, but at its core is the miracle that made server virtualization such a hit in the enterprise: the ability to run multiple operating systems on a single piece of hardware. Whereas the seduction of server virtualization was cost savings on hardware, the prime attraction of the virtual smartphone/mobile device is the ability to encapsulate dual-but-isolated personas on a single device -- one persona for work and one for personal use. What a wonderful idea! Creating a work persona puts enterprise IT in command of the enterprise's technology assets and in control of the security, access rules and governance to keep them safe. Lo, IT staffers are back in the garden of IT where they lived so happily for so many years before consumer IT -- but with an important difference: While IT departments regain control of corporate assets, they do not encroach on users' personal tech freedoms. Separate but equal. Some offerings even include an option for separate billing.

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It's the best of both worlds -- if not today, then at least on the [VMware] horizon. These dual-persona phones will certainly be the future for Android devices. Apple is another matter, showing little interest in allowing vendors access to the hooks needed for dual-persona devices. Still, even getting a handle on the many versions of Android devices flooding the enterprise would be godsend enough for beleaguered IT departments trying to stay on top of BYOD. Paradise regained.

But not every BYOD advocate is on board. One expert argues that dual personas don't make sense because our personal and professional worlds are so intertwined. What happens to the personal contact who is also a work contact, or the boss who is also a business partner? Where does a dual persona fit into social business, as the E2.0'ers call it, where confluence of interest trumps conflict of interest? And besides, I was told, isn't toggling back and forth between work and personal personas on the same device like carrying two phones -- and who wants to go back to that?

The device is still the message. Mobile device virtualization -- at least in its dual persona incarnation -- will put IT back in the basement, or worse, relegate IT to the role of corporate Big Brother, I was told.  A more elegant solution, someone ventured, is to go granular, to tag data with more information so it knows if it is personal or corporate. Or, as a Type 1 hypervisor provider suggested, why stop at two personas? Why not five personas, or 10: one for editor Linda, another for writer Linda, freelance Linda, LinkedIn Linda, shade-garden Linda, Breaking Bad Linda? "Yeah, or maybe 13, as in the Sybil Linda," I was thinking, marveling once again at how technology raises the big questions.

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Linda Tucci, Executive Editor asks:

Do you plan to use mobile device virtualization to get a handle on BYOD?

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