Mobile virtualization is one of the biggest new words in the IT lexicon. Essentially, this design concept brings the benefits of enterprise hardware virtualization to the portable mobile phone. But what does mobile virtualization do, really, and why are people so excited about it?

With mobile virtualization, smartphone makers can allow for multiple operating systems to run on one device.

Rather than forcing all design elements to interact with the "bare metal hardware" and a single, resident operating system, virtualization means that software designers can port external platforms onto a device in much more flexible ways. In a sense, mobile virtualization can split one smart phone into two or more smartphones, or separate some of the core processes that a device handles. It can allow for two very different operating systems to reside on that single hardware piece, individually and completely separate from each other.

Here are five of the big things that mobile virtualization is promising for actual device users and enterprise administrators.

Stopping Security People From Having Fits

Security administrators at companies have been trying to fix the "BYOD problem" for years.

BYOD or "Bring Your Own Device" is a system in which a company allows employees to use personal smartphones and mobile devices for work. This is a win-win in a lot of ways -companies don't have to assign specific work devices, and employees don't have to carry a work phone and a personal phone. But it's also raised huge security issues, especially in sensitive fields like health care and finance. For example, what if somebody loses a personal phone that has corporate data on it? What if somebody outside of the company sees sensitive data, because it's on the personal phone display?

Mobile virtualization puts many of these fears to rest. The company's data can be housed on a separate operating system with separate security architecture. Then the phone holder can tap, gesture and scroll away, and access all of the fun games and other stuff on his or her personal phone, without jeopardizing trade secrets or client information.

Letting Your Toddler Play With Your Phone Safely

For working parents, BYOD has also meant there is a very fine line between communicating digitally on the job, and raising a family. Many of us have seen the interesting TV commercial where a baby orders hundreds of sets of encyclopedias by banging away on mom or dad's tablet. But although it's a cute idea, it's also very realistic. Dual-use smart phones for working parents create all kinds of awkward situations like these:

  • Baby accidentally calls coworkers
  • Baby alters or destroys a working document
  • Baby executes some kind of software process with random touchscreen gestures
You get the idea. Again, with mobile virtualization, having the phone on during off hours doesn't create these kinds of awkward work/life balance problems.

Using More of Your Phone’s Processing Power

You've probably heard about one of the biggest issues in neuroscience — statistics that show that we only use, say, 10% of our brain power at once.

With individual mobile platforms, the same can be true of a mobile device. There might be lots of processing power and memory to go around, but there aren't any demands placed on it beyond what that system is doing.

Mobile virtualization also helps change this equation. For example, this article from Embedded Computing Design shows how smartphone makers run two separate CPUs on two different operating systems on the same phone, for a number of reasons. One is to prevent malware from corrupting the tools used for voice and related communications. So one CPU runs communications, and the other runs apps. It’s not hard to see how useful this is for users, and if you’ve ever wondered why it is that mobile systems seem so much more secure than old-school laptop or desktop systems, this likely plays a significant role.

Using Old Apps Without an Emulator

Mobile virtualization can also be a game-changer in cases where users want to "go retro" or use applications that don't have support on a standard modern operating system.

Those looking for support for old games, office suites, or other older applications have often been told to "go get an emulator." Emulators can be great for running old programs, but they can also cause their own burdens. Emulators can clog up the system or decrease memory, or be tricky to install or uninstall.

By having an older operating system installed on a mobile device, you'll be able to get access to an environment for those hard-to-find or obsolete applications without running emulators. For example, this will be a perfect solution for people who really like the software they used to use on some old version of Apple or Android OS, and are really, really mad that they're now being forced to use apps for a newer operating system.

Getting Ready for IoT Customization

With so many new kinds of devices slated for Internet connection, the time is ripe for manufacturers to start using virtualization for better multi-functioning and security purposes, some of which are mentioned above. Ready for Internet-connected refrigerators, toasters and hairdryers? Virtualization can help solve the questions of how these items will be administrated by gateways to the global connected Web. For example, the emergence of a dedicated home-area network or HAN is a critical design element of how the tech world is preparing for the Internet of Things expansion that’s soon to turn our homes and workplaces into new landscapes, featuring an exotic array of increasingly sentient machines.

In a general sense, mobile virtualization is a product of the concept of hardware virtualization bleeding out from a core enterprise environment into the world of consumer electronics — because we're going to need the kinds of multifunctionality and design that big companies now have, in order to keep advancing the new technologies that become routine parts of our daily lives. So look for more virtualization in all of the neat new electronic gear that you see coming on the market.