When Virtual Environments Get Too Heavy

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As an encryption security vendor that is working its way into Mobile Device Management (MDM), I’m fascinated and constantly looking at new ways to secure mobile devices and company information. As someone with a background in virtualized environments, I’m even more intrigued when companies like VMWare introduce solutions.

The company has recently introduced (in beta) VMWare Horizon Mobile, which is effectively a virtualization solution for mobile devices. It’s a very interesting take on how to address the concept and growing trend of employees bringing their own device (BYOD) to work. With VMWare Horizon Mobile an organization can have separation of ‘church and state’ on mobile devices, sandboxing corporate information away from personal user information.

A fantastic idea in concept, but I have to wonder about the execution and complexity of it all. On the one hand, it’s a great way to create a secure container and enable any application to be deployed without any app-specific wrapping. On the other hand, the idea of running a virtual environment on a mobile device raises a lot of questions, most notably about performance.

Now VMWare has introduced this solution for Android and iOS with two seemingly different approaches. It’s the Android approach that really has me questioning the viability of the solution. As someone who regularly works with virtual environments for software testing, I know from experience that virtual environments can have significant impacts on a desktop or laptop performance.

In a virtual machine (VM) there’s a large file for the software or OS ‘image’ that takes up memory on the device; that OS when running, is very taxing on system memory and CPU performance. When memory and CPU are going full-out, battery life is impacted. We’re talking about desk-based computers, not tablets and smartphones that run lower-powered processors and less overall memory. Add those mobile devices into this scenario and it’s difficult to see how this would work effectively.

The iOS approach seems to be a much better solution than the one that’s been developed for Android. Application virtualization for separating corporate data on smartphones and tablets seems much more likely as the device could be used in places where it’s not possible to connect to something like WiFi.

Application streaming with a server back-end is less taxing on the hardware and could be backed by VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) farms which in turn could have each user’s workload and data encrypted as per corporate policy.

As we look at data security solutions for cloud and virtual environments, we know firsthand how complicated it can be and how there is a great deal of room for various solutions. It will be interesting to see more technical data and independent technical analysis of how this VMWare Horizon Mobile solution performs in traditional environments.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Nadia Noori
    Dec 4, 2012 4:33 PM

    Great post. and I agree totally with the fact that virtual environments are heavy on the hardware as I work with virtual machines (VM) all the time too for development and sometimes I just sit and watch dev server die when I fire up the vm's (often we need to work with many!) so let alone a PC or a laptop!

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