Mobile Virtualization Bringing One Phone for Both Work and Play

LG Electronics and VMware (s vmw) today jointly announced a partnership to bring virtualization to smartphones in the enterprise next year. With VMware’s technology on Google Android (s goog) handsets from LG, one smartphone can be used securely in the workplace with personal and enterprise accounts kept completely separate on a single device. This effort can help I.T. departments who face a growing number of employees wishing to choose or carry their own mobile phone without needing a second device for work.

The concept of virtualization isn’t new; users have run Microsoft Windows (s msft) simultaneously on a Mac computer in a virtual machine since Apple (s aapl) moved to Intel (s intc) processors in 2006, for example. The idea is that software can act like hardware and effectively create a virtually working computer environment within a physical one, which can save on hardware costs. These virtual machines are fairly common today on powerful desktops and notebooks, but are now about to filter down to handsets thanks to improved processing power of smartphones.

Today’s announcement from LG and VMware follows just months after we held a mobile virtualization panel at our Mobilize conference in September. At the time, Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director for mobile solutions at VMware, suggested there wasn’t yet a use case for widespread virtualization on mobiles. But smartphone sales are quickly rising; they’re expected to surpass computer sales by the end of 2012. As enterprise workers buy personal smartphones, they’re not likely to find it appealing to carry both their own phone and a work phone. I’d say Krishnamurti has found his use case.

Using personal devices in the workplace adds support and security challenges to the enterprise, however, which is why corporations often standardize their computing and mobile device choices. Supporting and maintaining a fleet of similar — or exactly the same — devices is more cost-effective than attempting to do so with a vast range of hardware and software throughout the enterprise. Mixing personal accounts with work accounts on a single device today increases data security risks, as well. This video demo from Engadget demonstrates how the virtualization software effectively keeps work and personal lives separate on a single phone.

In theory, VMware’s mobile virtualization solution resolves both support and security issues. Some LG Android (s goog) devices in 2011 will be capable of running “a work account in isolation from a user’s personal account on a single mobile device,” said LG in today’s news release. One tap of the screen, for example, effectively changes the entire look and feel of a smartphone with virtualization When in “enterprise mode”, the phone signs into an employee account and only shows workplace apps, contacts and data. Another tap can pause the virtual machine for work and revert back to the native, personal handset.

To be sure, LG and VMware aren’t making the first attempt to use one device for both work and pleasure; T-Mobile recently began to offer a similar solution, but with a different approach. The company worked with HTC to create simple profile switching on its myTouch 3G Slide earlier this year. That may work for some, but the solution isn’t as secure as virtualization, which truly acts like multiple machines, each with separate data.

In any case, both types of solutions are likely to become more prominent as employees look for ways to bring their personal device into the workplace without causing support nightmares or security breaches. The fact that LG and VMware chose Android isn’t all that surprising, but it’sworth noting as well. Because of the platform’s open-source and Linux underpinnings, it’s likely the best candidate for such solutions.

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