Virtualization and the smartphone

Virtualization is a term that has taken some time to internalize for me. My introduction with virtualization was as far back as 1992 when Windows 3.1 introduced the 386 enhanced mode, and the ability to run multiple DOS sessions with each session being independent of each other but having a separate 640KB space available to each virtual DOS session (can you believe we had operating systems that ran in 128KB?) .

My “play” machine is an Intel I7 based notebook with 8GB RAM, 1TB Hard disk, runs Windows 8 Pro and using the Hyper-V virtualizer runs for me a virtualized Windows 7, and Ubuntu 12.04 (64 bit) concurrently. My Ubuntu virtual environment quite often runs a virtual android device too (recursive virtualization?). Everything running at once, and I’ll be damned…it’s faster than my “work” notebook (Intel I5, 4GB) running my work operating system…OUTLOOK!

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013) earlier this month, the best demo that I saw was at the Ubuntu booth. They had a Samsung Galaxy S III phone, that when you plug it into a docking station (Display, keyboard, mouse) would run a complete Ubuntu desktop version concurrently with the Android that is already running on the phone.

There has been a lot of talk about Ubuntu’s other announcement of building a phone operating system but this one got my interest. Think of the possibilities, you can carry your entire computing environment around with you, and plug it into another device to give it context. So based on what you plug it into the device can morph to what you want !!

This was running a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 architecture, and piggybacks off some modifications to the Android kernel. Newer devices launching this year are going to be running quad-core ARM Cortex A15 architecture, which has the ability to run each core separately, and you can actually run a separate operating system on each of the cores. I don’t really expect to see a virtualized IOS/Android/Windows phone anytime soon, but think about the performance that you can put in the background.

I got to discussing the demo and it’s possibilities with Pat McGowan, Director of Engineering and Product Strategy at Canonical (company the ships ubuntu). A lot of this is already available and can be used in your designs, the potential is huge…

The smartphone has become the window into the world around us. With features like these the smartphone will be able to acquire context, of where we are and what we want to do, and provide today what we only saw in the movies.

An ancient Chinese curse says “May you live in Interesting times…” We most definitely are


*Published in EE Times India