In-Depth

The Telecom Market: Ripe for Virtualization?

VMware's acquisition of Trango is drawing mobile virtualization into the spotlight.

Is telecom the next big thing in virtualization? That's what at least some observers think as the industry digests the news about VMware's purchase of Trango Virtual Processors last October.

In virtualization, most of the telecom activity currently centers on mobile phones. There are a handful of vendors that have staked a claim in this market including VirtualLogix, Open Kernel Labs, HipLogix and Green Hills Software. But when industry bellwether VMware took aim at this market segment with a formal announcement in November, it suddenly became a bustling boomtown.

How big is the market opportunity? Data projections are a bit hard to come by as most industry analyst forecasts tend to focus on the IT market alone. So far, telecom has been under the radar or, in some cases, has been treated as simply another vertical market segment alongside financial or health care. A market forecast of major virtualization segments developed by Credit Suisse, for example, provided breakouts for application virtualization, desktop virtualization, PC disk virtualization, presentation virtualization and server virtualization, but nothing for telecom. Of course, telecom itself is a huge market.

The market that Trango and its competitors have been addressing is quite specific and centers on the product development of mobile phones and PDAs. In many respects, the timing couldn't be better. The mobile phone industry is going through an upheaval because of the tendency for carriers such as AT&T and Verizon to lock in customers with proprietary handsets. And it's the inflexibility of the hardware which perpetuates that cycle.

Mobile handset manufacturers such as Nokia and Motorola suffer from inflexible product development constraints as a result of the fact that operating systems are still married to hardware. With the current approach, software stacks will not work across different phones and must be ported separately. When that changes using virtualization -- essentially, the same type of virtualization available for PCs on the desktop -- mobile phone vendors will not only be able to bring products to market more quickly, they'll be able to innovate and perhaps better compete with the likes of Apple and Google.

Trango's bare-metal hypervisor optimized for telecom applications (now rebranded as VMware's Mobile Virtualization Platform or MVP) does just that, according to Srinivas Krishnamurti, director of product management and market development for VMware.

Right now, most of VMware's competitors in this space are smaller startups. Microsoft has yet to make any major announcement about its intentions in this market even though it is heavily involved in the mobile-device OS business. Citrix, on the other hand, has recognized the value in this market opportunity and is working on virtualization software that will securely migrate a Windows desktop to an iPhone (this would apply to both XenApp and XenDesktop product lines).

According to a research report from California-based analyst firm Pund-IT, "The market for mobile virtualization is very small but its potential is too large for serious vendors to ignore...we believe that VMware's MVP stands to be the heaviest hitter in a game with virtually unlimited possibilities."

About the Author

Tom Valovic is a freelance technology writer.

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