The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon has not just pervaded corporate offices. Today, doctors, real estate agents, police officers, and many others are bringing their devices to work. With the proliferation of mobile devices in boardrooms and in classrooms, IT administrators must develop new ways to support a diverse array of tablets and phones. They must find new ways to provision software and to protect end user devices, while yielding control to the employees that purchased their own devices.
Because of the security and management challenges introduced by mobile devices, the BYOD trend has paved the way for another trend: Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI). VMI allows organizations to host Android apps on servers and allow users to securely access the apps from their own phone or tablet. VMI enables organizations to:
- Develop apps once and support any mobile device
- Centralize and simplify mobile app management
- Monitor user activity for unauthorized access or data exfiltration
- Enforce strong authentication and encryption
But not all VMI solutions are equal. While VDI and app virtualization products have been around for over two decades, remote access solutions for Android are relatively new. Therefore, prospective customers must carefully evaluate potential solutions and make sure that the products they purchase will meet their performance requirements and will support their Android applications.
Mobile App Virtualization vs. Full OS Virtualization
There are two main VMI architectures today: virtualizing individual Android applications—also called mobile app virtualization—and running a full Android operating system. With mobile app virtualization, organizations can run multiple, isolated and secure app instances on a single Android operating system. Each user’s data is stored separately, ensuring that users can save their settings and access them later.
Mobile App Virtualization and Full OS Virtualization architectures. Mobile App Virtualization provides unprecedented performance and app density.
Because mobile app virtualization does not need to run a separate Android VM per user, it delivers eight to ten times better density compared to full OS virtualization. As a result, mobile app virtualization reduces the number of servers needed to host VMI, it lowers hardware and operating costs, and it streamlines management.
If organizations plan to host a unique Android VM for every user in the cloud, they could quickly rack up expensive bills. This is because most cloud providers charge for every VM instance. If an organization has one thousand concurrent users, they would need to pay for one thousand VMs. Managing VMs in a corporate data center would be equally expensive; organizations would incur higher IT management and capital costs. Plus, hosting a separate VM per user would necessitate high-performance storage hardware—similar to what Windows VDI customers must purchase today.
Instead, organizations should consider a VMI architecture based on mobile app virtualization. Rendering images inline and processing display data and input events at the application level, which is only possible with mobile app virtualization, maximizes performance and density. Combining mobile app virtualization with secure containers ensures that each user session is isolated. And mobile app virtualization brings other benefits like accelerating application “boot up time” when users launch VMI sessions.
Purpose-built Android Architectures Compared to QEMU Emulation
Besides relying on full OS virtualization, many VMI products use QEMU emulation to host Android instances. QEMU is an emulation tool that is useful developers to test Android on Intel servers. Unfortunately, using QEMU emulation limits VM density and it also makes it much more difficult to take advantage of server features like GPU acceleration. Mobile app virtualization using a purpose-built architecture offers immense advantages compared to full Android stack virtualization either using a QEMU emulation, hypervisors, or LXC style containers, such as:
- Zero latency new session establishment as there is no need to boot Android
- Very low server CPU and memory requirements; an Android instance will need approximately 2GB RAM, while an Android application will just need around 32 to 64MB RAM.
- The ability to avoid complex IT infrastructures like SAN, Network switches, VM IP address management because a single server is enough to serve a large number of users.
- Reduced hardware, operating, data center cooling, and space costs, because mobile app virtualization delivers 10x to 20x greater app density per server.
Seven Things You Need to Know about VMI
Mobile app virtualization is only one factor to consider when looking virtual mobile infrastructure solutions. You also must consider client support, usability, deployment, and other requirements. To help you develop your evaluation criteria, we have published a white paper that lists the seven features you should look for when evaluating VMI. To learn more, download the white paper “7 Things You Need to Know about Virtual Mobile Infrastructure.”
 Density estimate based on a 16 MB mobile app running on a 1 GB Android system.