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Citrix acquires Virtual -- could a VMI product be on its way?

Citrix bought Virtual, a company that makes an ARM-based hypervisor for mobile app test and dev and boasts a who's who of security experts on its staff. The acquisition seems natural, but what will come out of it remains to be seen.

As if in response to last week's column about how virtual mobile infrastructure is creeping into the collective mobile consciousness, Citrix made a bit of a splash by acquiring a company called Virtual.

Virtual makes an ARM-based hypervisor for mobile application testing and development. It views the hypervisor approach as a much better alternative to emulators because a hypervisor lets you run the applications and their OSes (both Android and iOS) on nearly native hardware configurations for a wide range of devices and form factors.

Along with Virtual come a few big names in the market, chiefly Nick Allegra, the person behind JailbreakMe and focus of a Forbes bio at the age of 19. The founder of Virtual, Chris Wade, was involved in the development of Cydia, which if you're unfamiliar is the "App Store" of the jailbroken world. Both have ties to security and hardware, as well. In many ways, Citrix acquired Virtual just to get its hands on the employees.

Citrix buys Virtual: Not a huge surprise

Then there's Virtual's technology. Citrix has its own mobile applications as part of XenMobile and Worx, so the company could benefit from a tool that lets it test and secure applications on as many devices as possible. Citrix can also put the ARM-based hypervisor to use with its many partner ISVs that want to certify their apps as Worx-enabled.

You don't have to take a leap of faith to see where this could be going in the short term. Who better than Citrix -- the original creator of the "any application, any device, any connection" mantra -- to be involved on the ground floor of remotely delivering mobile applications?

The benefits of this are the exact same as they were in the early days of desktop virtualization: Your applications and their data do not reside on the device, the applications can be closer to the data, you can run apps written for one platform on an otherwise incompatible device, and so on. It's Citrix WinFrame all over again.

Long term, Citrix could do any number of things with this kind of technology. The company could release a mobile hypervisor that runs on phones, but don't hold your breath on that one. You might recall VMware trying that a few years ago. Aside from being a cool party trick (like running Windows on an iPhone), nobody cared. But with Virtual's technology and the personnel, there's a lot that Citrix could do around security. And I'm sure Citrix has big plans, but we're sort of in the dark for the time being.

Citrix is trying to take advantage of the changing IT landscape. Today, there might be a large use case for VMI, but we're sure to see some use cases fall by the wayside while others that we haven't even thought of yet rise to the top. That's what Citrix is hoping to get out of the combination of the Virtual's technology and talent. Exactly how Virtual will be integrated with Citrix's product line remains to be seen. Frankly, it's not certain that Citrix would even release a VMI-like product, but the pieces are certainly there.  

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For running a corporate phone instance on BYOD phones, VMware developed a mobile type 2 hypervisor, managed android phone VMs, attendant customizable corporate app store and virtual SIMs years ago but the wireless carriers refused to sign on and allow virtualization erosion of their hardware sales as the server vendors had seen, insisting instead that users buy special and vastly more expensive dual SIM phones. Predictably the technology failed to take off domestically.