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Will virtual mobile infrastructure give users secure access to apps?

New kid on the block virtual mobile infrastructure lets you run VMs with Android applications in the data center and then deliver those apps to any endpoint.

VMI -- virtual mobile infrastructure -- could be the next big thing in the desktop virtualization world.

The prevalence of mobile applications and the underlying need to deliver Windows applications to mobile devices using traditional desktop virtualization techniques means that it was only a matter of time before the two concepts merged. Two companies -- Raytheon Cyber Products and Hypori -- have created products that some are calling VMI, and more products from more vendors are sure to follow.

The block diagram for virtual mobile infrastructure looks much like any diagram for desktop virtualization. Android virtual machines (no iOS because, you know, Apple) run in the data center on a run-of-the-mill hypervisor, and a broker routes users to applications that run on those Android virtual machines via some sort of remote protocol. The Android apps can be delivered to any endpoint, even iOS.

Use cases for virtual mobile infrastructure

The first thing worth noting about VMI is that it's not about delivering mobile apps to desktop devices. You could do that, but it would certainly fall prey to the same issues that come with trying to run Windows applications on mobile devices: Just like running an application meant for a keyboard and mouse on a touch-based device can be an insufferable experience, it can also be a pain to use a touch-based app on a desktop device.

The real use case for virtual mobile infrastructure, at least initially, is for secure access to mobile applications.

Today, companies have a hard time keeping their mobile devices secure enough to allow users to have corporate apps and data on them. But, users are savvier than ever, and they can often find ways to work around corporate restrictions. Sure, it involves rooting or jailbreaking devices, but that's never been easier.

The users aren't typically going around IT and company rules with malicious intent. Rather, they're trying to make their devices work the way they want them to so they can do their jobs better. It's a constant struggle between security and user experience, and in one way or another it's always been around.

VMI helps address this concern by relieving IT departments of the need to worry about the mobile device itself -- the application and its data reside in a data center. The application is delivered to the endpoint via a remote protocol, which is decoded by a client app running on the mobile device. If you want, you can even let the client app even expose local hardware like GPS, accelerometers and cameras to the remote app so it behaves as if it were running locally.

There's no data on the endpoint, no virtual private network to configure, and no need to worry about a compromised device having access to your corporate network, data and applications.

If you've been around since the dawn of desktop virtualization in the mid- tolate-90s, you've no doubt heard this before. It is the exact same script that we used to describe what was once called "thin client computing" before the term desktop virtualization was adopted -- what's old has become new again.

In its infancy, desktop virtualization had a very niche use case, but VMI appeals to a much broader audience. Almost all companies, educational institutions and government agencies are struggling with the best way to include mobile devices securely in each environment without over-managing and under-securing the devices. VMI could be the answer.

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