The Consumerization Conundrum: Why Virtual Machines Won't Work On Mobile Devices

In Forrester’s Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, Q4 2011, we learned that 60% of information workers use their devices for work and personal tasks. This dual use of PCs, smartphones, and tablets is a growing concern. One common idea is to create a virtual machine on mobile devices, in the same way that Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware products enable hosted virtual desktops on PCs. But this idea of having a “virtual smartphone for work” within your personal smartphone simply won’t work; it’s just as bad and impractical an idea as having two separate physical smartphones! Both approaches create separate spheres of work and personal that simply don’t reflect the seamless way that many people have to switch back and forth between work and personal tasks (excluding top-secret government work, of course).

I heard about a better idea this week. What if mobile device OSes enabled separate containers or sandboxes, under the covers, for enterprise applications and their data?

The idea is to have low-level separation in the OS architecture, supported and controlled by enteprise policy and certificates, that is transparent to the user. So the screen full of icons would allow us to mix work and personal icons any way we please, but they’d be separate under the covers. So the experience would be like that of looking at the overall address book on your smartphone, which on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone all integrate your contacts from different sources into one seamless list — even though they are separate on the back end.

Then, if your smartphone is lost or you leave the company, the help desk staff can wipe out the apps and data in the enterprise sandbox without affecting your personal information. Apple’s iCloud links apps and data together in isolated sets, so this design may be a precursor to implementing an enterprise sandbox. It would also be possible to set a policy for apps and data to be deleted if the mobile device doesn’t connect for more a month, for example.

Have you heard of any ideas to solve work personal separation in mobile devices? Please let me know.

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