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VMware (NYSE:VMW) is interested in mobile virtualization, but appears to be facing an innovator’s dilemma. The company has so much growth ahead with server, desktop and data center virtualization that it may miss the boat on mobile.

That theory on VMware and mobile virtualization was sparked by a panel at GigaOm’s Mobilize conference last week. The panel featured a few odd exchanges where a VMware executive was talking about the lack of mobile virtualization use cases while another CEO was touting it.

What struck me is how odd it was that VMware was almost pooh poohing the idea of mobile virtualization—at least for now.

Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director for mobile solutions at VMware, said there wasn’t a use case for mobile virtualization. Krishnamurti’s point is that the mobile distribution channel is different, perhaps too different to warrant much attention. Carriers, mobile OS makers and app creators all want a piece of the revenue pie and need a reason to want virtualization, he said.

“If there were killer applications (for mobile virtualization) there would be uses already,” said Krishnamurti. “We haven’t found the compelling ROI yet.”

After all, the use of hypervisors on servers and PCs would be added after a purchase. Handset virtualization needs to be embedded. “Each party will ask ‘what’s in it for me and why do I need a new layer of software?’” said Krishnamurti.

The big question here is whether VMware was focused on mobile virtualization ROI for its own business or customers overall.

Steve Subar, CEO of Open Kernel Labs, repeatedly countered Krishnamurti’s take on mobile virtualization. Subar said the killer apps are “enterprise enablement on mobile devices.” Virtualization gives companies more mobile security and allows IT managers to isolate enterprise apps from data.

Subar added that Open Kernel Labs has installed its virtualization software on 700 million handsets. Subar argued that handset makers are eyeing virtualization to deliver a smartphone experience for lower costs.

Add it up and Subar is saying a mobile virtualization inflection point is around the corner. Krishnamurti is betting that mobile virtualization will take more time to take off. It’ll be interesting to see which side turns out to be right.

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Source: Will VMware Miss the Mobile Virtualization Curve?