freshidea - Fotolia

VMI security benefits could drive adoption, but roadblocks remain

Virtual mobile infrastructure has yet to gain widespread adoption. It improves app and data security, but OS restrictions pose some problems.

Virtual mobile infrastructure is still in its early days, but the technology draws attention for its security capabilities.

Virtual mobile infrastructure (VMI) allows IT to host a mobile operating system on a secure server, virtualize its apps and deliver them to end users' devices. Mobile apps reside on the server, rather than on the local device, which helps protect their data in case of loss or theft.  That's the main appeal of VMI security.

These apps can run on any mobile OS, but because Apple prohibits iOS installation on servers, VMI can only virtualize and deliver Android apps. And users can't access Google Play, either.

Here, Israel Lifshitz, founder and CEO at VMI vendor Nubo Software, addresses these concerns and explains VMI security as well as the technology's use cases.

How can VMI catch on if it doesn't support iOS apps?

Israel Lifshitz: Nubo has a thin client solution [that sends the Android UI to iOS devices], so we can install it on Android and iOS. On the server side, the operating system is actually hosted in the customer's [Android] server. It's something you can do with Android because it's open source. We see that as an advantage because you have one platform you need to develop for.

The second thing that concerns some customers is that it would be hard for iOS users to get used to the Android user interface. We do not see that as a problem. If you look at any app on a mobile device, usually all those apps look the same in Android and iOS, so it's very easy for the user to work with.

VMI providers are not licensed to use Google Mobile Services. Is that an issue?

Israel Lifshitz, founder and CEO of VMI vendor Nubo SoftwareIsrael Lifshitz, founder
and CEO, Nubo Software

Lifshitz: In the enterprise you don't want [users to have] direct access to Google Play. You want to allow enterprise app stores for security and compliance reasons. This is much easier with VMI. You can add any Android app to [an enterprise app store] ... it's a safe environment.

What are the security benefits of VMI?

Lifshitz: There is zero data on the device. It's much easier to secure everything if it is in your server.

With VMI, you just need to make sure your central server is secure.
Israel Lifshitzfounder and CEO, Nubo Software

There are lots of threats to mobile devices and desktops that are related to remote display protocols, because people can find the weaknesses in them. With VMI, you just need to make sure that one protocol is safe and it does not have a direct link to data or apps.

What are some trends fueling the VMI market?

Lifshitz: It's really a problem to secure what's inside a device. With the local container approach ... even if you are not allowing the app outside the container, you have the risk that the employees decide to do that themselves, which leads to the shadow IT problem: They install it locally instead. In recent months we've seen more corporate environments have problems with local containers, and they're looking for other solutions.

Now there are more and more contract employees. With contract employees, you can't effectively add mobile device management or enterprise mobility management because you cannot legally or practically control their devices, because they're not your employees. With VMI, it's much easier because you can have one VMI app for each employee.

What are the biggest use cases for VMI?

Lifshitz: The biggest use case is if you want a fully secure BYOD model. With VMI, [IT] can offer a fully secure BYOD device with all the apps in it.

Next Steps

Another view on VMI

Why VMI might not catch on

The U.S. military puts VMI to use

Dig Deeper on Application modernization and mobile app delivery