Remember when we wrote about Open Kernel Labs? Their mobile virtualization technology is back in the form of Cog Systems. Today at Mobile World Congress, Cog Systems announced the commercial availability of a version of the HTC One A9 phone that includes their type-1 hypervisor. I talked to Carl Nerup, Cog Systems’ CMO, to learn more.
Four or five years ago, we covered a spate of specialized Android phones for the enterprise, many of them touting dual work and personal environments. Besides Open Kernel, there was VMware’s Mobile Virtualization Platform, Cellrox, Red Bend, Graphite, and more. None of these ever really took off, and they drifted out of the EMM conversation as better iOS MDM, Samsung Knox, Android for Work, MAM, and other improvements came along.
For Open Kernel Labs, the enterprise efforts we covered were just a side project. Their virtualization technology was actually in many devices, but at a lower lever, involving OEMs—not exposed to enterprise customers.
Open Kernel was acquired by General Dynamics in 2012, but then General Dynamics phased out Open Kernel engineering in early 2014. Some of the Open Kernel team then went off and started Cog Systems. For a few years, they’ve been doing professional services related to hypervisors, kernels, and security; now they’re moving into products.
Cog Systems now offers the D4 Secure Platform, an SDK and services that can be used in a variety of ways for mobile and other small ARM devices. As of today, they’re selling the HTC One A9, secured with their hypervisor technology, for the first time commercially.
As I alluded earlier, the enterprise mobility market has changed a lot in the last 5 years. While in the past, vendors were exploring the idea of using mobile virtualization to separate work and personal apps and data, now most OSes have these features built in.
Cog Systems is keeping the commercial Android image in the A9—the user experience is completely normal, you can manage it with regular MDM, it can get OTA updates, and it behaves just like a regular phone. Then underneath it all is their type-1 hypervisor, with components like a non-bypassable VPN, the keystore, encryption, kernel protection, the entropy engine, and drivers for wifi, the modem, and storage all isolated in their own virtual machines.
Despite all the advances in general-purpose devices and EMM, there’s still a market for higher-security devices—think along the lines of three-letter agencies. Cog Systems has trials running in research organizations in the DoD, as well as the NSA Information Assurance Directorate. They also see a commercial market in oil and gas, finance, and other industries that would appreciate a tight link to the phone.
Another differentiator is that Cog Systems will sell their version of the HTC One A9 for the same price as the commercial version, at $499, making it palatable to buy for large numbers of employees.
As you can see, Cog Systems’ model is quite a bit different from the previous generation of specialized enterprise phones, and now they’re also pushing their expertise for IoT. I think the normal commercial experience and mid range device gives this a better chance of succeeding than many other specialty products, and I look forward to watching this space.