The problem with mobile phones, says Allan Knies, associate director of Intel Research at Berkeley, is that everyone wants them to perform like a regular computer, despite their relatively paltry hardware. Byung-Gon Chun, a research scientist at Intel Research Berkeley, thinks that he might have the solution to that problem: create a supercharged clone of your smart phone that lives in “the cloud” and let it do all the computational heavy lifting that your phone is too wimpy to handle.
CloneCloud, invented by Chun and his colleague Petros Maniatis, uses a smart phone’s high-speed connection to the Internet to communicate with a copy of itself that lives in a cloud-computing environment on remote servers. The prototype runs on Google’s Android mobile operating system and seamlessly offloads processor-intensive tasks to its cloud-based double. Details of the project will be revealed at the HotOS XII conference in Switzerland later this month.
It’s a trick not unlike the way that many Web-based applications, such as Google Docs, run on remote servers. The difference is that because CloneCloud creates a perfect copy of the phone’s software, it can take on literally any processor-intensive task that it calculates it can do faster than the phone itself, after weighing the amount of time and battery life required to transfer the required data.
The big benefit of CloneCloud is battery-life extension, which would naturally follow from lower utilization of the phone’s CPU. Chun imagines that this could become a competitive advantage for vendors, like free voice mail or unlimited data plans.
But CloneCloud wouldn’t just make smart phones more efficient: it could also make them more capable. A test application developed by Chun performs face recognition on photos. It required 100 seconds of processor time on a standard Android phone, but it finished in only one second when run by a clone of the phone running on a desktop computer. Because the software runs on a cloud-computing platform, it can be scaled in terms of the amount of both memory allocated and processing power, both of which increase performance on computationally intensive tasks.
Security could be an important potential application of CloneCloud. Ya-Yunn Su, a researcher at NEC Laboratories, in New Jersey, who previously developed a prototype system similar to CloneCloud, notes that “as smart phones become mini general-purpose computers, more of the problems we see in desktops, like viruses, will become smart-phone problems.” Virus scans, which involve checking the entire file system of a device, are exactly the sort of process that Chun envisions CloneCloud accomplishing in the background, even while the smart phone is off.