It is no secret that Android is today’s dominant mobile operating system, powering more than 3 million apps on billions of devices around the world.
With the increasing demand for performance-hungry experiences, the team at Canonical – the publisher of Ubuntu – noted that there was no platform to virtualize mobile devices at scale in the cloud.
“As a leader in the open-source community, we did not want to stand there waiting until someone figured out how to take mobile application performance to the next level,” says Galem Kayo, product manager at Canonical. “We identified the opportunity to create something that did not exist, so we decided to.”
What resulted is Anbox Cloud, a scalable “Android in the cloud” solution that allows Enterprises and service providers to securely deliver mobile applications from the cloud, independent of a device’s capabilities.
Users on both sides of Anbox Cloud reap benefits. End users enjoy rich experiences on their x86 and Arm-based mobile devices while app developers can offload compute, storage, and battery-intensive workloads to high-powered infrastructure in the cloud.
Developers, led by audience consumption and habits, gain more control over performance and infrastructure costs through Anbox Cloud—while delivering an application experience that has the flexibility to scale on demand.
Propelled by the rising demand for edge compute and watchful of emerging 5G networks, the Anbox Cloud team focused on cloud gaming, Enterprise workplace applications, software testing, and mobile device virtualization. While researching needs within these sectors, “we found that all of them were seeking solutions that could strike a balance between performance and cost,” says Kayo, who joined Canonical in 2019 and helped lead the launch of Anbox Cloud.
Those requirements informed their technology investment: “The most logical choice was to build an Arm-friendly solution, powered by Arm servers running in cloud datacenters,” says Kayo.
Not only does Arm have a clear and proven promise of cost-efficiency, but the bulk of Android apps are Arm-native. “We knew that building Anbox Cloud on Arm would provide a seamless experience for mobile developers, while also addressing performance and cost concerns,” says Kayo.
The path to launching with native Arm servers was not without obstacles, however.
While Arm is the dominant architecture in the mobile space, the vast majority of infrastructure in the cloud consists of x86 machines. “The adoption of Arm in the datacenter is an emerging story, with companies like Packet and AWS leading the way,” says Kayo. The lack of widespread adoption presented the team with a practical challenge: how would Canonical’s customers deploy Anbox Cloud if they did not have access to datacenter-grade Arm hardware?
“We needed to find partners that shared our vision, who were deploying the right kind of infrastructure, and could work flexibly to support our global customers,” says Kayo. “Packet, with its deep history in the Arm ecosystem, was clearly building the right capabilities.”
From the first meeting the stars aligned, Kayo says. “By combining our software with Packet’s commitment to bare-metal at the edge, we could meet the requirements of our customers.” What tied the package together was a strong set of silicon partners. Both Ampere and Intel stepped up, collaborating with Canonical and Packet to provide the hardware to power Anbox Cloud at edge locations around the world.
“It was a discovery process,” says Kayo. “None of us knew how or where it would go, or what the ultimate solution would look like — because it hadn’t been done before.”
As the teams moved towards commercial launch, one question still loomed large: Performance. Happily, benchmarking for the integrated stack did not disappoint.
“With Anbox Cloud on Packet’s Ampere-based systems, customers can power 20-30 instances of Android on a single server,” says Kayo. Not only does that promise high-power performance for commercial solutions, but “it also means Enterprises can serve 30 users and spread the costs across a single box,” says Kayo. “That is a very scalable proposition, and highly cost-efficient.”
With new cloud-optimized server models coming to market from Ampere and others, efficiency promises to improve going forward, further advancing the Anbox Cloud story.
Since the launch of Anbox Cloud in early 2020, the market has been quick to respond. “We are talking with new customers each week in verticals that range from telecom to the automotive industry to gaming companies and even marketing agencies,” says Kayo.
“Anbox Cloud is a super-complex, intricate solution, but we are making it more compact and simplifying it so that any developer can take advantage of the benefits,” says Kayo. “What we want to do in the short term is onboard more developers and innovators in order to accelerate our vision of mobile cloud computing.”
In the future, Anbox Cloud aims to be the leader as the world further shifts to ubiquitous mobile computing.
“We have a big vision where any mobile device can leverage the cloud to boost its capabilities with high-performance applications,” says Kayo. “We want to enable users on even low-powered devices to be able to play high-performance 3D games and run applications that leverage complex AI algorithms.”
To do so, Anbox Cloud needs to be scalable, cost-efficient, secure, and able to deliver experiences to devices anywhere. “That’s the promise of Arm, in a nutshell,” says Kayo.