Sun's xVM VirtualBox 2.1 desktop virtualization software offers a variety of new features, from full support of VMware VMDK and Microsoft VHD hard drive image files to support for hardware virtualization from Intel and AMD. Sun is making the open-source, no-cost software more powerful, thus creating a good alternative to VMware Workstation and Parallels Desktop products. The virtualization software is also backed by Sun, giving enterprise IT managers the viable support options needed to bring it into their environments.
Sun Microsystems' xVM VirtualBox desktop virtualization
is an increasingly powerful, no-cost alternative to VMware Workstation
and Parallels Desktop products and should be added to the consideration
shortlist of software developers and IT managers.
Any IT professional who wants to get more familiar with
virtualization technology that goes beyond a 30-day trial version
provided by competitors should get a hold of Virtual Box.
I tested VirtualBox version 2.1, a Dec. 17, 2008, maintenance
release that added important new features to the product that make it
even more useful for IT shops that also use VMware. VirtualBox 2.1 now
has full support for VMware VMDK and Microsoft VHD hard drive image
files, including making snapshots. VirtualBox 2.1 also added support
for hardware virtualization provided by Intel and Advanced Micro
Devices chips running on Mac OS X physical hosts. I conducted my tests
on a Mac Mini with 2GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.
Check out eWEEK Labs' walk-through of Sun VirtualBox 2.1.
While VirtualBox is an open-source project, it is backed and
promoted by Sun, making the project a viable choice for IT managers who
must show that support options are available for a tool before bringing
it into the test-and-development or production environment.
VirtualBox Evolves Under Sun
The guest operating system uses files that represent the hard drive.
Under normal circumstances, VMs created in VirtualBox use VDI files for
the virtual hard drive. Using VirtualBox 2.1, I was able to use virtual
hard drive files from VMware (VMDK files) and Microsoft (VHD files),
which the VirtualBox VMs recognized as useable drives. The ability to
share hard drives across virtualization platforms is an important step
in bringing VirtualBox into more useful and direct competition with
VMware's Workstation product, the current gold standard of this product
Along with ongoing support and a commitment to future product
development, the VirtualBox 2.1 added new features to entice
developers. For those using 64-bit hardware, it is now possible to run
64-bit guests on 32-bit host operating systems-a feature that is listed
as experimental for the time being. Sun officials said the experimental
label will be lifted after sufficient feedback has been gathered from
I tried this successfully on a PC built using an AMD chip, which was
loaded with 8GB RAM and running Windows XP SP3. I created several VMs
that ran the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003 with no problems
running the OS or 64-bit applications, including Microsoft SQL Server
2005. The more likely use of this feature is with Linux OSes and
applications that have sophisticated graphical interfaces for 32-bit
versions, but are command-line only in their 64-bit incarnation.
VirtualBox is a Type 2 hypervisor, which means that it is software
that installs on top of the operating system installed on the physical
host. Type 2 hypervisors typically are somewhat slower than Type 1
hypervisors that interface directly with physical hardware. VirtualBox
2.1 partially overcomes this limitation by creating direct hardware
access for some operations.
At MacWorld in San Francisco, I saw a demonstration of experimental
support for applications that use 3D features through OpenGL. The
functionality is provided through the VirtualBox Guest Additions and
works only on hardware that provides hardware graphics acceleration. In
the demonstration I saw, the Google Earth globe spun freely, with very
little hesitation. The application was running on a Windows XP VM
running on a MacBook Pro.
Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com