VMware Workstation vs. Oracle VM VirtualBox

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2010-06-10
 
 
 

VMware Workstation vs. Oracle VM VirtualBox


VMware Workstation is the undisputed leader in desktop virtualization tools. Yet VirtualBox, now being ridden by Oracle after making headway under Sun, continues to mount a challenge.

Make no mistake, VMware Workstation-with its shear breadth of guest operating system support, graphics display power, intimate support of Windows 7 and proficient use of the latest hardware developments to maximize virtual machine support-continues to set the pace for this product category. But Oracle VM VirtualBox continues to nip at the heels of VMware Workstation by continuing to offer a personal-use version of the product at no cost, while stuffing in important virtual machine performance improvements.

The result is a bounty of choice for application developers, IT pros and power users who want to try out running multiple systems using a variety of operating systems in a locally controlled workstation.

For IT managers who are working in high-volume test-and-development environments-with virtual machine playback, fully developed management tools and access to VMware's ACE (Assured Computing Environment)-VMware Workstation is still the best choice. However, the workstation also carries the biggest price tag: At $189 per user, the license costs are much higher than the $50 enterprise license for Oracle VM VirtualBox.

But the initial license fees (or lack thereof) don't tell the whole story. What follows are two reviews. The first one is of VMware Workstation 7.1, and the second is of Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2.

VMware Workstation 7.1


 

VMware Workstation 7.1

Released on May 26, VMware Workstation 7.1 costs $189. I tested the product on a Lenovo W510 mobile workstation equipped with an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor with 8GB of RAM. The physical host system was running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit with the latest patches.

I was able to install and run Autodesk's AutoCAD 2011 in a virtual machine that was running Windows 7 Professional with one virtual quad-core processor. Autodesk support engineers advised me that tricking out my virtual CPU with the maximum available on my system wouldn't get me that much more in terms of performance, since AutoCAD 2011 is constrained primarily by the GPU. In this case, my Lenovo system was equipped with a relatively powerful NVIDIA Quadro FX 880M GPU. (This is the first version of Workstation to be supported and recommended by Autodesk.) 

AutoCAD projects with which I worked during my tests were displayed quickly, with nearly the same performance as when I used AutoCAD on my Lenovo system directly. There was some hesitation rotating images when other virtual machines were running background workloads (in this case, Futuremark's PCMark Vantage performance benchmarking suites). Workstation 7.1 supports OpenGL 2.1 in Windows 7 VMs and provided relatively smooth video playback using PCMark test video.

In keeping with VMware's finely detailed approach to implementing VMs, Workstation 7.1 enabled me to create powerful systems that could use either eight processors or eight cores. This was useful to me not only in creating more computing power, but also in allocating that power in a way that would help me avoid unnecessary license fees for applications that are priced by processor or by core.

Other detail improvements have to do with eliminating the hassle associated with starting up virtual machines or applications associated with VMs. In this version of Workstation, I was able to turn on autologon. This saved my credentials and bypassed the log-in dialog box when I powered on a Windows guest system. Autologon is a convenience feature that may give security managers hives, but for IT test and development pros, it's a real time-saving enhancement.

A similar enhancement was extended to applications running in a virtual machine. I was able to start the Windows guest and drag the AutoCAD 2011 application from the Unity start menu (Unity is a long-standing feature that enables the virtual machine to appear as if it is the only system running on the physical host) directly to the physical host desktop. I was then able to double-click the shortcut to open AutoCAD. The shortcut remained on the desktop after I exited Unity mode and closed VMware Workstation.

Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2

Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in January of this year. Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2 is the first rebranded release of the technology, which was itself the product of Sun's acquisition of innotek GmbH in February 2008. The family history is important-both as an indication of the value placed on the technology by its various owners and also as a way to understand the rather subdued pace of product development. IT managers who are considering Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2 should keep an eye on the level of community interest as Oracle takes over product direction. 

On the technical side of the equation, VirtualBox 3.2 has added support for Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5 (unsurprising) and experimental support for Mac OS X Server virtual machines (which is surprising.) I ran VirtualBox on the same Lenovo W510 workstation described above, most notably equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor, which is now supported by VirtualBox 3.2. The virtualization platform worked as expected with the physical processor hardware. 

Extending processor support options, I was able to use the new CPU hot-plug feature to add compute power to some of the guest systems while they were running. CPU hot-add used with my Windows Server 2008 R2 Data Center edition VM worked without a problem. In Windows Server 2008, only hot-add is supported.

In my CentOS 5.5 VM, I was able to hot-add and hot-remove CPUs. In all cases, adding and removing CPUs required me to use the VBoxManage command-line interface. Since this kind of CPU manipulation would likely be part of a broader load-management process, I think the command line is a fine place to make these types of adjustments, as it lends itself to a scripted operation. 

This version of VirtualBox also added the ability to change the amount of RAM assigned to running 64-bit VMs. I was able to make changes to the way physical memory was allocated among my VMs that were running VirtualBox Guest Additions, which in my environment is part of my standard configuration.

As with CPU changes on the fly, memory ballooning-the rather fanciful term used by Oracle to describe this feature-is controlled from the command line. This type of memory management would be best used in a highly automated and dynamic data center, where scripted control of this feature makes command-line access essential.

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