Sun Looks to VirtualBox to Attract Developers

By buying Innotek's virtualization software, Sun plans to bolster its own xVM Server offering.

Sun Microsystems' rationale for buying Innotek's VirtualBox virtualization software and making it available as a free download is simple: Doing so will attract developers, who hopefully will then steer others to Sun's own xVM Server offering.

Innotek's VirtualBox software enables users to run multiple operating systems on top of whatever operating system is currently installed, whether it's Windows, Mac, Linux or Solaris.

Sun announced xVM Server in October, with the goal of making it the preferred deployment engine in the data center. If everything goes as planned, VirtualBox will be a key driver in achieving that goal.

Sun also is banking on its acquisition of the VirtualBox open-source virtualization software to extend its xVM platform onto the desktop and make it more competitive in the virtualization space.

The acquisition also will facilitate cross-linkage with Sun's other developer-related assets, such as NetBeans, Glassfish and MySQL.

"Imagine the virtual software appliances we can create using these assets, and developers will be able to start using them instantly, making it way easier to install and configure these things," Steve Wilson, Sun's vice president for xVM, said in a blog post. "VirtualBox will ride on top of your default operating system and allow you to 'host' any arbitrary collection of operating system instances. Software developers everywhere are starting to discover this way of operating, and these desktop virtualization solutions are quickly becoming part of the common developer toolkit."

Click here to read more about Sun's agreement to acquire Innotek.

While there is significant competition in this space, Wilson said VirtualBox is uniquely positioned to compete with existing software products that already offer some of this functionality, as it is free and open source and supports most operating systems.

This competitive edge is underscored by the fact that VirtualBox has been downloaded more than 4 million times in just over a year, Wilson said.

While VirtualBox and Sun's own xVM Server product are similar, as both allow a computer to run multiple operating systems, the difference is that "xVM Server and VirtualBox are products targeted at radically different markets," he said.

The xVM Server is competitive with offerings like VMware's ESX Server, while VirtualBox is more like VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop, "except, of course, that VirtualBox supports more host platforms and is open source and free," Wilson said.

"Sun xVM Server is a bare-metal hypervisor, which installs directly on the hardware, not on top of an existing operating system. It's a purpose-built software appliance with functionality to enable server consolidation and dynamic IT," he said. "It includes high-end data center features like live VM migration and dynamic self-healing. This is data center grade virtualization. Along with Sun xVM Ops Center, xVM Server will become the engine that drives a dynamic data center."

For its part, VirtualBox is a Type 2 hypervisor: an application that installs on top of an existing operating system and that supports Windows, Linux, Mac and Solaris hosts so that it can be used on a laptop no matter which operating system is chosen as the "native" environment, he said.

"This makes VirtualBox a software developer's dream. You can easily set up multiple virtual machines to develop and test your multitier or cross-platform applications, and all on a single box ... I installed it this weekend. The download was only 17MB and the install[ation] took only minutes. In less than 15 minutes from when I started the download ... I was ready to start installing guests," Wilson said.

The agreement to acquire Innotek follows Sun's move in January to buy the open-source MySQL database.