Open Source Virtualization with VirtualBox

There are many technologies which I am very much on top of because I use them on a regular basis, here are others that I interact with periodically and it’s enough to stay abreast of developments and do basic troubleshooting but from time to time there are technologies that I’m only peripherally aware of and have only a basic understanding of. One such technology is virtualization or virtual machine software.

For almost ten years I’ve been hearing about software like that made by VMware which allows for a virtual computer to run inside of a host operating system. To this day I haven’t done anything more with this type of software than to fire it up and see that indeed it does work. It’s not that I don’t see the advantages, it’s just that I haven’t personally encountered a situation where I can justify the time and effort it would take to set it up. That said I do like to know what’s going on in all areas of technology and what I’ve been hearing lately is some movement in the open source virtualization arena.

For some years now I’ve known about some projects such as Xen, Bochs and QEMU. The problem with these solutions is they are really not open source replacements for commercial virtual machine software like VMware. I’ve heard great things about Xen and it’s ability to virtualize Linux systems (on Linux systems). While this is valuable in many cases it’s not for most of what I want to do which is to run a guest OS on an entirely different host OS. Bochs is more on target but this is an effort to emulate the x86 platform enitrely in software, a bit heavy duty (and with significant speed costs) for what I normally would want to do which would be to run an x86 guest OS on an x86 host, for example a Windows guest on a Linux host. QEMU has the upper hand here. While it’s still a big heavy emulator there is some closed source accelerator code which can help in x86 on x86 situations. Of course the closed source part is a bit of a drag. Still the real problem with all of these is that they are incredibly more difficult to configure (and especially to configure and setup a new guest OS on) than their commercial counterparts.

Well, the world may be changing. What I’ve been hearing recently is that an open source project from Sun called VirtualBox is looking like it will give some of the commercial vendors a run for their money (so to speak). There is no doubt that VirtualBox is still in the early stages of life but the development team seems to be putting some real effort into it and new releases have been timely. I’ll be excited to follow the continual development of this product.


  1. I’d love to hear your feedback on VirtualBox. I tried it out some time ago but found the performance to be lacking compared to VMware.

    I use VMware Server on a regular basis. It has made creating a lab/testing environment so much more flexible, affordable, and quiet!

    Of course I should probably take the money I’ve saved and put it towards a gym membership since I’m not constantly moving servers around.