Powering up your VirtualBox

by [Published on 28 Sept. 2010 / Last Updated on 28 Sept. 2010]

Taking a deep dive into VirtualBox.

Introduction

VirtualBox is a Type 2 hypervisor (similar to VMware Workstation or Microsoft Virtual PC) that is owned by Sun Microsystems (which makes it an Oracle product, something I am still not used to). Again, VirtualBox, being a Type 2 hypervisor, would run on top of your desktop operating system, be it Linux, Windows, Solaris, or even Mac OS X. One of the most important things about VirtualBox is, unlike VMware Workstation, VirtualBox is free (not necessarily equal but free Type 2 virtualization). VirtualBox is the only open source hypervisor of its kind. Let's find out what it takes to download and install VirtualBox and how it can help you.

Downloading and Installing VirtualBox

To download VirtualBox, just go to http://virtualbox.org and click on the Downloads link. You will see that you can download VirtualBox as one of:

  • Windows x86 or AMD64
  • OS X for Intel Macs
  • Linux
  • Solaris and OpenSolaris

Additionally, you can download a VirtualBox Software developer kit (SDK) or the Guest OS add-ons.

I opted to download the very small 70MB Windows x86/AMD64 installation file and run it. It started as you see in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Starting the VirtualBox installation

I accepted the license agreement and was given the option to perform a custom installation, as you see in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Performing a custom VirtualBox installation

As you see in Figure 2, VirtualBox supports USB devices and both bridged & host-only virtual networking. I clicked NEXT, then NEXT on the icon & shortcut options. From here, I was given a warning about how my networking interfaces will be reset when I perform the installation and I clicked YES to accept the warning, as you see in Figure 3.


Figure 3: Networking interfaces will be reset

Finally, I clicked INSTALL to being the install. The install process only took a couple of minutes and I did accept the Windows Security warnings about the install of the Sun USB device drivers.


Figure 4: Installing the Sun USB device

When the install was done, Sun VirtualBox started automatically, as you see in Figure 5.


Figure 5: Sun VirtualBox

That was easy!

Adding a Virtual Machine to VirtualBox

With VirtualBox up and running, the first thing we want to do is to start using it by adding a virtual machine. I clicked the circular NEW button that you see in Figure 5 and that bought up the New Virtual Machine Wizard. From here, I clicked Next to get started.

As you see below in Figure 6, I gave the VM a name and set the operating system.


Figure 6: Naming the VM and setting the OS type

Next, I set the RAM for the new VM, shown in Figure 7.


Figure 7: Configuring RAM for the new VM

I took the default to create a new hard disk for the VM by clicking Next. This brought me to the Create New Virtual Disk Wizard. I opted to create "dynamically expanding storage" (the default).


Figure 8: Dynamically Expanding Disk

I took the default name for the virtual disk (same as the VM) and the default size of 20GB and clicked Finish. Then, I clicked Finish to finalize the creation of the new VM.


Figure 9: Finalize creating the new VM

At this point, the new VM was created that you see in Figure 10.


Figure 10: New VM Created

Now, I needed to map the installation DVD for Windows 7 to get started installing the OS. To do this, I clicked on Settings for the new VM, then Storage, the CD/DVD drive, then the Folder icon, to browse to find the ISO image of my Windows 7 install media.


Figure 11: Browsing for the ISO install media

I clicked Add to add an ISO image. I browsed the network to my server that had the Windows 7 ISO image. I then selected it and clicked Select, as you see in Figure 12.


Figure 12: Selecting the Windows 7 ISO

With the new image mapped on my virtual CD/DVD drive, I clicked OK to modify the new virtual machine.

From here, I powered on the VM with the Start button.

I was warned by VirtualBox that the host attention key is the right control key and that I would need to use that to release my mouse from the new VM.

I installed Windows 7 and it ran with good performance. Here is what it looked like:


Figure 13: Windows 7 running inside VirtualBox

Note:
Make sure that you install the virtual machine additions to get the best performance and sync your mouse!

Benefits to using VirtualBox

You might be thinking that VirtualBox is decent but it may seem no different than other type 2 virtualization products like Microsoft Virtual PC or VMware Workstation. However, VirtualBox offers some unique benefits. Here is what I came up with on the topic of benefits for using VirtualBox over other type 2 hypervisors:

  • Unlike VMware Workstation, VirtualBox is FREE
  • VirtualBox supports the addition of VMs running under Microsoft VHD format, Parallels format, or VMware VMDK format, as you see in Figure 14.


Figure 14: Mounting a new VM in various formats

  • VirtualBox is opensource
  • VirtualBox supports opening virtual appliances in the OVF format
  • Virtual Machine descriptions are stored in XML
  • VirtualBox supports shared folders, USB controllers for guest VMs, and guest VM additions for Windows, Linux, and Solaris
  • Virtual machines can become RDP servers and USB over RDP is supported
  • VirtualBox has a super-nice single command line tool (API?) that does everything you need to do with VirtualBox. The command is VBoxManage.exe, as you see in Figure 15.


Figure 15: VBoxManage.exe command line tool for VirtualBox

Summary

VirtualBox is a great type 2 hypervisor. While it is owned by Sun/Oracle it is also the only opensource hypervisor of its kind. VirtualBox is small (70MB) and easy to install and use. It has some unique features like the ability to open virtual disks in multiple formats, its VBoxManage command, and its support for RDP hosting to manage virtual machines. With VirtualBox being completely free, it is a virtualization platform that is impressive and that I have to recommend.

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