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Sun Releases VirtualBox 3.0 Virtualization Software

Sun Microsystems has released verison 3.0 of its VirtualBox high-performance, cross-platform virtualization software. Version 3.0 expands existing capabilities, such as the amount of virtual RAM supported by guests (i.e., 16GB for the Mac OS X version), and its support for both 32-bit and 64-bit guests on 32-bit or 64-bit hosts (even 64-bit guests on 32-bit hosts).

The big news of this releases is symmetrical multi-processing (SMP) support. VirtualBox now supports guests with multiple virtual CPUs, with up to 32 per guest. In essence, a virtual CPU equates to a thread within VirtualBox. With more actual CPUs/cores available on the host, the more parallel processing occurs within the guest OS in VirtualBox. This lets consumers accommodate heavy workloads on their guest operating systems. In fact, VirtualBox 3.0 supports more virtual CPUs than actual CPUs/cores installed on the host computer. For example, Figure 1 shows Hall's dual-core Mac running Windows with four virtual CPUs, and Ubuntu Linux with two virtual CPUs, side-by-side. Use cases for this involve local testing on less-capable hardware for later deployment into a data center.

[Click image to view at full size]
Figure 1: A dual-core Mac running Windows with four virtual CPUs, and Ubuntu Linux with two virtual CPUs

The second big enhancement is around the management of VMs. This includes deploying, starting, stopping, and so on, of virtual machines within a network or data center. Additionally, remote access to guests and their VM images is needed. With VirtualBox 3.0, the APIs and SDK have been enhanced to easily support this.

In fact, Sun has been working with others to unify the various open-source offerings already available for VirtualBox management. As an example, look at the code.google.com project for web based management tools for VirtualBox. All of this aggregation and development is being done in the open, with Python on back end, and browser-based access to VMs running within VirtualBox. As a result, there is no need to install a client (such as VNC), but instead a browser-based console is offered. This is similar to Sun's Secure Global Desktop (SGD) software, and indeed the SGD team has helped the VirtualBox team add these features since Sun's acquisition.

Other enhancements include:

  • Enhanced support for the Open Virtualization Format, which improves VirtualBox when used on the desktop
  • Support for the latest Direct3D for Windows hosts/guests
  • OpenGL 2.0 support. Guest OSs can take advantage of host graphics acceleration and the OpenGL 2.0 APIs. Previously, version OpenGL 1.5 was supported.
  • Enhanced USB device support

Dr. Dobb's spoke with Andy Hall, Product Manager of VirtualBox at Sun, about VirtualBox 3.0. According to Hall:

  • VirtualBox downloads have increased from a total of 7 million in December 2008 to over 14 million as of this month. That's 100% growth in only six months.
  • This amounts to about 20,000 downloads per day
  • There are currently over 4 million registered VirtualBox users (not everyone who downloads and uses VirtualBox registers).

When asked what can explain the sudden acceleration in downloads and growth in VirtualBox popularity, Hall said it has to do with two things, mainly. First, the exposure and marketing resulting from the Sun acquisition has helped a lot. Second, users are quickly realizing that VirtualBox is very useful at augmenting existing desktop and laptop systems instead of being useful only on servers in a data center, as other virtualization platforms generally are. In other words, by remaining lightweight, flexible, and agile, VirtualBox goes one step beyond other virtualization solutions and works well on a user's main system to help in the development, testing, and deployment of software systems. This is all part of Sun's plan to support open, heterogeneous, systems.

To freely download and install VirtualBox for your host platform, go here.

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