Oracle Improves VirtualBox 4.1

by Sean Kerner

New virtualization release includes cloning and tunneling features, as Oracle pushes open source technology forward.

Oracle is continuing to push innovation forward on the open source VirtualBox project.

VirtualBox 4.1 is being officially released today, debuting new features that expand the use cases and deployability for the virtualization software. VirtualBox came into Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) as part of the Sun acquisition in 2010. The technology is used both as a desktop virtualization tool on the client side and as a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) delivery server side.

Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president, Linux and Virtualization Engineering at Oracle, told InternetNews.com that a key new feature in VirtualBox 4.1 is support for cloning. VirtualBox had previously supported only snapshotting, which has a different use case.

"What VirtualBox has always supported is that if you're running a virtual machine and you want to install some new apps and be able to go back to an older version, you take a snapshot," Coekaerts explained.

He added that a user could then roll back to an earlier version with the snapshot if needed. Coekaerts noted that snapshots are basicly children of the virtual machine (VM), living within the same VM disk image.

"One of the drawbacks of snapshot is that you can't actually run two VMs at the same time using different snapshots," Coekaerts said. "Cloning allows you to say, I have a virtual machine running, and I want to create an independent virtual machine."

Coekaerts noted that supporting cloning inside of VirtualBox lets users pull out the bits they want to clone to have a new running VM. The cloning feature is available via the command line or the VirtualBox user interface.

VirtualBox 4.1 also supports tunneling with a VirtualBox deployments, so multiple VMs can talk to each other on the same server. Coekaerts explained that this is handy in cases where an enterprise has four PCs or servers running VirtualBox VMs and they want to create a network where those VMs running on different physical servers can talk to each other.

"We set up a UDP tunnel on each of the VirtualBox servers, and then the VMs running think that they are all on the same machine," Coekaerts said. "It's like a VLAN, but it's at a level higher on VirtualBox."

Coekaerts noted that the tunneling feature does not require any new or specific type of network interface Card to work.

Scalability is also getting a boost with support for hosts and guest VMs with up to 1TB RAM and more than 1,000 VMs on a single host. With all that scale, the issue of ensuring cross-VM security can potentially be an issue. VMware, for example, has its vShield technology to protect against cross-VM attacks.

"We did introduce resource management in VirtualBox 4.0.10, which can limit bandwidth to make sure an individual VM doesn't go crazy," Coekaerts said. "You can monitor that and shut down the VM if you have too."

Coekaerts added that third-party tools could also potentially tie into VirtualBox for providing monitoring. That said, in Coekaerts' view, VirtualBox VMs are pretty isolated already.

VirtualBox has remained one of the most successful open source projects Oracle inherited from Sun. Coekaerts said it's a great product and one Oracle will continue to enhance. He added that there is a vibrant community around VirtualBox as well.

"Contributions back to VirtualBox are next to none, most of the code work happens in the core VirtualBox team," Coekaerts said. "In the end, while there is little in terms of code contributions, there is a huge community that contributes a lot in terms of feedback and testing, and we like that."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Jul 19th 2011
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