Sun VirtualBox 3.0

Sun Microsystems released VirtualBox 3.0 today. One goal of this release is supporting workloads, such as database management systems, some collaborative applications and many web-based applications that rely on multiple processes running simultaneously.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Sun Microsystems released VirtualBox 3.0 today. One goal of this release is supporting workloads, such as database management systems, some collaborative applications and many web-based applications that rely on multiple processes running simultaneously. Another is offering support for high performance graphics for desktop applications.

Here's what Sun has to say about this release.

Sun Microsystems, Inc. (NASDAQ: JAVA) today announced a significant new version of Sun(TM) VirtualBox(TM), its high performance, cross-platform virtualization software. VirtualBox 3.0 is capable of creating and running multi-processor virtual machines that can handle heavyweight server-class workloads, and also delivers enhanced graphics support for desktop-class workloads, reinforcing VirtualBox's position as one of the world's most popular virtualization platforms. To download the freely available VirtualBox software, visit: http://www.sun.com/software/products/virtualbox/get.jsp.

Many multi-threaded server-based workloads, such as database and Web applications, can benefit from Symmetric Multiple Processing (SMP) systems, which contain multiple CPUs. VirtualBox 3.0 can now support virtual SMP systems with up to 32 virtual CPUs (vCPUs) in a single virtual machine. With this major enhancement, VirtualBox software can be used to run not only desktop workloads on client or server systems, but also demanding server workloads.

New server features of VirtualBox 3.0 software include:

  • Up to 32 vCPUs per guest to accommodate heavyweight data-processing workloads.
  • Hypervisor enhancements for SMP to enable optimum performance.
  • Updated API platform designed to be the basis of the community-driven VirtualBox Web Console project, which is coming soon to allow IT administrators to manage their datacenters from a Web console. This project is based on the popular Python language.

New desktop features of VirtualBox 3.0 software include:

  • Microsoft Direct3D support for Windows guests, which enables graphically intensive Windows applications, like computer modeling, 3D design and games software, to run in a virtual environment.
  • Support for version 2.0 of the Open Graphics Library (OpenGL) standard. As a result, high-performance Windows, Linux, Solaris(TM), and OpenSolaris(TM) graphical applications, which typically use graphical hardware acceleration, are able to run applications like Google Earth and CAM-based software on VirtualBox software.
  • Support for a wider range of USB devices, including storage devices, iPods and phones.

Snapshot analysis

Sun has worked hard to bring features seen in VMware and Citrix's hypervisors into its VirtualBox and hopes to attract a following based upon what appears to be a free hypervisor. Version 3 of VirtualBox offers capabilities that make it quite competitive with the others.

There are features designed to please just about everyone - folks thinking about server virtualization projects, folks thinking about desktop virtualization projects and even those needed high performance graphics. There's a bit of a problem lurking in this announcement as well.

The pricing for Sun's Support services, in my view, is the proverbial fly in the ointment. Rather than pricing support by the number of processors/cores or the number of systems, Sun has chosen an approach that adds up to a "VirtualBox tax" per user - $30 per user to be exact. While this seems a small amount at first glance, it may cost organizations more than they think. The key definition that holds a clue to the real cost of using this technology is what, exactly, is a user?

Does the per user fee only apply to those actually using VirtualBox in some way or is Sun hoping to extract a fee for everyone in the organization regardless of whether they use VirtualBox? Does each process that makes up a database count as a user? Does each person being supported by a database that is part of a highly distributed Web-based or cloud-based application count as a user? Organizations would be well advised to fully understand the ramifications of this pricing model before looking at this hypervisor.

This appears not to be an equitable approach to licensing a product in today's world regardless of the strengths of the software itself. Sun has taken this approach before with Solaris, by the way.

The elephant in the room

Although I asked what is likely to happen to VirtualBox as Oracle takes control, Sun's representative really didn't have an answer. I really didn't expect an answer. It was just a question that needed to be asked.

It is possible that Oracle will continue to fund development for this hypervisor. It is equally possible that it will focus on its own Xen-based hypervisor or throw in the towel on hypervisor development and just go with Citrix's XenServer. Only the folks at Oracle know for sure.

Until that question is resolved, it is unlikely that any major organization would make VirtualBox a standard in their datacenter or on their desktop systems. There just is too much uncerntainty for a typical IT decision-maker to feel comfortable with such a decision.

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