“VirtualBox is part of Oracle’s VDI [virtual desktop interface] solution, so a lot of the enhancements we worked on were driven by the VDI team building a new product,” said Wim Coekaerts, Oracle senior VP of Linux and virtualization engineering.
The new version enjoys a number of new features that could make it more suitable for widescale deployment in organisations, such as the ability to clone virtual machines and the ability of the software to utilize more working memory on a server.
German company Innotek first developed VirtualBox as a commercial product, one that users could deploy on x86-based machines to easily run additional operating systems encapsulated in virtual machines.
Sun Microsystems purchased Innotek in 2008 and Oracle purchased Sun in 2010.
Oracle claims the software has been downloaded over 46 million times since Innotek made it available in 2007, at no cost, under the GNU General Public License version 2.
Oracle uses VirtualBox as the base hypervsior for Oracle VDI (virtual desktop interface) offering, which organizations use to stream virtual desktops to worker computers. The software can run on Windows, Linux, Solaris and Macintosh x86-based computers and can run Windows, Linux, Solaris as virtual machines.
“Cloning is one of the major new features of VirtualBox 4.1,” Coekaerts explained. The software has long offered the ability to capture snapshots of the guest OS at a certain point in time, allowing developers and others to roll back changes to an OS to an earlier version. A downside with snapshotting is that it would steadily increase the size of the virtual machine, as more and more snapshots are saved. With clones, an administrator can simply make a copy of a virtual machine that does not incorporate earlier changes.
“Cloning technology will be handy for administrators who wish to run multiple copies of the same virtual machine,” Coekaerts said. “If you want to run two VMs in parallel you can clone one and then both will run without any issue,” he said.
A lot of work has also been done on preparing VirtualBox 4.1 for large-scale deployments. This is the first version of the software that can utilize an entire terabyte of memory on a single server, which it could use to accommodate up to 200 virtual machines. This version can also allow administrators to create networks among virtual machines that span multiple servers. “It’s almost like a VLAN [virtual local area network] but within the VirtualBox level itself,” Coekaerts said.
Oracle also improved the visual interface, and updated the wizards for commonly executed tasks. The software now fully supports the advanced Windows 7 Aero interface. It includes an experimental new feature called pass-through that allows hardware devices to bypass the host OS and communicate directly with a specific VM. The usual assortment of bug fixes also accompanies the new release.