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Sun kicks out VirtualBox 3.0 beta

Virtual SMP and graphics boost

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Just after Oracle closes its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in about a month's time, one of the things it's going to have to sort out is a hodgepodge of virtualization products that Oracle and Sun have amassed. But in the meantime, Sun's VirtualBox development team is still at it, rolling out the first beta of VirtualBox 3.0.

According to the announcement made by Frank Mehnert, who heads up the VirtualBox product at Sun and who used to get his paycheck from Innotek before Sun acquired the small German software development company in February 2008, VirtualBox 3.0 will be "a major update."

The most significant change in VirtualBox 3.0 is support for multiple processors within guest virtual machine partitions riding atop of the VirtualBox hypervisor. The 3.0 release will, according to Mehnert, support guest partitions that span as many as 32 virtual processors on x64 processors. (A virtual processor in the VirtualBox lingo is one core, no matter how many threads it has it it supports simultaneous multithreading). The virtual SMP support for VirtualBox partitions coming in the 3.0 release will require VT-x features on Intel's Core and Xeon processors and AMD-V features on Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon and Opteron processors.

VirtualBox 3.0 also has experimental support for Direct3D 8 and 9 graphics support for applications and is particularly useful for games. If the phrases "experimental support" in a "beta program" are not a strong enough caution to you, Mehnert reminds everyone in the announcement that the beta release "should be considered a bleeding-edge release meant for early evaluation and testing purposes."

So by all means try this at home, but maybe not at the office where you are trying to get work done (presumably). VirtualBox 3.0 will support OpenGL 2.0 graphics for Windows, Linux, and Solaris guests as well. (The host OS and machinery has to support OpenGL 2.0 graphics for the guests to be able to use it). The updated VirtualBox also includes a bunch of bug fixes, which are detailed in the release notes. You can download the binaries of VirtualBox 3.0 beta 1 here.

The latest production-grade version of VirtualBox is 2.2.4, which was release on May 29. This was a maintenance release fixing bugs, not adding features. The last major release of VirtualBox was 2.2.0, which was delivered in early April as all of the IBM-Sun-Oracle shenanigans were going on. That release supported Windows 7 and Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" guests as well as expanding memory for VMs to 16 GB (up from 3.5 GB).

The 2.2 release also added Open Virtualization Format (OVF) to the VM formats already enabled in VirtualBox, which include VMware's VMDK and Microsoft's VHD virtual machine disk formats along with VirtualBox's own VDI native format. Sun has promised that live partition migration would be coming in a future release this year, but it is not clear if that will be with VirtualBox 3.0.

The big question, of course, is what Oracle will do with its Oracle Enterprise VM and Virtual Iron hypervisors and tools as well as Sun's xVM Server (based on Xen) as well as VirtualBox on x64 iron as well as LDoms and Solaris containers on Sparc iron. With Red Hat's KVM coming on strong, there may be another one that Oracle has to add to the list, which also includes both Oracle and Sun support for XenServer and ESX Server. There's a lot of overlap in there, and it is hard to believe that everything will make the cut. ®

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