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Sun tunes its VirtualBox

Will Oracle sell it? Or sit on it?

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The most popular virtualization tool distributed by Sun Microsystems - and one whose future as an Oracle product is in question - is VirtualBox, and the software was just updated with a new 3.0.8 release.

Version 3.0 of VirtualBox - which is a type 2 or hosted hypervisor that runs atop an operating system such as Solaris, Linux, Mac OS, and Windows, providing a virtualization layer that supports multiple virtual machines each with their own operating systems - was announced at the end of June. Since that time, Sun's VirtualBox project has cranked out a new release with bug fixes and new features every month or so. Just as if nothing like a $7.4bn acquisition by Oracle was under way, Oracle had a strong desire to build a virtualization business based on the Xen hypervisor and some goodies it picked from the carcass of Virtual Iron.

As you can see from the changelog, the 3.0.8 release has a bunch of tweaks to clean up a lot of different bugs in the virtual machine monitor as it is interfacing with the VT-x and AMD-V virtualization features that Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have cooked into their latest generations of 64-bit chips. There are also a number of bug fixes relating to Linux, Solaris, Mac OS, and Windows host environments.

The big new feature is that virtual disks inside of the VirtualBox hypervisor can now be based on SCSI disk with larger than 2 TB of capacity. A bug was also fixed concerning VirtualBox when it stores virtual machines on NetApp iSCSI disk arrays. Neither of these features is useful for desktop environments, and points to the fact that even though one part of Sun didn't really want to talk about it, VirtualBox can be - and often is - used in server environments. Like the commercial xVM Server was supposed to be in relation to commercial Solaris 10. And before you send comments to El Reg, I know that xVM has been embedded in the latter releases of OpenSolaris and that technically you can get tech support for OpenSolaris.

But for the vast majority of Solaris shops, OpenSolaris is not deployed in production and commercial-grade applications have not been put through the same rigorous testing that those apps get on Solaris. So, xVM inside of OpenSolaris is not all that interesting. Sun was supposed to ship a commercial-grade Xen hypervisor embedded inside of Solaris, and OpenSolaris doesn't count until it frozen, hardened, stress-tested, and rolled out as Solaris 11, maybe sometime next year.

Which brings up a point that neither Sun nor Oracle has addressed since the takeover of Sun by Oracle was announced in April: what happens to VirtualBox? The code is available as an open source project, so no matter what, VirtualBox can live even if Oracle decides to abandon it.

Another question: will someone pick up VirtualBox and take it the next step and create a type 1, or bare metal, hypervisor based on VirtualBox? Oracle has created a bare metal hypervisor based on Xen called Oracle VM Server, and VMware of course has ESX Server and Citrix Systems has XenServer, which are both bare metal as well. Red Hat is working on a bare metal version of KVM, which will come to market as Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, and is continuing to support its embedded version of Xen with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 releases. Parallels has just put out its first bare metal hypervisor, too, and then there Microsoft's Hyper-V as well.

Does the world need another bare metal hypervisor? IBM certainly needs one for the X64 platforms it sells, and so does Hewlett-Packard, which has software aspirations. Dell doesn't seem to want a software business, but having its own low-cost (or free) hypervisor and services to sell might be an attractive idea. Novell needs a free-standing and open source hypervisor that is not Xen or KVM. Maybe Oracle can sell it for a few bucks? Or maybe Sun can sell it before the Oracle acquisition even closes to get a few bucks to boost its quarterly figures. More likely, Oracle will just sit on it and hope no one notices that they can pull a Larry Ellison and make their own VirtualBox clone. ®

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