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Oracle VM whips rowdy virtual machines into submission

Control freak hypervisor and VirtualBox updates unwrapped

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Just in time for the holidays and giving techies an excuse to stay out of the kitchen and be helpful, Oracle unwrapped updates to its Oracle VM implementation of the Xen hypervisor for x86 servers and the alternative VirtualBox hypervisor for x86-based PCs and servers.

Both of the updates were dot releases, but will no doubt be welcome by Oracle's customers. Especially for VirtualBox, which has millions of users worldwide and which is still a freebie product backed by an open source project as it was before Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems two years ago.

Oracle VM 3.0.3, as you can see from the release notes, supports up to 128 virtual CPUs (which can be core or threads, depending on the x86 server chip architecture) and up to 63GB of virtual memory for guests on 32-bit x86 processors and up to 1TB of virtual memory for guests running on 64-bit iron.

The Oracle VM 3.0.3 hypervisor itself can span as many as 160 "processors" (that's an eight-socket box using ten-core Xeon E7 processors with HyperThreading turned on to turn each physical CPU into two "virtual" CPUs at the hardware level) and up to 2TB of physical memory; it can host as many as 128 virtual machines.

The hypervisor can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its RHEL-ish clone from Oracle in guest partitions in addition to Oracle's Solaris 10 Express and Solaris 11 and the most recent Microsoft Windows desktop and server operating systems. (You can see the support matrix here.)

Sorting out your virtual machine seating plan

In addition to a number of bug fixes, Oracle VM 3.0.3 is all about being a control freak for your VMs. The hypervisor now has an anti-affinity feature that allows system administrators to do the wedding seating plan for virtual machines, designating VMs that cannot be placed next to each other on the same physical servers because they will fight. (This also allows for VMs to be scattered around a network of servers by policy so single points of hardware failure are not inadvertently introduced into the network.)

Administrators can also now control what Oracle VM hypervisors in a cluster of physical servers are allowed to accept live migrations of specific VMs. This feature is particularly useful on different generations of physical servers that have a lower grade of virtualization assistance electronics and therefore cannot always run all of the VM features that a new box can.

The anti-affinity and live migration assistant features work together and take into account underlying hardware differences. The VM creation wizard now allows for administrators to put a cap on virtual memory on each VM, which was not possible before.

While Oracle VM is type-1 hypervisor that can install on bare metal, VirtualBox is a type-2 or hosted hypervisor that runs on top of a stock operating system such as Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, or Solaris, and then carves that operating system up into virtual machines that can in turn run multiple and, if need be incompatible, operating systems side-by-side. Like Oracle VM, VirtualBox only runs on x86 machinery and neither Sun nor Oracle has shown much interest in porting it to other hardware architectures – although ARM processors may soon be a tempting possibility.

As December came to a close, Oracle put out maintenance updates to the current and prior generations of the VirtualBox hypervisors, specifically VirtualBox 3.2.14 and 4.1.8. These updates were packed with bug fixes, but no substantial feature enhancements. ®

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