Sun Introduces Free Virtualization System, Includes Mac

Sun Microsystems announced on Friday the formal release of Sun xVM VirtualBox, a free and open source desktop virtualization system for Mac OS X Leopard, Windows, Linux and Solaris hosts. The software will compete with VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop on the Macintosh platform. On the Mac, it supports Windows, Linux and Solaris VM clients.

The Mac Observer interviewed Sunis Vijay Sarathy, Senior Director of Marketing for Sun xVM, to get the details.

In February, 2008 Sun bought Innotek, the makers of the highly regarded VirtualBox, for an undisclosed sum in order to acquire the technology. VirtualBox is just part of a platform of several products under the xVM name and includes both the VirtualBox for desktop clients and the broader xVM virtualization and management portfolio. That includes the Sun xVM Ops Center and the Sun xVM Server scheduled for release in the Summer of 2008.

The VirtualBox

The desktop component, the xVM VirtualBox, has been under development for some time and is now at version 1.6. Since May 2, when a preview went live, there have been over 5 million downloads. Like current commercial products, VirtualBox uses hypervisor technology and uses the host-client technique, that is, there is one major host OS and the rest of the OSes run as guests under the host. The software is open source and released under the GPLv2 license for personal use.

VirtualBox supports a huge range of host and guest operating systems enabling users to run everything from the latest Microsoft Vista and OpenSolaris applications to old Windows 98, OS2 or DOS alongside Apple applications on an Intel Mac for example. A mere 20 megabyte download, xVM VirtualBox software is incredibly compact and efficient and installs in less than five minutes, according to Sun.

The Mac version requires Leopard, and Sun honors the Apple license for Mac OS X restricting OS X clients from running on, say, Linux hosts. Other than that, all the other host-client pairings are possible, and while Mr. Sarathy didnit have details of the Linux OSes, Sun says that just about any X86 client OS is supported. Sunis VP of Engineering for xVM, Steve Wilson, recently wrote about his experiences with Ubuntu on a Mac. VirtualBox has the advantage running under Solaris as the host OS, something the commercial competitors donit support at this time.


Features include support for bridged Ethernet or NAT, USB 2 support with filter support to limit which host devices the guest OS can see, multi-screen resolutions so that guest OSes can span multiple monitors and CD/DVD passthrough. Shared folders with any client can be set up to share data across OSes, but the system can also be set up to impose zero data leakage between OSes for security.

Virtual Box allows multiple checkpoints so that if, in a high security environment, the VM client becomes compromised, the state of the OS can be reset to a previous point, a "good state" in time.

Mr. Sarathy wasnit able to provide details of the extent to which the memory and capabilities of advanced graphics cards are supported via the hypervisor. Itis always an issue for hypervisors on kernel-based systems, and when TMO finds out more, weill pass it along.

One of the key features of the xVM Virtual Box is that APIs are exposed at every level. This allows solution providers and OEMs to build revenue-generating custom solutions such as secure desktop services.

Sun has posted a page that contains all the known reviews of the VirtualBox.

Server Products

As mentioned above, the desktop xVM VirtualBox for personal use is just an entry point for a family of products. Sun is also developing advanced server solutions that will run on the bare metal, work at the enterprise level, and afford "live migration." That is, if the system detects a hardware failure, the running OS can immediately migrate to new hardware and continue running.

The family of enterprise-grade products is, of course, key to the business model and is what allows Sun to offer the Desktop VirtualBox for free as an introduction to the family of Sun technologies.

"Sun xVM VirtualBox is transforming the way people develop software," said Steve Wilson, vice president for xVM, Sun Microsystems. "Developers no longer need to be tethered to big testing labs. xVM VirtualBox software empowers developers to create multiple virtual machines, network them together and deploy them using their favorite operating system - all from a single laptop. With our xVM family of products, Sun delivers technologies to meet every virtualization need from the desktop to the data center."


Sunis xVM Virtual Box 1.6 can be downloaded free after agreeing to the license. On the Mac, it requires OS X Leopard and 2 GB of RAM is recommended.