Oracle VM VirtualBox guide

Breaking down VirtualBox's basic and advanced features

Oracle Corp.'s open source platform, VirtualBox, lends a hand to IT pros setting up host-based virtual environments. Whether it's for server or desktop virtualization, VirtualBox provides an outlet for OS testing, virtual machine creation and more.

Oracle VM VirtualBox offers basic virtualization functions, but it also provides more advanced capabilities including remote access and the ability to run an OS from a USB drive. The latest version, 4.2, brings automatic virtual machine (VM) start, more network resource controls and improved support for Windows 8 guests.

Our Oracle VM VirtualBox guide steers you to resources that help you understand this software from top to bottom.

Table of contents:

Oracle VM VirtualBox basics

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's review the basic functions and features of VirtualBox. You'll want to read what version 4.2 brings to the table.

Overview: What's new in VirtualBox 4.2
Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2 comes with some welcome improvements, including the ability to limit the bandwidth consumption of a given VM, virtual LAN tagging and VM grouping in the management interface. This version is great for testing Windows 8 because it has improved graphics support.

Advancing open source virtualization software
After Oracle acquired VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems, the company wasted no time making improvements. VirtualBox 4.1 added simple VM cloning, new wizards for creating and copying virtual disks, memory boosts for virtual hosts and PCI pass-through for Linux hosts.

A look at Oracle VM VirtualBox 4
Sometimes this platform gets overlooked, but in a small environment, it has a lot to offer. It's lightweight, runs on a variety of OSes, is free and open source but has an available closed-source extension pack. VirtualBox 4 includes multi-generation branched snapshots, support for 32 virtual CPUs per VM, teleportation, CPU hot-plugging, memory ballooning and RAM deduplication.

VMware Workstation versus VirtualBox
For host-based virtualization, most IT pros turn to either VMware Workstation or Oracle VM VirtualBox. Workstation's robust integration with other VMware products is a boon for VMware shops. But VirtualBox runs on x89 and Mac OS, and -- of course -- the price is right. So which one is better? Ultimately, it's just a matter of your use case and existing environment.

Creating VMs with Oracle VM VirtualBox
It's easy to create VMs in VirtualBox, once you understand the terminology. All you have to do is launch the VirtualBox manager, select New and let the wizard walk you through the process. There are plenty of options for hardware settings, memory and virtual network interface cards.

Open source desktop virtualization software options
There are certainly open source desktop virtualization options besides VirtualBox -- QEMU and Bochs, for example -- but Oracle's product remains the hypervisor of choice. The quality of virtualization is solid; it's revised often and stays current with updates to major operating systems. But that doesn't mean other software won't catch up with VirtualBox in the future.

Advanced features and uses for Oracle VM VirtualBox

VirtualBox may seem simple, but it has a lot to offer for testing, mobility and environment flexibility. In this section of our VirtualBox guide, learn how to salvage data, test OSes and carry the platform in your pocket.

Portable-VirtualBox: Run any OS from a USB
Because this software is open source, you can bend it to your will. With Portable-VirtualBox, a system for repackaging VirtualBox installations, you can run a virtualized OS on a USB drive, which is great for testing and migrating.

Running Windows 8 beta in a desktop VM
Before you test the Windows 8 beta on a desktop VM, consider these issues: Even though Oracle VM VirtualBox is updated for Windows 8, you'll need to set your display resolution to at least 1,024x768 -- or Metro apps won't launch. Other issues have to do with touch support, shutdown options, guest extensions and the slow Unified Extensible Firmware Interface.

How to salvage VirtualBox VM data
When it comes to VirtualBox VM recovery, the word "fun" doesn't necessarily come to mind, but there are some tricks for getting data back if you lose it. You can boot the VM using recovery media and then access the virtual hard disk (VHD) to copy the data to another VHD or to a network share. Or, you can attach the VHD to another VM, boot the VM and recover the data.

Setting up Oracle VM VirtualBox remote access in three steps
You can use VirtualBox remote display to remotely access VMs, but the setup isn't simple. First you need to install and enable remote display extensions, then declare a port number for each guest to make the Remote Desktop Protocol connection. Then you can connect the VM to VirtualBox remote display.

How to run VirtualBox VMs as headless servers
Because VirtualBox is really a desktop application, most interaction with a virtualized system happens via the desktop interface. But if you don't need to interact with a specific computer, it doesn't make sense to clutter things up with the graphical user interface. Running VirtualBox VMs in headless mode gets rid of that overhead.

Creating Oracle VM VirtualBox hosts using Vagrant
Vagrant, a systems management tool, can be used to build reusable VirtualBox VMs for prototyping or testing and staging hosts. Administrators can easily transfer test configurations to production hosts. But first, learn how to download VirtualBox and Puppet, which integrates with Vagrant to allow host creation.