Virtualization showdown: VMware Workstation vs. Sun xVM VirtualBox
VMware's desktop champion takes the flag, but Sun's free and open source alternative is coming on strongFollow @infoworld
So far, the strategy is paying off. VirtualBox is now everywhere, but it's particularly strong in the Linux community where it provides a relatively full-featured alternative to the free VMware Server or commercial VMware Workstation offerings. And with features like real snapshot support, broad host and guest OS compatibility, and the aforementioned support for 64-bit guests, it's easy to see why. Thanks to a growing user base, VirtualBox is quickly cementing its position as the lowest common denominator for the budget-minded VM enthusiast. Just check out how many VirtualBox disk images are floating around the BitTorrent sites.
Of course, popularity doesn't always equate with quality. Despite major gains in stability and robustness (thanks, no doubt, to an infusion of engineering know-how from Sun), VirtualBox is still nowhere near capable enough to challenge VMware Workstation on its home turf -- namely, enterprise support and development teams managing large-scale projects that actually matter. For these users, features like integration with the Visual Studio and Eclipse IDEs, Easy Install, full VM recorder/playback functionality, and support for deployment and manageability controls (VMware ACE) are basic requirements. Needless to say, you'll find none of these advanced tools in the down-market, “freebie” lane occupied by VirtualBox.
Basically, VirtualBox 2.0 is where VMware Workstation was three to five years ago: a maturing, relatively stable tool for running multiple guest operating systems on a host PC. Still, for many casual users this is all they really need. To them, VirtualBox fills a void between the full-featured Workstation and VMware's free Player application, the latter of which places Workstation's powerful runtime engine in a frustratingly restrictive straightjacket with minimal configurability. So while VirtualBox may not be able to compete with VMware on features (it doesn't have all that many to speak of) or performance (it's at least 30 percent slower in OfficeBench tests on the aforementioned Dell XPS M1710), Sun has managed to carve out a niche where its newly acquired product can thrive while growing stronger and occasionally nipping at the heels of its more capable competitor.
Calling VMware Workstation 6.5 versus Sun xVM VirtualBox 2.0 a two-horse “race” might have been misleading. With Workstation's expansive feature set and top-notch performance, it really isn't much of a competition. Still, VirtualBox delivers a combination of features that you simply cannot find outside of VMware, including USB device integration and 64-bit guest OS support. Add to this the killer price (free) and you have the makings of a cult classic. And though VirtualBox doesn't measure up to VMware Workstation today, don't count Sun out. As one of the preeminent engineering powerhouses, the company has the talent and resources to make a serious run at anyone it targets. VMware had better not let its guard down anytime soon.
Read more about virtualization in InfoWorld's Virtualization Channel.