Sun's VirtualBox Revs, Perhaps for the Last Time

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Dec 2, 2009

For years it seems Sun Microsystems seems to be one of those companies ahead of the curve yet missing the boat. This week's release of VirtualBox 3.1 is no exception to that (available for download). Virtually Speaking: Sun just updated its virtual desktop software, VirtualBox, but Oracle's post-acquisition jaws of death loom large.

Things have been relatively quiet on the virtualization front, so Sun's timing was right in that regard. The upgrade's two key features that are key to any self-respecting virtualization strategy: support for live migration and vastly improved snapshot capabilities. Reviews of the product are in, and they seem to lean toward favorable.

In some ways this is a catch-up release. The technology itself is not breaking new ground or introducing new concepts: VMware has supported live migration in VMware Workstation for some time now. What it does do though is remove many of the feature-related questions of legitimacy.[Ed Note: Live migration is not available in Workstation, VMotion is however, a key part of VMware ESX, the company's server offering.]

This relief will likely be short-lived for potential customers on the fence though, given Sun's uncertain future in an uncertain post-Oracle-acquisition world.

As The Register noted:

The clever techies behind Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox hypervisor just keep plugging away on improving the product, as if the $7.4bn Oracle acquisition had not happened and as if Oracle will have anything useful to do with VirtualBox other than sit on it and keep it out of a rival's hands when the deal gets approved by the European Union's antitrust regulators.

VirtualBox will not be Oracle's first virtualization offering. Back in May the company acquired Virtual Iron, and we all saw how well that turned out for customers.

As in, it didn't. Technology was kept and rolled into Oracle VM; development efforts were dumped. Move along Virtual Iron users, nothing to look at here.

Not surprisingly, speculation remains as to Oracle's intentions for Sun. What will it keep, and what will it sell off? Where will the lion's share of its developmental efforts end up?

The Register, which followed the dismantling of Virtual Iron over the summer, is quite pessimistic about VirtualBox's prospects. On Monday, it noted, "Oracle taking control of Sun and therefore VirtualBox will also reduce competition in virtualization - and probably mean the end of the line for one of Sun's most popular programs."

VirtualBox users, however have one advantage that Virtual Iron users did not: VirtualBox OSE, an open source edition. If users are committed to keeping Virtual Box going, or even going in a different direction, the opportunity is there.

In the end, users will decide if the need for it is there, and that is one of the true values of open source.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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