Brian Jackson - Fotolia

VMware vs. VirtualBox: Which is better for host-based virtualization?

Which is better: VirtualBox or VMware Workstation? Workstation is tightly integrated with VMware's suite, but VirtualBox is open source. Two virtualization experts weigh in.

Editor’s note: The debate over host-based virtualization continues with the latest versions of both VirtualBox and VMware Workstation. Find more updated information in our recent coverage of Workstation and VirtualBox.

When it comes to host-based virtualization, IT professionals routinely turn to two platforms: VMware Workstation and Oracle VirtualBox. Each one has its supporters and detractors.

VMware Workstation features tight integration with the market-leading VMware product suite and includes advanced features such as linked clones. Workstation is a popular choice among consultants and developers who work in VMware environments.

At the same time, the open source VirtualBox also has a rich feature set, can run on Solaris x86 and Mac OS, and has a zero-dollar price tag. VirtualBox includes "teleportation" functionality, which is an analog to VMware VMotion or live migration, and a first for a Type 1 hypervisor.

For more analysis about VMware vs. VirtualBox, read the following face-off between two virtualization experts.

VMware vs. VirtualBox: Five ways VirtualBox wins over Workstation

By Rick Vanover

Rick Vanover

In the Type 1 hypervisor category, VirtualBox is the only way to play. I've used VirtualBox for nearly two years and have not had to go back to VMware Workstation. Here are five reasons why VirtualBox works best for me:

  1. Price. VMware Workstation retails for $249, and major version upgrades are priced around $99. VirtualBox is a free virtualization system with upgrades as new features are released. VirtualBox also has an open source edition known as VirtualBox OSE.
  2. Features. Almost every Workstation feature is available on VirtualBox. This includes snapshots, thin provisioning of virtual disks, seamless windows, broad support for guest operating systems and networking configuration. Whereas Workstation only can be installed on Windows and Linux hosts, VirtualBox host support also includes Mac OS X and Solaris operating systems.
    While Workstation has linked-clone functionality, most Type 1 hypervisor users have more flexibility with snapshots and a larger number of guest operating systems.
  3. "Teleportation" migration functionality. VirtualBox 3.1 introduced a key new feature called teleportation -- a migration technology that allows a running virtual machine to be relocated on another VirtualBox host. This was the first Type 1 hypervisor to offer this functionality, which includes the ability to move a running virtual machine from a Windows to a Mac OS host.
  4. Command-line options. VirtualBox has more command-line functionality than Workstation. The VBoxManage series of commands offer administrators the ability to build virtual machines, launch teleportation events, connect USB devices to virtual machines, manage snapshots and perform start/stop commands.
  5. Virtual disk format support. VirtualBox can support multiple virtual disk formats. The .VDI disk format is the default virtual disk type for use with VirtualBox, but VMware's .VMDK and the .VHD disk formats are also supported. In many cases, a virtual machine from another hypervisor can natively run on VirtualBox. This allows many options for physical-to-virtual (P2V) or virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversion, including changing virtual disk format types for existing virtual machines. Raw host disk support is also available on VirtualBox.

VMware has my heart for data center virtualization, but when it comes to the right time for a Type 1 hypervisor, VirtualBox fits the bill for me.

VMware vs. VirtualBox: Workstation offers a powerful option for general users, developers

By Edward Haletky

Edward Haletky

I have had problems getting VMware Workstation to talk to some of my USB devices in the past, but they have been fixed or alleviated with Workstation 7. Moreover, VMware Workstation has some very cool and useful features for general users and developers.

It has the following features for the general user:

  • You can make an AVI recording on your session to share with others. This is useful if you are creating training material or want to show support exactly what you are doing. I create quite a few presentations, and this feature alone is incredible; there is no need to use third-party tools to create the recording.
  • You can capture the entire screen just as easily as with the aforementioned video capture capability.
  • You can use shared folders to access the contents of your desktop as an out-of-band mechanism. In the past, there were directory traversal problems, but they have been fixed for many years. This is a very useful feature if you use a virtual private network (VPN) within a virtual machine because most VPNs do not allow access to local resources such as printers. The use of the shared folders feature will allow you to print using local resources.
  • You can easily attach local USB devices to the virtual machine.
  • You can play sound from within a VM through your local sound system.

For running demos, the teaming feature is very helpful:

  • You can team virtual machines together so that you can launch the team, and Workstation starts all the VMs for you. Plus, if you want to demonstrate the entire environment, for example VMware vSphere, the teaming feature allows you to run all your VMs at once using multiple LAN segments.

For kernel and other developers, Workstation has other useful features:

  • Support for Eclipse and other development environments to debug VMs.
  • The ability to create a memory dump of a VM that can then be used within the operating system's debugger.
  • Visibility into the VM through the VProbes application programming interface.

You may not use all these features, but even taken individually, these capabilities make VMware Workstation very powerful. Add the integration with VMware ACE and integration with the full VMware product suite (P2V conversion and V2V migrations), and your desktop or laptop may just become its own data center.

Next Steps

VMware updates Fusion for Mac OS X

Support Mac OS X in Windows environment with VirtualBox


Dig Deeper on Introduction to virtualization and how-tos