Virtualisation is the creation of a virtual version of a piece of computer hardware, software, storage or network, generally with the aim of easing the workload for IT departments and reducing operating costs.
Virtualisation - or virtualization to our American colleagues - has been around for many years, but has become particularly popular in recent years across the enterprise, especially for server and desktop virtualisation.
VMware and VirtualBox are two of the most popular vendors of desktop virtualisation software, which is the practice of separating a desktop environment and associated applications from the physical client device that is used to access it. This can help in the enterprise as it provides more robust disaster recovery and gives IT and end users more flexibility accessing their desktop.
VMware is the giant of the virtualisation world, offering a broad range of software and services, and also branching into cloud and hyper-converged infrastructure more recently.
VirtualBox started life as Oracle’s open-source virtualisation hypervisor, and has since entered the industry as a competitor to offer its cross-platform virtualisation solutions.
So, which one is right for your business?
When selecting desktop virtualisation software, the main thing to take into consideration is the capabilities and how they fit with your wants and needs.
First off there is VMware's Workstation, which is a hosted hypervisor for running x64 versions of Windows and Linux operating system across various PC’s.
VMware also provides a range of commercial Horizon View products to provide user access to virtual desktops, applications and online services just by using a single digital workspace.
The product is designed for the software-defined data centre, so is suitable for businesses that may host data centres or have part of their business stored within the four walls of a data centre. It also includes VMware’s vSphere, Vsan and NSX.
Horizon FLEX provides virtual desktops for Mac or PC users, which can be deployed without the need for a network connection.
VirtualBox, however, does things slightly different to VMware. This mainly comes down to the choice between software-based or hardware-assisted virtualisation.
Being a cross-platform type two hypervisor platform, VirtualBox virtual machines (VMs) can be created on one host operating system and run on a completely different one. For instance, a VM may be created on Windows OS, but run on Linux.
VirtualBox also provides hardware support, which means that some guest VM’s can be run on hosts built with hardware-assisted virtualisation.
VirtualBox’s desktop virtualisation can host with operating systems Windows, Mac OS, Linux or Oracle Solaris and is delivered with a base software package for each individual OS.
VMware pros and cons
VMware is considered a leading vendor in virtualisation for many reasons, one of them being its wide suite of solutions that are available for various business sizes.
The benefits of adopting VMWare tend to run alongside the general benefits of virtualisation: server consolidation and cost savings, IT team efficiency and productivity improvements through desktop virtualisation.
Other benefits include the ability to move a running VM and simplified disaster recovery.
However, because of its market leading position VMWare can often be seen as overpriced.
VirtualBox pros and cons
One of the top benefits of VirtualBox is the capability to run more than one operating system at the same time, which as mentioned before, provides an extra perk for users as you can deploy a website in Linux and test in Windows.
Another benefit to consider would be the ease of use. VirtualBox is implemented with a wizard that runs users through the setting up of a new virtual machine, providing recommendations and so on.
A disadvantage of VirtualBox comes with its performance, as many users complain about the speed of the solution.
It may not be essential to know all the customers of the vendor when considering the right virtualisation software to select, but it is helpful to have an idea of how the specific tools have helped others in the industry.
Kent County Council adopted the Horizon Suite in 2014 to move to a virtualised desktop environment. "With VMware’s desktop virtualisation and automation technology in place, we can now migrate each of our 4,000 remaining devices in less than 30 minutes. This is an eighth of the time it would previously have taken through manual migration, saving us £560,000 in technician time," said Glen Larkin, lead technical architect at Kent County Council at the time.
Other VMware customers include the likes of Adobe, Amazon, Cloudera, Dell, HP, The Independent and more. A full list can be found here.
VirtualBox, however, appears to have a smaller scale customer base, proving itself popular in the software and IT and services industries, as well as for the SME market. More information can be found here.
Pricing is always an important factor to consider when making decisions regarding virtualisation implementation.
VMware’s Horizon 7 is available in two license models, these are Per Named User and Per Concurrent Connection. Each of the models are dedicated either to staff that may need access to a VM throughout the day or a business where VMs are shared between staff throughout the day.
Other Horizon packages are offered on a perpetual and subscription basis via standard, advanced or enterprise models. Horizon Standard, named user is priced at £3,016, Advanced at the same price and Enterprise costs £34,233. The price increases when selecting the Concurrent User License type.
VirtualBox also offers licensing for its virtualisation services, such as its base package of the source code and platform binaries, as well as an extension pack which is a free license for personal, educational, enterprise or evaluation use.
The Oracle VM VirtualBox Enterprise package starts from £40 per named user, plus £805 for its socket metric.
On a broad scale, VMware continually stands as a higher standard for virtualisation solutions, however both VMware and VirtualBox can compete based on the reasons mentioned above.
Generally, if you are focused on performance as opposed to pricing, VMware may be the best choice though.