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VirtualBox vs VMware: Which is Better for Your Environment

Jun 17, 2021

Through virtualization, an organization can run multiple different operating systems on a single piece of hardware. While they are both viable and extremely popular solutions for creating a virtual environment, the difference between VirtualBox and VMware is rather significant. In some cases, only one of them will be able to offer a specific feature to fit your business requirements.

In this article, you will find the information that is necessary to decide which is better, VMware or VirtualBox, for your environment and usage scenario.

VBox vs VMware: General Differences

VirtualBox vs VMware

Both VirtualBox and VMware are hypervisors. Hypervisor is specialized software that can be used to simultaneously run multiple virtual machines on a physical server. It’s an excellent way to maximize the value of hardware devices by allowing resources to be shared among many users.

Hypervisors come in two flavors:

  • Type 1 (native) hypervisors access hardware directly and don't require the support of an underlying OS. They act as the operating system and control calls for resources.
  • Type 2 hypervisors run on top of a traditional OS as an application. They provide virtualization capabilities by coordinating calls for resources through the host operating system.

Here’s how the two virtualization solutions are categorized:

  • VMware ESXi is a type 1 hypervisor that needs to be installed on bare metal.
  • VMware Player, Workstation, and Fusion are type 2 hypervisors that need to be installed on a physical device with a host operating system.
  • VirtualBox is also a type 2 hypervisor that needs to be installed on a host OS.

In general, type 1 hypervisors are better for large production environments while type 2 hypervisors are more suited to users who wish to run a virtual machine on their personal computers.

Supported Operating Systems

VBox can be installed on Linux (i.a. Ubuntu and Debian), Windows, Solaris, macOS, and FreeBSD host machines. And you can choose Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD, or macOS as the guest OS of your virtual machine.

VMware Workstation and Player have versions for Linux and Windows, and for macOS there is Fusion. As for a guest OS, you can opt for Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD, or macOS.

As you can see, VirtualBox supports more operating systems than any specific version of VMware. But you can use either VMware or VirtualBox for Windows 10 systems.

Licensing models

Here’s how the two products stack up from a licensing perspective:

VBox is free, open-source virtualization software that is available under GNU General Public License (GPL), version 2. It’s completely free to use for any personal or commercial purpose. Plus, you can get the Extension Pack, which adds functionality to the platform, and is also free of charge.

VMware has several virtualization products:

  • Player is free for personal and educational purposes but requires a paid license for commercial use.
  • Workstation Pro is intended for large-scale businesses and projects and the license will cost you $199.
  • Fusion has a one-time licensing fee of $199.
  • ESXi outside of the free 60 day evaluation period, must be licensed with one of the vSphere licenses, starting from around $575 (vSphere Essentials Kit).

Functionality and Features

Now let’s take an in-depth look at the functionality and features offered by these competing virtualization platforms.

User Interface

Both platforms have a variety of interfaces to offer.
vBox users can choose whether they prefer to use the graphical user interface or the VBoxManage command line.

The same goes for VMware that also offers both GUI and command-line interface. The GUI varies depending on the version you’re using.

Supported USB Devices

Many users want the ability to access USB devices from within a virtual session. USB passthrough functionality increases the value of a peripheral physical device attached to the host computer. With the USB passthrough, a USB hub can be connected to easily allow virtual machines to gain access to a variety of connected peripherals.

Both platforms support connecting USB devices to virtual machines using native VM options. In some cases, the introduction of a third-party tool to act as a USB controller or USB arbitrator can streamline efforts to connect and use USB devices. VBox users need to use the Extension Pack to enable USB 2.0 and 3.0 support.
VMware supports USB devices out of the box.

Shared Folders

The ability to create a shared folder that can be used to exchange files between host and guest operating systems is a valuable feature.

You can use a shared folder in both virtualization platforms, except VMware ESXi that requires shared folders to be created at the host operating system level.

Virtual Disk Format

There is a virtual disk format on each of the platforms.
The only one supported by VMWare is called VMDK.

In the vBox, you’ll have more options to choose from: a native VDI format, VHD, HDD, and even VMDK. So it’s safe to say that VirtualBox is much more versatile from the perspective of virtual disk formats.

Virtual Disk Allocation

Virtual disks can be preallocated or allocated dynamically and both virtualization platforms support these methods, though the terminology they use differs.

VMware uses the term thin provisioned disks for dynamically allocated disks and provisioned disks for preallocated disks.

VirtualBox doesn’t have any special term for dynamically allocated disks, and preallocated disks are referred to as fixed disks.

Virtual Machine Snapshots

VM snapshots save the current state of a virtual machine and are extremely useful for testing and dev systems. Except for the VMware Player, all other versions of the two virtualization platforms support the creation of multiple snapshots that can be used to roll back a VM to a previous state.

VM Live Migration

Users can migrate VMs between host operating systems with either of these virtualization solutions.

In VirtualBox, this feature is known as Teleportation.

In VMware, only ESXi has an equivalent feature called vMotion. All the other versions do not support live VM migration.

3D Graphics Support

VMware provides 3D graphics with DirectX 10 and OpenGL 3.3 support for Player, Workstation, Fusion, and ESXi.

VirtualBox has limited support for 3D graphics.

Virtual Networks

VirtualBox provides users with the following choices in network mode.

  • Not attached
  • Network Address Translation (NA)
  • NAT Network Service
  • Bridged adapter
  • Internal network
  • Host-only adapter

In VMware, the following virtual network modes are available.

  • Bridged
  • NAT
  • Host-only

Shared Storage Support

Shared storage using the iSCSI protocol is supported by these two virtualization platforms. You can attach iSCSI storage as a remote disk over an Ethernet network.
VirtualBox comes with a native iSCSI initiator.

In VMware, ESXi also supports the use of iSCSI storage, but Workstation, Player, and Fusion do not support iSCSI at all.

Management Interface

Centralized and remote management are important features for modern IT departments who want the ability to access systems over Ethernet.
VirtualBox offers users the PhpVirtualBox web interface that is similar to its standard interface.

VMware ESXi provides the vCenter Server for centralized management of ESXi hosts and other vSphere components.

Encryption Support

Encrypting data resources is a critically important feature of a virtualization solution.
VirtualBox has a built-in encryption feature accessible with the Extension Pack. Users can select AES-128 bit or AES-256 bit encryption.

Encryption is available in all versions of VMware, though the choices differ depending on which product is being used. ESXi offers more encryption options than other versions of the platform.

Clustering

VirtualBox provides no support for VM clustering.

In VMware, clustering is only available in ESXi.

Developer Tools

VMware offers developers access to different APIs (application programming interfaces) and SDKs (software development kits) to streamline their development efforts. Among them is VMware Studio which is a free development tool for building virtual appliances and applications.

VirtualBox also provides a powerful API and SDK.

Software Virtualization

Only VirtualBox supports software virtualization in which the software emulates a complete computer system and runs a guest on top of it.

Both platforms support hardware virtualization where hardware devices are emulated from the host.

Conclusion

Hopefully, now you have enough information to choose either VMware or VirtualBox. Both offer users feature-rich platforms for creating a virtualized environment. They allow users to do things like installing a Windows XP system on top of a Ubuntu host operating system. Modern businesses use virtualization for everything from test systems to running mission-critical applications.

There are some distinct differences in the price and functionality of the two solutions and you should carefully consider them before making a decision on a virtualization platform. In some cases, native features may not offer the most efficient way to get things like USB redirection and USB passthrough implemented.

Third-party tools can make it easier to add a USB device to a VM or help in situations where there are no physical USB ports available for connecting physical devices. They can add the functionality required to make virtualization work exactly the way you need to address your specific business objectives.

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