VirtualBox – An Introduction to the world of Virtual Machines

virtualbox.orgAs I began working with the Juniper SRX100, I remembered that I would need a syslog server, a radius server and probably a tacacs+ server at some point during the learning process. In the past, I would have built another server or pressed a workstation into that role (if the need was temporary). That is fine if you are at home or the office and just happen to have a system that can be spared for that use. That is usually the exception to the rule. There are times that you may need to do some testing with a specific operating system and/or browser combination to help resolve a network or user problem.

When I began this search, my first item on the check list was that whatever VM platform that I selected must be multi-platform. In this case, multi-platform means that the VM application must have an application that runs on Windows, Mac OSX or Linux. If it cleared that hurdle and several of them do, it needed to use the same file formats between versions so that if I created a VM image on Windows that I could run that same VM image on Mac OSX or Linux. That is where one package that had a very good reputation (that began when I first heard about it when Microsoft Vista was released) got dropped from consideration. It used one file format on Mac OSX and a different one for Windows with no conversion utility to move a VM between platforms without reinstalling which isn’t something that I wanted to do.

The list got paired down until only VirtualBox remained. There was concern in the open source community when Oracle acquired VirtualBox that it would cease to be a free package. That was some time ago and Oracle, to its credit, has kept VirtualBox the way it was. After installing the Guest OS (another way of referring to the VM you installed), to get the full advantage of running it you will need to install a “client add-on” package that allows you to get full advantage of the virtual display and other features in VirtuaBox. With one additional install of the VirtualBox Extension Pack, you will gain support for USB 2.0, VirtualBox RDP and PXE Boot for Intel network cards.

I recently has a situation where I was testing Splunk to see how it would help with serving as a Netflow collector. What I did in this case was to get CentOS, a Linux distribution popular for use as a Server OS, installed and patched to a known point. Using that as a starting point, I then cloned, or made a copy of my base install of CentOS and then installed Splunk on that. When I was finished, I could delete that last VM I had created but still had a fresh copy of CentOS to test my next application with. You can also use the snapshot function to do something similar but I went with Cloning as I had not tried that before. In the coming weeks, I will go over each of the steps that I have talk about here including a Video podcast to let you see things exactly as I go through them. For more information about VirtualBox, go to http://www.virtualbox.org.

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