The Use of Virtualization in Education Using VMware Player and VirtualBox

The Use of Virtualization in Education Using VMware Player and VirtualBox

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Description: A brief outline of the basic concepts and history of computer virtualization technology on x86 based systems. The paper discusses virtualization technology and how educational institutions improve flexibility and save time when setting up lab assignments. It will compare and contrast two free virtualization technologies available on the market today, VMware player and Oracle VM VirtualBox.

When comparing the two virtualization technologies, a gathering of information about the two solutions will be required, and the software tested next to each other in similar conditions to see the difference between the two. By installing both VirtualBox and VMware, this paper will give some practical examples of some of the differences between the two solutions. .

 
Author: Karl Mathias Moberg  | Visits: 281 | Page Views: 379
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Contents:
The Use of Virtualization Software in Education using
VMware Player and VirtualBox
Karl Mathias Moberg
kmoberg@thatstudent.com
Noroff Vocational School
September 2017

1. INTRODUCTION

and development. Even so, its creation allowed
for the development of newer systems in the
years to come and showed the potential of
virtualization. IBM launched one of the most
recognized systems, thee VM/370 in the early
1970s. It was the first machine to have the ability
to isolate each virtual machine from another,
allowing for better overall system stability.

This paper will give a brief outline of the basic
concepts and history of computer virtualization
technology on x86 based systems. It will discuss
virtualization technology and how virtualization
can help IT focused subjects in educational
institutions improve flexibility, and save time
when setting up lab assignments.

According to Brodkin (2009), although companies
like IBM - throughout the 80s and 90s - did
continue to develop virtualization further, interest
in the technology lacked thanks to the wide
availability and cheap pricing of computers and
servers. For businesses, it was cheaper and easier
buy and run a whole new server for a single
application than the purchase of a large
mainframe with virtualization support.

It will compare and contrast two free
virtualization technologies available on the
market today, VMware player and Oracle VM
VirtualBox. When comparing the two
virtualization technologies, a gathering of
information about the two solutions will be
required, and the software tested next to each
other in similar conditions to see the difference
between the two. By installing both VirtualBox
and VMware, this paper will give some practical
examples of some of the differences between the
two solutions.

It took the formation of VMware (in the late 90s)
along with the CPU manufacturers Intel and AMD
(in the mid-2000s) for the virtualization market to
take off. Intel and AMD both independently
worked on developing virtualization solutions for
the x86 processing platform, allowing for easier
and more flexible virtualization options. The Intel
VT-x and AMD-V technologies were launched in
2005-2006 and were the beginning of a more
easily available virtualization solution.

2. VIRTUALIZATION
2.1. History of Virtualization

The first concepts of virtualization started with
IBM mainframe virtualization in the late 1960s
and early 1970s. IBM's goal was to allow multiple
users and applications to work on the same
mainframe computer at the same time. The first
product launched was the CP-40/CMS (Bitner &
Greenlee, 2012), used only for internal testing
1

functions as the interface between the virtual
machine, either directly with the hardware or
with a host operating system (OS). It creates
virtual hardware that it submits to the virtual
machine. With the hardware being virtual, this
allows the user to easily change specifications,
without physically changing any hardware in the
system, when changes in requirements for the
VM happen. This flexibility allows systems
administrators to quickly and easily create and
delete servers or computers as needed.

Some of the most common use cases on the x86
platform has been server- and desktop
virtualization, allowing users to run multiple
Operating Systems at once, and to run another
operating system in a window on top of a current
one. (Gerzon, 2007) (AMD, 2005)

As previously mentioned, a hypervisor can
communicate in two ways. One way is direct with
the hardware. In this mode, known as a type- 1
hypervisor, the hypervisor communicates directly
with the system hardware, functioning as the
systems main operating system. Type 1
hypervisors are often known for slightly better
performance over a type 2 as it wastes minimal
system resources on running the base Operating
System. (Melling, 2017). Typical use cases for type
1 hypervisors are in server environments where
the user does not need access to a desktop.
Administration of the virtual machines typically
happens through either a web-interface or a
remote desktop solution. VMware ESXi/vSphere,
Oracle VM, and Xen are examples of type 1
hypervisors.

Figure 1 – A Linux Virtual Machine running on top of a
Windows 10 desktop in a Type 2 Hypervisor

2.2. Basic Concepts of
Virtualization
With server virtualization becoming almost
ubiquitous in business environments (Bowker,
2011), understanding how it works is the key. Li
describes virtualization as follows:
“Virtualization enables users to run one or more
virtual machines simultaneously, each with its
own (guest) operating system, on a single
physical computer. Consequently, the resources
can be shared more efficiently.” (Li, 2010)
By virtualizing a desktop or server environment,
businesses can reduce not only the physical space
utilized by servers and desktop computers and
increase the resource usage of the servers, but
also reduce total power consumption (Jin, et al.,
2012).

Figure 2 – Visualization of a Type 2
hypervisor

An alternative to running the hypervisor as the
primary operating system on the computer is to
use a type 2 hypervisor. A type 2 hypervisor runs
on top of an existing operating system-like
Windows 10 or Linux and allows for simulations
access to both the primary operating system and

To run a virtual machine, a hypervisor (also known
as virtual machine monitor (vmm)) is needed
(Popek & Goldberg, 1974). The hypervisor
2

environment to test a project without potentially
crashing or breaking the host computer.

the virtual machine (See Figure 1). The most wellknown type 2 hypervisors include among others
Oracle VM VirtualBox, VMware Workstation,
Microsoft Hyper-V and Parallels Workstation.

Virtual Machines are saved as file archives on the
host computer, allowing for easy management
and archival. VirtualBox also supports snapshots,
a feature where the software creates an exact
copy of the current state of the virtual machine,
allowing the user to return to that moment, if he
should wish at a later time. The snapshots allow a
user to easily test out a function or program
without worrying about breaking the system.
When the user is done, he can revert to the last
known good state if it breaks. With a clean OS
snapshot, he can return to this without
reinstalling the entire OS.

Figure 3 – Visualization of a Type 1
hypervisor

Most virtual machines operate in what’s known as
a “sandbox” environment. The hypervisor works
as a separator, and instructions sent from the VM
is sent first from the VM to the hypervisor, and
then onto either the physical hardware in type 1
or to the host OS in the case of a type 2
hypervisor. By only allowing a VM to
communicate with the hypervisor, each VM is
separated from both other VMs and the host
computer. The separation removes any
communication from both other VMs and the
physical host without the explicit permission from
the hypervisor, the usage of for example TCP/IP
or other connectivity protocols, thus creating a
safe environment for the host. (Lunsford, 2009)
(Melling, 2017)

The VirtualBox client features support for a large
variety of guest operating systems, among others:
most versions of Windows and Windows server
and various Linux and Unix distributions.

Figure 4 The folder structure of a VirtualBox Virtual Machine.

2.3. VirtualBox
Oracle VM VirtualBox (commonly referred to as
just VirtualBox) is an open-source Type 2
hypervisor, released under GPLv2 license (Oracle
VM VirtualBox, n.d.) originally developed by
Innotek GmbH. It is available for multiple
platforms including Windows, MacOS, Linux, and
Solaris.

2.4. VirtualBox compared to
VMware Player
VMware Workstation Player is the free type 2
hypervisor by VMware available for
noncommercial and personal use for Windows
and Linux (VMware, n.d.). VMware Player is a
stripped-down version of VMware’s flagship type
2 hypervisor VMware Workstation, but retains
some of the core functionality that Workstation
offers. It also shares most of the same functions
and features with VirtualBox, key elements being:
ease of use and support for a wide variety of

Being a type 2 hypervisor, it allows for the easy
and flexible creation and administration of a
virtual machine on a user’s computer. The user
can switch operating systems without the user
having to reboot their computer, or need a safe
3

open-source software can be more flexible with
more developer support.

guest operating systems. VMware Player does
however not support snapshotting or
simultaneous running of multiple VMs at once.
(VMware, n.d.)

Overall, VMware Player has a somewhat easier
networking setup, command-line support for
advanced configuration and scripting, but on the
other hand, has a more restrictive licensing.
VirtualBox does not have the same history and
track record that VMware has, but has a less
restrictive license, and support XML configuration
files for easy setup of VMs. (VMware, n.d.) (Oracle
VM VirtualBox, n.d.)

A key factor, when choosing virtualization
software on a desktop computer, is performance
and overhead. Overhead are the resources that
are consumed by the hypervisor to run the virtual
machine. Usability and reliability are also worth
considering when deciding what software to use.
Both VMware Player and VirtualBox offer
downloads from their respective websites.
VMware player version 12.5.7 is a 78.3 MB
download whereas VirtualBox version 5.1.25 is
117 MB. When installed VMware takes up 235
MB and VirtualBox 171 MB respectively.

2.5. Virtualization in IT education
Educational institutions, particularly in IT focused
subjects, can get tremendous flexibility by
utilizing virtualization technology when
demonstrating subjects or techniques. Allowing
students access to virtual machines can give them
invaluable practical experience trying out the
theory that teachers have shown in class.

To test out the resource usage of both
hypervisors, Lubuntu 17.04 was installed with
identical configuration on both VirtualBox and
VMware Player with the following settings:
Processor (CPU)
Memory (RAM)
Storage

By giving students access to VirtualBox or
VMware player on their own or lab computers
with virtual machines available for use, they have
a safe space to change settings and install
programs that the school’s IT staff would in most
cases prefer not to happen on their network.

1 Core – 1 Thread
2048 MB
Fixed 20 GB

In this test, when running Lubuntu in VMware
player on the Lubuntu desktop, VMware used
close to 0% CPU power and around a total of 4550 MB of Memory (RAM). In the same test,
VirtualBox used up to 95 MB of Memory. Refer to
Appendix 5.2 for full test results.

According to studies, the Curve of Forgetting
describes how much the brain remembers: “By
day 2, if you have done nothing with the
information you learned in that lecture, didn’t
think about it again, read it again, etc. you will
have 50%-80% of what you learned.” (University
of Waterloo, n.d.) One of the techniques that has
shown (Karpicke, 2016) to help improve how
much a student remembers, is memory retrieval;
thinking of what you have learned and using it.

The results of the trial show VMware with slightly
less overhead than VMware, which could be
substantial for users with limited system
resources.
Li (2010) describes in a study done over several
years trying both platforms, which when
comparing VirtualBox and VMware Player in
similar conditions, they both have strengths and
weaknesses. While VMware is widely adopted
and has a strong track record with users in the
industry, VirtualBox has the advantage of
supporting snapshotting, and due to it being

One way of doing this is to practice the material
learned in the class, which is much easier thanks
to virtualization. Teachers can distribute either a
complete virtual machine-package to the
students, which is pre-configured and ready for
the students to run, or distribute an ISO-file

4

3. CONCLUSION

allowing students to install the operating system
on their own.

An educational institution can, as this paper has
demonstrated, benefit greatly by using
virtualization software in IT classes. It saves them
time to set up and provides security for their
network. (Lunsford, 2009) wrote: “Virtualization
offers potential opportunities and benefits in an
educational setting, including creating a virtual
sandbox for risky activities, providing instruction
in various applications or operating systems…”

The built-in snapshotting function in VirtualBox
can also be a great feature when trying new
techniques, or pieces of software that could break
the system. It allows a student to quickly and
easily return to a previous known-good state of a
VM. (Oracle VM VirtualBox, n.d.)
Utilizing snapshotting, and ready-made
configurations of virtual machines can save
educators and students both time and resources
when setting up new projects and running
experiments. Our tests show that having to
reinstall the OS instead of restoring a known good
snapshot of a VM can take more than three times
as long in the best test conditions, and will more
than likely take much longer in a complex OS
setup.

Thanks to companies like IBM, who initially
developed the technology and the ones who
further improved upon it (with the likes of
VMware, Intel, and AMD though x86 virtualization
support), students can save time and effort by
utilizing virtualization, rather than having to
configure multiple different systems.
As have been mentioned previously in this paper,
students can do things in a virtual machine that
would not be favored by IT staff, if it were to
happen on a lab computer connected directly to
the institution's network. A systems administrator
usually does not want to give a student
administrator permissions on a lab computer, but
in a virtual machine, this is not a problem.
Practicing the teachings of a lecture has shown to
greatly increase a student’s ability to remember
what happened in a lecture, and gives invaluable
real-world experience for when the students
eventually get a job in the field. Thanks to today's
modern x86 based systems, virtualization has
become easier than ever and gives students and
professors an invaluable tool through the use of
software like VirtualBox.

The features in the hypervisors, allow users to
quickly and easily configure a full network of
computers to test out, for example, networking
capabilities, without having to have multiple
computers running, physically connected to each
other. It also allows students to switch from one
operating system to another without having to
reboot their computers, and still have access to
their host desktop for doing further research or
notetaking of what is going on in the VM.
Overall, for an educational institution on a limited
budget, VMware Players lack some key features
that, in the author's mind, rule it out from
consideration in an educational setting.
Snapshotting and the ability to run multiple
virtual machines at once outweighs the slightly
higher resource usage; and in some cases, slightly
more difficult user interface for new users of
VirtualBox. Overall VirtualBox gives students an
excellent introduction into virtualization for free,
with extensive support for today's most used
virtualization features.

Choosing one of either VirtualBox or VMware
Player, can be a difficult decision. Although they
both provide similar features, VirtualBox has an
advantage with more support for features that
can be useful for educators to quickly get up and
running, and as such VirtualBox could be a better
choice for an educational institution wanting a
free solution and increase their flexibility.
5

4. REFERENCES
AMD, 2005. AMD64 Virtualization code-named "Pacifica" Technology. [Online]
Available at: https://www.mimuw.edu.pl/~vincent/lecture6/sources/amd-pacifica-specification.pdf
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Bitner, B. & Greenlee, S., 2012. Z/VM – A Brief Review of Its 40 Year History. [Online]
Available at: http://www.vm.ibm.com/vm40hist.pdf
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Bowker, M., 2011. Virtualization 202: Getting to the Next Level. [Online]
Available at: https://s.nsit.com/uk01/en-gb/content/media/pdf/2845106-white-paper-getting-to-thenext-level-250612.pdf
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Brodkin, J., 2009. With the long history of virtualization behind it, IBM looks to the future. [Online]
Available at: https://www.networkworld.com/article/2254433/virtualization/with-long-history-ofvirtualization-behind-it--ibm-looks-to-the-future.html
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Gerzon, G., 2007. Intel® Virtualization Technology Processor Virtualization Extensions and Intel Trusted
Execution Technology. [Online]
Available at: https://software.intel.com/sites/default/files/m/d/4/1/d/8/Virtualization.pdf
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Jin, Y., Wen, Y., Chen, Q. & Zhu, Z., 2012. Energy efficiency and server virtualization in data centers: An
empirical investigation. Computer Communications Workshops (INFOCOM WKSHPS), March(2012 IEEE
Conference), pp. 133-138.
Karpicke, J. D., 2016. A Powerful Way To Improve Learning and Memory. [Online]
Available at: http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2016/06/learning-memory.aspx
[Accessed 13 09 2017].
Li, P., 2010. Selecting and using virtualization solutions: our experiences with VMware and VirtualBox.
Journal of Computing Sciences, 3, 25(3), pp. 11-17.
Lunsford, D. L., 2009. Virtualization Technologies in Information Systems Education. Journal of
Information Systems Education, 20(3), p. 339.
Melling, T. I., 2017. Virtuelle Tjenere - Introduksjon. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ntnu.no/iie/fag/vit/lek01/vit-ls01_intro-til-virtualisering.pdf
[Accessed 12 09 2017].
Oracle VM VirtualBox, n.d. Licensing: Frequently Asked Questions. [Online]
Available at: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Licensing_FAQ
[Accessed 12 09 2017].

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Popek, G. J. & Goldberg, R. P., 1974. Formal requirements for virtualizable third generation
architectures. Communications of the ACM, 17(7), pp. 412-421.
University of Waterloo, n.d. Curve of Forgetting. [Online]
Available at: https://uwaterloo.ca/campus-wellness/curve-forgetting
[Accessed 13 09 2017].
VMware, n.d. VMware Workstation Player - VMware Products. [Online]
Available at: https://www.vmware.com/products/player/playerpro-evaluation.html
[Accessed 13 09 2017].
VMware, n.d. Workstation for Windows. [Online]
Available at: https://www.vmware.com/products/workstation.html
[Accessed 13 09 2017].
Waddington, T., 2009. Smarts: It's Not How Much You Learn That matters. It's How Much You
Remember. [Online]
Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smarts/200904/smarts-its-not-how-much-youlearn-matters-its-how-much-you-remember
[Accessed 13 09 2017].

7

5. APPENDIX
5.1. Large-size screenshots.
Included below are large-size screenshots for easier readability than in the original text.

(Figure 1. – A Linux Virtual Machine running on top of a Windows 10 desktop.)

Figure 5 – The folder structure of a VirtualBox Virtual Machine.

8

5.2. Results of VMware Workstation Player and VirtualBox Lubuntu test
In this test, installation of Lubuntu happened on a clean version of VMware Workstation Player (version
12.5.7-5813279) and VirtualBox (version 5.1.25-117224). Lubuntus settings were all default with
username “km” password “1234”. No additional tools were installed, including “VMware tools.”
The VM settings were identical in both hypervisors:
Processor (CPU)
Memory (RAM)
Storage
Network

1 Core – 1 Thread
2048 MB
Fixed 20 GB
Bridged from host computer

After installation, the VM was rebooted, logged into the desktop and left there for 5 minutes to let the
system stabilize before checking the resource usage of the host computer in “Windows Task Manager.”
The results are as follows:
CPU
Memory
Disk

VMware Player
0%
23.6 MB
0 MB/s

VirtualBox
0.3% + 0.1%
83.7 MB + 15.8 MB
0 MB/s

Note: VirtualBox has two main processes showing in Windows Task Manager. One for the hypervisor,
and one for the VM whereas VMware shows both as a single process.
The results of the test can make it look like VMware player uses a lot less memory than its competition.
However, it does not show the full story. Whereas VirtualBox displays all its system usage in the two
processes, VMware has quite a few other processes running in the background for USB virtualization,
network services among others. In total, the VMware hypervisor uses slightly more memory than
VirtualBox (~20-30 MB depending on task load), but use less memory total in running the VM (23 MB
against VirtualBox 83.7 MB).
Overall VirtualBox uses slightly more memory over VMware Workstation Player and as a result, has a
slightly higher overhead.
Screenshots of the resource manager are attached below:

9

Appendix 5.2: Figure 1 – Windows Task Manager showing VirtualBox resource usage when running a
clean Lubuntu VM.

Appendix 5.2: Figure 2 – Windows Task Manager showing VMware Player resource usage when running
a clean Lubuntu VM.

10

Appendix 5.2: Figure 3 – Windows Task Manager showing more detailed processes that are run by
VMware player in the background, not shown in the main application list.

11

5.3. Results of snapshot tests in VirtualBox
To get a better understanding of the snapshotting feature and benefits of utilizing snapshots in
VirtualBox, the author set up two cloned VMs with Lubuntu installed. One clone had a snapshot
configured, and the other did not. Lubuntu was chosen for this test as it is a minimal and very
lightweight operating system, and at 933 MB it would not take very long to reinstall a system for testing
purposes. The test did not include system updates, and both systems had no updates installed after
initial installation. Please note that the difference in time from a snapshot to a re-install would be
dramatically higher with a more demanding operating system, especially if updates to the OS were
needed as well.
With the VMs configured, we logged on to machines and launched LXTerminal. From the terminal, the
command “sudo rm -rf /*” was issued, which should erase most files, or enough files to make the OS
unbootable. After running the command, the OS will eventually return to a blank screen with just a
cursor marker and be unable to run any commands. When rebooting the system, it will return a disaster
recovery screen and is unable to boot.
A stopwatch ran in the background and took the time from when issuing the initial the command until
the computer was back to the login screen. The test was run once when using the snapshotting feature,
and again with the second VM using the original ISO-file to reinstall the OS with the same setting as it
had previously.
The results were as follows:
Time

Snapshot
1 minute, 6 seconds

Re-Install
3 minutes, 51 second

12

As the results above show, the user can save a significant amount of time by using snapshotting over
having to re-install the entire operating system if something should go disastrously wrong.

Appendix 5.3: Figure 1 – The timer after re-installation test.

13