Oct 07

Easiest Open Source VM Host?

I’ve been hosting my legacy VMs using Virtualbox for quite some time on a dedicated machine running Win7.  A recent hard drive death gave me the opportunity to switch this to an open source platform.  Primarily because of the number of legacy VMs that I need to fire up from time to time, I wanted to keep things simple and stay with VirtualBox instead of switching to a more interesting hypervisor like Xen.   So my requirements were essentially these:  1.  Run Virtualbox (with GUI)  2.  Reliable VNC/RDP type desktop sharing so I don’t have to walk over to this machine in the corner of the Lab to fire off a needed instance.

In this case, the hardware is stock standard, relatively recent, enterprise type Intel/Lenovo mid form desktop, albeit with a bit more RAM as it is a VM host machine.

Take 1: Centos7

I have far more experience working with enterprise installs of CentOS than any other command line Linux so I wanted to give the newest GUI version a try.  I have had bad (read: failure level) experiences getting virtualization to run well with GUI on prior versions of CentOS (5?) using both KVM or VirtualBox.  I was encouraged that there were rpms made for VirtualBox expressly for CentOS7.

The install went smoothly with a lot of options for how I wanted to configure the machine.  I picked and chose to do a pretty standard install with GUI…..  The new GUI is quite slick vs CentOS6, but took some getting used to.  Remote desktop options for example moved from the main menus over to options under the user.

To shorten the long story, I never got VirtualBox or Remote Desktop (via VNC) to work satisfactorily.  VirtualBox threw kernel errors, and the Google Rabbit Hole of suggested solutions leading to more errors in a repeating cycle outlasted my patience.  Likewise, the solutions to reconfigure Vino to permit VNC connections to work led only to more errors, again outlasting my patience.  VNC clients on Win, Mac and ironically CentOS6 failed to connect over encryption issues that couldn’t be fixed.  Only a client installed on an old Ubuntu Laptop could connect.

At this point, I started stealing side glances at a nearby Win7 install disc (that had in fact previously been loaded on the same machine)….

Take 2: Mint

Figuring that perhaps trying to get GUI goodness on such an enterprise oriented distro might not have been the best idea, I decided to go as hard in the opposite direction as possible.  Ubuntu has always worked well for me as a desktop OS, but my last brief try with Mint seemed even better.  I was encouraged by this rather non-techie article as well, and the fact that it never had to resort to command line fixes.  Installing was easy though with far fewer options than CentOS.  During install I was further encouraged that VirtualBox showed up as a featured application in the ‘boredom avoidance’ screens that give you something to stare at other than little lines going from left to right.

Sure enough, VirtualBox showed up in Mint’s software tool and installed with all dependencies without a hitch.  Imported VMs ran with only minor tweaking (different NIC settings).

VNC screen sharing looked like a bummer at first here too (“no supported authentication” errors) but unlike CentOS, the very first help item – installing and using dconf-editor and deselecting encryption worked like a charm.

As desktop Linux distros go, Mint truly continues to impress.