Turn your home into a virtual datacenter with Virtualbox.

Nov 24

You’ve heard us talk lots of times about Virtualbox. Our FAVORITE free (as in ‘Gratis’) cross platform virtualisation software. As we mentioned in the previous podcast episode about “Proxmox” (a more serious virtualisation tool) the machines in our home with their I5 and i7 processors and “Gigglebytes” of ram .. are mostly idling around in a corner when you’re not playing Call of Duty (and perhaps you even do THAT on the Xbox) So lets give those machines something to DO ! Running a ‘dedicated’ solution like dropbox might just be a little too much, but perhaps you have some cycles to spare on another system that is also being used as a desktop ? Why not try Virtualbox.

As an example : Currently I have dragged my I7, 16 gigabyte’s of ram Mac Mini downstairs and hooked it up to our tv. Since it carries most of our media it was a little silly to have it running in my upstairs office and having to stream everything back to the TV using a second (front end) box. So now the little bugger sits in our media cabinet with some 4 terrabyte of USB Harddisks hooked up to it. Having it just sit there running OSX and acting as a mediaserver or fileserver was a waste of power and cpu cycles. So with virtualbox I gave it something to do. I installed Virtualbox, hooked up a big external usb drive and started cooking some VM’s.

  • Ubuntu 12.10 vm with LXDE : This is my ‘internal’ ubuntu desktop. I use it for running cronjobs, copy operations and scripts that are meant for internal use only. Its my ‘Secure box’. I’ve enabled the RDP server on it (a builtin function of Virtualbox) so I can cantrol the screen of the virtual machine from afar.
  • Ubuntu 12.10 vm with LXDE : The second machine has a torrent client running as does the ‘dirty deeds’ that need to be done on the internet. Insecure surfing, downloading and remote access via SSH are its main goals. Once a week I ‘roll back’ the machine to its original (clean) post install state with the “snapshot” function of Virtualbox.
  • Ubuntu 12.10 Server : The main task of this machine is running OWNCLOUD (also featured in one of our podcasts) as my personal cloud storage.
  • Nas4Free : With a 1800 gigabyte virtual disk, this VIRTUAL machine acts as my main file storage system. So instead of putting my files on a disk and sharing them out via the file-sharing options on my (host) OSX system, I made a virtual machine of a linux application geared towards storage and filesharing … and put all of my files INSIDE a virtual machine. Performance is very good so far and the added perks to running Nas4free are going to be a topic for next weeks podcast.

In the end, controlling these virtual machines is a little messy sometimes. I mean you can’t just interrupt @Niejana when she is watching “Blood and Chrome” to say : Sorry about that, I need to mess with something on my Virtualbox and for that I need to use the TV ?   You need ‘remote’ ways to manage that virtual machine situation.

  • Controlling the Virtual Machines. Remote controlling the virtual machines is easy. You can use the built in RDP server in Virtualbox to use an RDP client (on any operating system) to open up the remote machine. If you also want to access them from the outside, try installing Teamviewer on the Virtual Machine.  If you are using a Linux operating system as your virtual machine you can enable the SSH Server and go in via the terminal.
  • Controlling Virtualbox. Unbeknown to many, virtualbox has a powerful set of terminal commands you can use. With a simple terminal window to my Mac (SSH) I can use the ‘VboxManage’ commands to do just about anything. Make a new virtual machine, clone a drive, resize a drive. Everything runs in the background and its a very very powerful tool. You can find the entire list of Virtualbox commands HERE
  • Controlling Virtualbox with a web interface. Virtualbox also has a web interface that helps you control your virtualmachines. In a point and click way you can start and stop VM’s and do anything you can do on the ‘regular’ desktop window. Installing it might be a little chore (depending on the host operating system you use) but the results are pretty spiffy. Find the howto HERE.  

And with those little tips you know can turn that headless box OR that powerful machine upstairs that is always on, but sometimes used by your kids for gaming… into your own personal datacenter. Don’t have the spare beige box for Proxmox ? Just have a desktop and want to get it to do some cool things ‘under the hood’. Want your own invisible datacenter ?  Here you go ! Download Virtualbox NOW.

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5 comments

  1. Good in-depth tips! So what RDP client are you using?

  2. knightwise

    Depends, on Ubuntu I played with Remina http://www.ubuntugeek.com/remmina-remote-desktop-client.html

    On Windows you can use the builtin RDP client, which is also available for the mac : http://www.microsoft.com/mac/remote-desktop-client

  3. gnome and kde both have built-in rdp clients as well

  4. Nebbit

    Great info, but I’m not getting the Virtualbox networking part of this. Can you point me to a noob guide to setting up multiple VM’s and how they work together with internal networking of Virtualbox and my host network.
    Thanks,
    Nebbit

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