VBoxHeadless - Running Virtual Machines With VirtualBox 3.1.x On A Headless CentOS 5.4 Server

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Author: Falko Timme
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Last edited 02/03/2010

This guide explains how you can run virtual machines with Sun VirtualBox 3.1.x on a headless CentOS 5.4 server. Normally you use the VirtualBox GUI to manage your virtual machines, but a server does not have a desktop environment. Fortunately, VirtualBox comes with a tool called VBoxHeadless that allows you to connect to the virtual machines over a remote desktop connection, so there's no need for the VirtualBox GUI.

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

I have tested this on a CentOS 5.4 server (host system) with the IP address where I'm logged in as a normal user (user name admin in this example) instead of as root.

If you only have a root account, but no normal user account, create one as follows (user admin, group admin)...

# groupadd admin
# useradd -d /home/admin -m -g admin -s /bin/bash admin

... create a password for the new user...

# passwd admin

... and log in as that user.


2 Installing VirtualBox

To install VirtualBox 3.1.x on our CentOS 5.4 server, we need root privileges, therefore we run

$ su

Next download and register Sun's public rpm key:

# wget -q http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian/sun_vbox.asc
# rpm --import sun_vbox.asc
# rm -f sun_vbox.asc

Now we enable the VirtualBox OpenSUSE repository on our system:

# cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
# wget http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/rpm/rhel/virtualbox.repo

We can now simply install VirtualBox 3.1.x as follows:

# yum install VirtualBox-3.1

Now we must add the user that will run VirtualBox (admin in this example) to the vboxusers group:

# /usr/sbin/usermod -G vboxusers admin

VirtualBox is now installed and ready to be used.


# exit

to leave the root account and become a normal user (admin) again.


3 Using VirtualBox On The Command Line

3.1 Creating A VM

To create a VM on the command line, we can use the VBoxManage command. See

$ VBoxManage --help

for a list of available switches and (highly recommended!) take a look at http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/UserManual.html#vboxmanage.

I will now create an Ubuntu 9.10 Server VM with 256MB memory and a 10GB hard drive from the Ubuntu 9.10 Server iso image (which I have stored in /home/ubuntu-9.10-server-amd64.iso):

$ VBoxManage createvm --name "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" --register
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" --memory 256 --acpi on --boot1 dvd --nic1 bridged --bridgeadapter1 eth0
$ VBoxManage createhd --filename Ubuntu_9_10_Server.vdi --size 10000 --register
$ VBoxManage storagectl "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" --name "IDE Controller" --add ide
$ VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 0 --device 0 --type hdd --medium Ubuntu_9_10_Server.vdi
$ VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 1 --device 0 --type dvddrive --medium /home/ubuntu-9.10-server-amd64.iso


3.2 Importing An Existing VM

Let's assume you have a VM called examplevm that you want to reuse on this host. On the old host, you should have a directory Machines/examplevm in the VirtualBox directory; Machines/examplevm should contain the examplevm.xml file. Copy the examplevm directory (including the examplevm.xml file) to your new Machines directory (if your user name is admin, this is /home/admin/.VirtualBox/Machines - the result should be /home/admin/.VirtualBox/Machines/examplevm/examplevm.xml).

In addition to that copy the examplevm.vdi file from the old VDI directory to the new one (e.g. /home/admin/.VirtualBox/VDI/examplevm.vdi).

Afterwards, you must register the imported VM:

$ VBoxManage registervm Machines/examplevm/examplevm.xml


3.3 Starting A VM With VBoxHeadless

Regardless of if you create a new VM or import and old one, you can start it with the command:

$ VBoxHeadless --startvm "Ubuntu 9.10 Server"

(Replace Ubuntu 9.10 Server with the name of your VM.)

VBoxHeadless will start the VM and a VRDP (VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol) server which allows you to see the VM's output remotely on another machine.

To stop a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" poweroff

To pause a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" pause

To reset a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 9.10 Server" reset

To learn more about VBoxHeadless, take a look at

$ VBoxHeadless --help

and at http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/UserManual.html.

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2 Comment(s)

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From: Admon at: 2010-04-20 07:35:25

Thanks, really nice source as I'm planing to run vbox on my remote server which has no X enabled, currently my servers are all ovz and vserver based, you can check some config details on my blog site http://planet.admon.org/category/virtualization/

I have some exp. with virtualbox based VPS, they're running well, but the performance is not so good... Is there anyone had compared Xen and Vbox?

From: Anonymous at: 2011-06-08 21:21:19

I am testing it out. Will provide input on how it works out. I have read the Vbox is better but then there is no solid evidence. So far the good points is that it may not be very diffciult to setup and also allows certain features like memory balooning and remote administration