Using VirtualBox


VirtualBox takes advantage of your computer’s virtualization features. If this hardware-assited feature does not exist or is disabled, BCE will either run slowly or not at all. Determine the status of your computer’s virtualization support:

  • On Mac OS X, open Applications > Utilities > Terminal and run:

    sysctl -a | grep machdep.cpu.features | grep -q VMX && echo yes || echo no

    If the response is “no”, the capability may still be present on your Mac, but just disabled. If so, try installing a firmware update.

  • On Windows, download and run a Microsoft utility. You can also download utilities to check if your CPU is capable of virtualization, if not enabled. Hyper-V must be disabled in order for VirtualBox to run 64-bit guest operating systems. Visit the “turn Windows feature on or off” application and make sure Hyper-V is not checked.
  • On Linux, open a terminal window and run:

    egrep -q 'vmx|svm' /proc/cpuinfo && echo yes || echo no

Enabling Virtualization in PC BIOSes

While most recent PCs support hardware virtualization, not all computer vendors enable this feature as shipped from the factory. To turn this feature on, try these instructions based on Red Hat instructions:

  • Reboot your computer
  • Right when the computer is coming up from the black screen, press Delete, Esc, F1, F2, or F4. Each computer manufacturer uses a different key but it may show a brief message at boot telling you which one to press. If you miss it the first time, reboot and try again. It helps to tap the key about twice a second when the computer is coming up. If you are not able to enter the BIOS via this method, consult your computer’s manual.
  • In the BIOS settings, find the configuration items related to the CPU. These can be in under the headings Processor, Chipset, or Northbridge.
  • Enable virtualization; the setting may be called VT-x, AMD-V, SVM, or Vanderpool. Enable Intel VT-d or AMD IOMMU if the options are available.
  • Save your changes and reboot.

Getting the VM up and running

  • Download and install VirtualBox from the VirtualBox website. This is the tool the runs the virtual machine for you.
  • Download the BCE VM in the form of an OVA file. (note that this version does have the heartbleed bug, but this is unlikely to be a problem.) Previous releases can be found at the SCF’s archive.
  • Open VirtualBox, go to File > Import appliance, and then select the .ova file you just downloaded (possibly located in the “Downloads” folder in your home directory).
  • Wait a few minutes…
  • Start the virtual machine by clicking on the tab for “BCE-version” (or whatever you’ve named it) on the left side and then clicking “Start” at the top. This will start a virtual Linux computer within your own machine. After a few seconds you should see black screen and then the VM’s desktop.

Using BCE

You now have a machine that has all the software installed as part of BCE, including IPython, useful Python packages, R, RStudio, and useful R packages.

You can get a terminal window that allows you to type commands in a UNIX-style shell by clicking on the icon of the black box with the $ symbol on the top panel. You can start IPython Notebook in the terminal by simply typing ipython notebook, or R by simply typing R. This starts a bare-bones R session. To start RStudio, either type rstudio at the prompt on go to Applications > Programming > RStudio.

You can restart the VM at any time by opening VirtualBox and clicking on the tab for the VM and clicking “Start” as you did above.

Sharing folders and copying files between your computer and the VM

One useful thing will be to share folders between the VM and the host machine so that you can access the files on your computer from the VM. Do the following:

  • Got to “Devices > Shared Folder Settings” and click on the icon of a folder with a “+” on the right side.
  • Select a folder to share, e.g. your home directory on your computer by clicking on “Folder Path” and choosing “Other” and navigating to the folder of interest. For our purposes here, assume we click on “Documents”.
  • Click “make permanent” and “auto-mount” and then click “Ok”.
  • Reboot the machine by going to applications button on the left of the top toolbart, clicking on “Log Out”, and choosing “Restart” in the window that pops up.
  • Once the VM is running again, click on the “Shared” folder on the desktop. You should see the folder “sf_Documents” (or whatever the folder name you selected was, in place of “Documents”). You can drag and drop files to manipulate them.
  • Alternatively, from the Terminal, you can also see the directory by doing “cd ~/Desktop/shared/sf_Documents” and then “ls” will show you the files. Be careful: unless you selected “read only” at the same time as “make permanent”, any changes to the shared folder on the VM affects the folder in the real world, namely your computer.

Enabling Virtualization within your VM

If you are planning on hosting virtual machines within your VM or if you need to run a 64-bit guest system on your 32-bit computer, you will need to turn on hardware virtualization in the VirtualBox settings. Visit the Settings window of your VM and click the System icon, then the Acceleration tab. Check Enable VT-x/AMD-V and Enable Nested Paging.