Imagine having a virtualized computer environment within your physical computer that can perform almost all the same functions as a computer, including running applications and operating systems.
A computer within a computer is essentially what a virtual machine is; VMs are virtual environments that behave like a computer. Within this virtual environment, you can run macOS on Windows 11, Windows XP on your MacBook, Linux on your iPhone, and so much more.
You might be wondering – but why would I want to do that? If you yearn for the nostalgia of Mac OS 9.2 or Windows 7, you can easily implement that with a VM. However, there are more productive reasons for you or your organization to take advantage of a virtual environment. Before diving into those reasons, let’s discuss how virtual machines work.
How Do Virtual Machines Work?
The virtual machine’s virtualized environment runs as a process in a window on your current operating system. The operating system (OS) running on your computer is called the host OS, and any OS running inside your VM is called a guest OS.
This process is managed by software known as a hypervisor. The hypervisor manages resources such as storage and memory from the host to guest(s). VMs only work if a hypervisor is there to virtualize and distribute host resources.
The guest OS is stored on a virtual hard drive within your actual hard drive. Since the guest OS is presented as a real hard drive, you won’t need to do anything complicated like partitioning your hard drive.
Multiple VMs can be hosted on a single physical machine, allowing you to run Windows 10, Ubuntu, and Mac OS 9.2 all within the same virtual machine at any given time.
How can these capabilities benefit businesses? Read on.
Why Your Business Should Use a Virtual Machine
VMs allow you to experiment with other OSs without installing it on your physical machine. You can test a beta OS, test products outside your native OS, or take advantage of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI deployments allow users to remotely access desktop environments, serving as a digital office open 24/7.
|Create testing and development environments||VMs can create isolated environments for testing and development that include full functionality but no infrastructure impact. VMs can also support DevOps with their ability to be turned on or off, migrated, and adapted.|
|Improve security efforts||Since VMs are separated from the host OS, security vulnerabilities such as malware won’t impact your hardware. Testing new applications or software changes is made easy and secure in the virtual environment.|
|Create a hybrid environment||Virtualization and cloud computing go hand-in-hand. VMs allow you to create a cloud environment alongside an on-premises one, bringing flexibility without abandoning your legacy systems.|
|Consolidate servers||VMs can be set up as servers that host other VMs allowing organizations to reduce sprawl by concentrating more resources onto a single machine.|
|Improve disaster recovery/business continuity||By replicating systems in cloud environments, VMs provide an extra layer of security.|
|Improve cost-efficiency||Organizations minimize the need for extra servers by hosting multiple VMs on one server, thus deploying the outcome of multiple servers at a fraction of the cost.|
Current Virtual Machine Options
In 2022, there are currently several VM options for several host OSs. However, technology is constantly evolving, and most major cloud and virtualization companies feel the pressure to keep up. For example, there are multiple VM options for Intel processors but only two options for ARM processors, i.e., newer Macs with Apple silicon/M1 chip. Intel is currently the dominant architecture, as it powers Windows, Android, and pre-ARM processor Macs.
|1. The Industry Standard: VMware|
|2. The Best Free Option: VirtualBox|
|3. The Best Mac & Apple M1 Option: Parallels|
|4. The Windows 10 and 11 Option: Microsoft Azure|
|5. The Best, Free Apple M1 Option: UTM|
|6. The Best Linux Option: QEMU|
|7. The Runner-Up Linux and Windows Option: Red Hat Virtualization|
|8. The Runner-Up Linux Option: KVM|
Setting Up Your Virtual Machine
Setting up your VM varies from VM to VM, and as such, you should follow the provided installation instructions per your VM. Free VMs tend to offer less automation than proprietary options. For example, Parallels can install popular, pre-built operating systems without you needing to manually boot ISO images or implement installation in a CLI. Conversely, UTM requires you to manually boot ISO images, verify the checksum of ISO files, configure system specs and virtual drives, and install the OS within the VM.
Virtual machines and environments are powerful tools that will undoubtedly become more prominent in the near future. Companies can improve and enhance their virtualization and testing efforts with flexibility, security, and cost-effectiveness.