Virtual machines (VMs) are similar to physical computers in that they have many of the same features and capabilities, but with some interesting benefits. They have a central processing unit (CPU), memory, network interface, and storage, for example, but have no physical hardware. That gives their users some powerful capabilities.
There is ultimately a lot to like about VMs, particularly for organizations that prioritize agility and flexibility. This guide will look at them in detail to explore how they work and their benefits.
An Overview of Virtual Machines
VMs work independently of physical hardware and are implemented via software emulation and hardware virtualization. Each has its own virtual hardware, which is mapped to the real hardware on a physical machine. The virtual hardware includes CPUs, memory, hard drives, and network interfaces.
Multiple virtual machines can coexist in a single physical machine. They won’t disrupt one another as long as their hardware resources are properly distributed and managed.
Virtual Machine vs. Container
Virtual machines may seem similar to containers at first glance. A close examination of both reveals there are notable differences between them. Keep in mind that:
- A VM runs on a hypervisor and has a separate image of its operating system (OS).
- It has its own OS kernel and lets you run multiple applications at the same time or legacy applications that require an older OS.
- Containers are standardized units of software that consist of code and all its dependencies.
- They are lightweight and portable, which makes them ideal for web applications and microservices.
VMs and containers both isolate applications, ensuring they can run on any platform. They differ in that a virtual machine virtualizes hardware to run multiple operating systems on a single machine, while a container includes applications that can run on any OS.
Types of Virtual Machines and How They Work
There are two categories of VMs: process and system machines. The way they work varies based on the type of machine and the needs of the user. Here’s a breakdown of the two:
A process virtual machine enables a user to run a single process or application on a host OS. This type executes the process or app in the same way it would run on a physical computer. Process VMs are commonly used to provide a platform-independent programming environment. Those who want to run Windows apps on Linux, as an example, can do so with these machines.
A system virtual machine virtualizes an OS, to the point where it can provide a full substitute for a physical machine. It shares physical resources with a host machine but has its own OS. System VMs can use a virtualization process that runs on a piece of management software called a hypervisor. They may also leverage a virtualization process that requires a virtual machine monitor running on bare hardware or one that operates on top of an OS.
Process and system virtual machines both consist of computer files known as images. VM images run in windows, much like programs run on the screen of a physical computer, and give end users the same experience they would have on a host operating system. All VM images are separated from the rest of the system. This ensures all software inside VMs cannot be removed or manipulated.
How Virtual Machines Benefit Organizations
Organizations with distributed workforces are increasingly looking to virtual machines to solve challenges presented by remote operations. VMs provide end-users with access to the same applications, user interface, and settings as if they were using a physical computer, which is a great tool for a remote workforce. They offer several other benefits as well, including:
Each department in your organization can set up and configure its virtual machine however it chooses. Virtual desktops can be customized with just the apps and computing power that a particular worker needs.
2. Cost Savings
VMs replace traditional hardware with virtual environments, infrastructure, and storage, so they eliminate the upfront costs of expensive hardware.
3. Time Savings
You can hire a service provider to administer and manage your virtual machines. When it comes time to update your operating systems and apps, your service provider takes care of everything at once. The result: your VMs are always kept up to date.
4. Workplace Mobility
VMs let you set up virtual environments that enable employees to access their customized virtual desktop and apps from any location, at any time. The rise of the remote workforce makes this a powerful tool that enables workers to stay productive no matter where they are.
5. Failover and Recovery
A virtual machine backup consists of an entire machine — not just individual files. This means you can seamlessly fail over to a VM without losing anything. You can also quickly and efficiently restore a VM, reducing downtime due to a natural disaster, cyberattack, or any other incident that causes an outage.
Multiple operating systems can be run simultaneously on a virtual machine. This gives you the flexibility to do things like run Microsoft Office on a Mac.
7. Keep That Legacy Software Running
Organizations often rely on legacy software that would be painful and costly to replace. A VM can emulate the environment needed to keep that software running for a variety of users working on different hardware.
8. Application and Website Development
You can use VMs to test the performance of apps and websites across multiple platforms.
Effective implementation and management of a virtual machine are key. If you plan to go from a desktop computer to a virtual machine, you can use a permanent file erasure device to remove unnecessary files safely and easily before you complete your transition. Once your VM is in place, you can assess its performance and adjust as needed. This allows you to consistently keep it running at peak levels.
4 Ways to Optimize the Performance of Your Virtual Machine
The top virtualization software for setting up virtual machines includes VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop, and VMware Fusion. Free and paid software is available, and each has its pros and cons. A VM can sometimes be slow, for example, regardless of which virtualization software you use. Yet there are many things you can do to optimize your machine’s performance, such as:
1. Select Fixed-Size Disks
A fixed-sized disk gives you a set amount of storage space to work with, while a dynamically allocated option grows as you add more files to your virtual disk. Virtual machines with fixed-size disks tend to run faster than the alternative. But these disks also require you to manage your storage space carefully.
2. Allocate Sufficient Memory to Your Virtual Machine
Memory-hungry apps can hamper your VM’s performance. You can allocate additional RAM to your machine — for basic VMs, 8GB should be sufficient.
3. Boost Your VM’s CPU
The more CPU that’s available to your virtual machine, the better it will run. Assign two or more cores to increase your machine’s responsiveness.
4. Keep Your Virtualization Software Up to Date
Regularly update your virtual machine’s virtualization software, so you can avoid any bugs that otherwise hamper your machine’s performance.
These are just a few of the ways to maximize your machine’s performance. If you need extra help with getting your virtual machine running to its full potential, you should consult with an expert.
Digital File Shredding: One Step to Prepare You for a Virtual Machine
Knowing about the benefits of virtual machines is a great start if you’re considering using them in your organization. You can get started by determining which files to remove from your desktop computer before transitioning to a VM.
The Shred Cube helps you securely remove excess data from a computer, helping you delete unwanted or sensitive files from your machine so they cannot be recovered. Contact Shred Cube today to learn more about our industry-leading USB digital file shredding solution.