What exactly is a virtual machine and what is it used for?
This question was answered on May 21, 2020. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Generally speaking, your computer is made up of hardware, an operating system and programs.
Most of us own a computer that runs on either a Microsoft or Apple operating system and if you wanted the ability to run both, you would typically buy two computers.
Setting up a ‘virtual machine’ (VM) would allow you to run multiple operating systems as if they were on different computers even though you only have one physical computer – thus the ‘virtual’.
VM software makes it possible to share the processor, memory and storage on a single computer with multiple operating systems.
The concept was originally defined in the ’70s as “an efficient, isolated duplicate of a real computer machine”.
Think of your computer hardware as a kitchen at a restaurant and your operating system as a type of food, like pizza or Thai food. The utensils, cooking equipment and ingredients required to make pizza are completely different from what it takes to make Thai food.
VM software is akin to being able to flip a switch and instantly converting the kitchen from one restaurant to another, even though you only have one kitchen.
VM Use Cases
VMs are common with software developers that want to create and test programs that will run on multiple operating systems.
Businesses use VMs to safely test new operating systems or run incompatible older programs that require older operating systems, while security researchers use them to safely work with malware and viruses.
By now you’ve most certainly heard the term ‘cloud computing’ which essentially moved the processing and storage from a physical machine in your home or business to one that is ‘in the cloud’.
These remote computers are generally housed in data centers that use VM technology to keep unrelated tasks separated while still running on the same physical hardware.
Small Business Uses
Virtualization technology has dramatically changed the way businesses can save money on hardware, protect themselves from threats such as ransomware and recover from a disaster much faster.
In the past, if a business had multiple server needs, they had to purchase a server for each of those needs. Using VMs allows for it all to work on a single server, which can mean a huge savings in hardware costs.
VMs also have the ability to take a 'Snapshot' to quickly revert to a previous session, which is great when something goes terribly wrong or 'Clone' the entire VM for deployment to a totally different computer.
We were brought in by a business that had a massive hardware failure on a very expensive server and because virtualization was in place, we were able to quickly create a temporary server using an inexpensive device known as a NUC (https://intel.ly/2LSWFB6) to avoid what could have been massive downtime.
You can also use online backup services such as Carbonite to backup your VMs and deploy them ‘in the cloud’ in an emergency (https://bit.ly/2LSoMRe).
There are so many other potential benefits to incorporating VM technology in a business, so it’s something I highly recommend every business explore.
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on May 21, 2020