What Is A Virtual Machine?

Written by Caitlin Davidson

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Virtual Machine Defined

A virtual machine (VM) is a computer file, typically called an image, that behaves like an actual computer. It is a completely separate individual operating system installation on a users usual operating system and can be implemented by software emulation and hardware virtualization.

Multiple virtual machines can run simultaneously on the same physical computer. For servers, the multiple operating systems run side-by-side with a piece of software called a hypervisor. When the VM is running and a user or program issues an instruction that requires additional resources from the physical environment, the hypervisor schedules the request to the physical system’s resources so that the virtual machine’s operating system and applications can access the shared pool of physical resources.  For desktop computers, one operating system is typically employed to run the other operating systems within its program windows. Each virtual machine provides its own virtual hardware, which is then mapped to the real hardware on the physical machine.

Advantages of virtual machines include:

  • Providing disaster recovery and application provisioning options
  • The running of multiple operating system environments on a single physical computer
  • The ability for multiple OS environments can exist simultaneously on the same machine, isolated from each other
  • The easy maintenance, application provisioning, availability and convenient recovery

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