Virtual Machine (VM)

A Virtual Machine (VM) is a software program or operating system that not only exhibits the behavior of a separate computer, but is also capable of performing tasks such as running applications and programs like a separate computer. A virtual machine, usually known as a guest is created within another computing environment referred as a "host." Multiple virtual machines can exist within a single host at one time.[1]

A virtual machine is a computer file, typically called an image, that behaves like an actual computer. In other words, creating a computer within a computer. It runs in a window, much like any other program, giving the end user the same experience on a virtual machine as they would have on the host operating system itself. The virtual machine is sandboxed from the rest of the system, meaning that the software inside a virtual machine can’t escape or tamper with the computer itself. This produces an ideal environment for testing other operating systems including beta releases, accessing virus-infected data, creating operating system backups, and running software or applications on operating systems they weren’t originally intended for. 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 to manage them, while desktop computers typical employ one operating system to run the other operating systems within its program windows. Each virtual machine provides its own virtual hardware, including CPUs, memory, hard drives, network interfaces, and other devices. The virtual hardware is then then mapped to the real hardware on the physical machine which saves costs by reducing the need for physical hardware systems along with the associated maintenance costs that go with it, plus reduces power and cooling demand.[2]

Why use a Virtual Machine (VM)?[3]
Server consolidation is a top reason to use VMs. Most operating system and application deployments only use a small amount of the physical resources available when deployed to bare metal. By virtualizing your servers, you can place many virtual servers onto each physical server to improve hardware utilization. This keeps you from needing to purchase additional physical resources, as well as reducing the need for power, space, and cooling in the datacenter. VMs enable failover and redundancy that could previously only be achieved through additional hardware. A VM provides an environment that is isolated from the rest of a system, so whatever is running inside a VM won’t interfere with anything else running on the host hardware. Because VMs are isolated, they are a good option for testing new applications or setting up a production environment. You can also run a single purpose VM to support a specific process.

Types of Virtual Machines[4]
There are different kinds of virtual machines, each with different functions:

  • System virtual machines (also termed full virtualization VMs) provide a substitute for a real machine. They provide functionality needed to execute entire operating systems. A hypervisor uses native execution to share and manage hardware, allowing for multiple environments which are isolated from one another, yet exist on the same physical machine. Modern hypervisors use hardware-assisted virtualization, virtualization-specific hardware, primarily from the host CPUs.
  • Process virtual machines are designed to execute computer programs in a platform-independent environment.

Some virtual machines, such as QEMU, are designed to also emulate different architectures and allow execution of software applications and operating systems written for another CPU or architecture. Operating-system-level virtualization allows the resources of a computer to be partitioned via the kernel. The terms are not universally interchangeable.

See Also

Virtual Business
Virtual Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE)
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
Virtual Function
Virtual Inheritance
Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)
Virtual Method Table (VMT)
Virtual Organization
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Virtual Reality
Virtualization Architecture


  1. Definition - What is Virtual Machine? Techopedia
  2. Explaining Virtual Machine Microsoft
  3. Why use a Virtual Machine (VM)? Redhat
  4. What are the Different Types of Virtual Machines? Wikipedia