Virtual machines are commonly used by businesses. They offer an alternative to traditional computers. In the context of virtual machines, a “machine” is a computer. While some machines are tangible, others are virtual. Virtual machines can perform most or all of the same tasks as their tangible counterparts, but they do so in a virtualized environment. What is a virtual machine exactly, and do they work?

What Is a Virtual Machine?

A virtual machine is a virtual instance of a separate and independent computer that runs on a host machine. In other words, it acts as a unique computer but runs on an existing computer. Virtual machines support the same programs as the host machines on which they run. You can even install a different operating system (OS) on a virtual machine. The virtual machine will simply offer a virtualized computing environment that’s separate from the host machine’s computing environment.

How Virtual Machines Work

Virtual machines require the use of virtualization software. Virtualization software will create a new instance of a machine — the instance will be virtualized — on an existing machine. The virtual machine will use the same hardware as the host machine on which it runs. With that said, the virtual machine will be virtually isolated from the host machines. Any programs that you open on the host machine won’t affect the host machine.

Common types of virtualization software include the following:

  • Parallels Workstation
  • Virtual PC
  • Oracle VM
  • VMWare Workstation
  • Virtual Iron
  • VirtualBox

Applications for Virtual Machines

With a virtual machine, you can test programs without them affecting the rest of the host machine. Programs, of course, may contain malware. Upon existing a new program, the embedded malware may infect your computer and potentially spread to other computers connected to your network. Fortunately, you can safely run new programs on a virtual machine to ensure that they don’t contain malware.

As previously mentioned, you can run a different OS on a virtual machine. This opens the doors to a whole new world of applications. Most programs are OS-dependent. Some programs are designed to run on Windows, whereas others are designed to run on Mac OS. Even if your host machine runs Windows, you can install Mac OS on a virtual machine and vise versa.

Virtual machines offer a safe environment in which to run programs. They leverage virtualization software that’s installed on a host machine. Once set up, virtualization software will create a new, virtual machine on the host machine.