What is the Point of a Virtual Machine?

Ask any sysadmin about virtual machines, and their response will be nothing less than “it’s the bread and butter of I.T.” And, you know what? It’s true. Virtual machines offer many functions and services not available without them, from safe testing grounds to easy organization.

However, there are quite a few people who aren’t aware of what virtual machines are, much less the importance of virtual machines. Today, I want to take some time to educate you on what a virtual machine is and what they’re useful for in the case you don’t know.

What is a Virtual Machine?

Simply put, a virtual machine is a computer within a computer. Hold on, let me explain.

As you know, your computer is made up of different pieces of hardware, all which are operated and made useful with your operating system–the software. A virtual machine replicates this process to create another instance of your OS with the hardware of your computer; In the end, a virtual machine will be running a separate “machine”, as if you had a second computer hooked up.

Of course, a virtual machine has a couple downsides, the most notable being the hogging of resources. Because of a virtual machine being a whole separate OS, it will eat up your RAM quicker than 30 tabs of Chrome. However, a virtual machine has tons of benefits and applications that make this downside worthwhile, but what are they?

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A Security Playground

Have you ever wondered how security companies verify the effectiveness of a VPN or antivirus? Maybe you’re curious of how developers test their apps for any vulnerabilities or security flaws?

The answer is a virtual machine.

Since a virtual machine is, well, virtual, poking holes into the OS or application in question brings no risk of data loss or corruption. Also, it would be pretty bad if you attempted to test the danger of a worm and endedup infecting your entire network.

Whatever you do in the virtual machine has no bearing on the health of your actual machine. Corrupt the OS, erase all the data–worst case scenario, you reset the virtual machine.

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Multiplying and Organizing Servers

When you think of a server closet, you probably thing of 6 or more physical servers, each one dwarfing you in size and taking up a lot of room. Physical servers are essential, but it would suck having to buy a bunch of servers, especially since the hardware for servers can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

This is why virtual machines come in handy in the world of servers. Instead of buying, let’s say, 10 physical servers, you could buy one physical server and install 9 virtual machines on it, allowing you to shave access to 10 servers while saving bit of cash and space.

Organization is another pro of virtual machines on servers. You can keep virtual machines easily labeled and organized in a list; easy access makes for an easy shift.

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Developing Software

Finally, you have development. Remember how I mentioned using virtual machines to test the security of applications? Well, they can be used for more than security purposes; by that, I mean virtual machines make good sandboxes for testing various features of your application or software.

While in development, it’s likely the software will have side effects that can harm your system or cause trouble in unpredictable ways. However, a virtual machine will prevent you from crashing and corrupting your own system. No one will miss a virtual OS if it ends up being corrupted, but I’m sure you’ll miss the data on your real machine if it gets corrupted.

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With virtual machines being natively supported on Windows and Mac, there’s no reason not to use one if needed. You even download some virtual machines for free; all you need to do is seek them out.

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