5 Applications of Virtual Machines
The word application is everywhere these days, typically shortened to “app,” particularly when one speaks of a mobile technology solution. You have a weather app on your phone that allows you to dial up the weather anywhere in just an instant, another in your car to help you navigate to new locales, etcetera.
These specifically designed applications of technology serve you well but when it comes to creating a virtual machine (VM), the difference is that you are creating an application in the older sense of the word. Per Merriam-Webster an application is: “an act of administering or laying one thing on another”. When applying a virtual machine (or machines) onto your business computing system you are not necessarily seeking to create one specific new computing application but an overlay which will be used to enhance your overall system and so produce an environment that will serve your company and its’ employees better.
Given below are a few of the common benefits of Virtual Machines for organizations who use them:
The multiplicity of Operating Systems
A Virtual Machine enables the running of operating systems (OS) that would not normally be compatible with your host system (e.g., Windows on a Mac or an Apple overlay on a Linux configuration). By simulating multiple computer systems from one console users are able to toggle amongst systems and displays from a single workstation. Thus VMs provide the experience of using multiple computers at the same time; ideal for creating complex servers with multisystem needs. An added advantage of this type of overlay is that users who are comfortable with one OS, perhaps an older non-supported version of Windows, can have their preference available, regardless of the overall company OS, thus aiding them to work efficiently.
Overhead comes in many forms: salaries, benefits, hardware purchases, software licensing, etc. The ability to run multiple OS on a single piece of hardware reduces the need for office machinery as well as its upkeep and operational costs (say a utility bill for electricity to power and cool the machinery). Fewer physical servers due to running more systems on each one also reduce costs via a reduction in floor space required!
Safety Net for Data – Rapid Disaster Recovery and Auto Backups
Since virtual machines are set up using a hypervisor (a piece of hardware, firmware, or software that creates your virtual machines, allocates resources to them, and then manages them) or similar technology which creates a layer between your physical computer and your virtual machine, the various systems remain entirely separate from each other; this adds an important layer of security to your operations which can help prevent faulty applications or corrupted files from infecting your host machine. For example, if you download a corrupted or infected file on your Virtual Machine, the hypervisor will prevent the file from getting to your host machine.
In addition, since Virtual Machines make regular copies/snapshots of their operations history there is little risk of data loss – making for a highly effective disaster recovery solution as these copies can be revisited as necessary or, in more severe recovery scenarios, moved to another device. Further, the negligible hardware overhead of your virtual environment poses a lower risk of system failure to your server in the first place. Finally a Virtual Machine set-up allows you to various applications while you determine what works best for your business needs during development.
Since physical space for as well as maintenance costs of additional hardware are not a factor in a Virtual Machine environment, your company and its systems can grow and change more easily. Virtual Machines enable you to add and remove applications with no physical overhead, so that an expanding virtual infrastructure doesn’t require complex budgets for hardware resources. This simulated hardware is a flexible solution to an expanding company server, with multi-application, multi-user needs.
The use of virtual machine environments can allow for the consolidation and more efficient management of your IT needs via a single console with commercially available Virtual Machine software helping to monitor all of your systems, applications, and OSs from a single dashboard. Additionally, use of a Virtual Machine performance monitoring tool to collect data and metrics for your network on a regular basis can help to ensure the system is functioning well and there are no impending issues. With proper centralization and monitoring you will be able to track trends (such as which Virtual Machines are consistently reaching resource limits), more effectively approach capacity planning and disk space usage as well as flag any VMs regularly experiencing crashes, delays, or application issues.
Before we conclude, note needs to be made of a special virtue of the flexibility of Virtual Machines, one highlighting many of the benefits noted above, which is their usefulness for Software Development and Testing. Testing in-development software is enhanced as applications can be installed on the Virtual Machine and then reset to a saved state whenever needed. Also, if you are trying out a new application and aren’t sure how it will perform under certain conditions, you can test it on a virtual machine and then reset it to a particular state if it crashes or you want to try something new. This is a definite advantage as doing this on a physical machine may leave you with unexpected crashes and issues even after you uninstall the test software. The isolation from the host OS of the test software on a virtual machine creates a much safer test environment. Plus, you can determine whether an application you are developing works well on all OSs or has bugs in some operating systems but not others.
As always, knowledgeable IT personnel can help you determine which hypervisor is best for your Virtual Machine needs, what type of Virtual Machine to create, how to optimize performance and maintain or increase network speed via proper resource allocation, how to reduce background applications, and which configurations are best for differing users. Use of proper monitoring tools can also enable your personnel to track network traffic and user experience to help prevent bottlenecks, maintain efficiency, and prevent frustration. A well developed Virtual Machine is not just an efficient means of keeping abreast of changing business and IT needs but a thing of beauty.
Plan well and enjoy your new computing environment(s)!
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