At some point in every company’s roadmap, the idea of virtual machine technology comes into play. This can be driven by a need to cut costs, expand IT, be more reliable and flexible, or better empower IT staff to handle growing demand.
When that time comes, you’ll need to not only understand why you need to employ virtual machine technology but how it’s implemented. If you make the wrong choice, you could set your IT efforts back months, which could also negatively affect your bottom line. And although virtual machine technology might seem complex on the surface, it tends to be much easier than most think at the user level. That also depends on the type of virtual machine technology you choose.
What is Virtual Machine Technology?
The first thing we need to do is answer the most basic question. Virtual Machine technology makes it possible for your IT department to deploy virtual machines. These virtual machines run as guests on a host platform.
For example, you could have a server that includes a virtual machine platform that allows for the deployment of multiple guests on that single host. Say you have a Windows server as the host and you’ve installed your chosen virtual machine management solution. From that virtual machine management tool on the host, you could deploy any number of guest operating systems (such as Linux). So long as your hosting machine has the resources, you can deploy as many guests as you need.
You should already see the most obvious benefit—cutting costs. Instead of having to purchase costly hardware for each operating system, you run them all on the same machine. That is one of the biggest upsides to employing virtual machines.
Now, what technology is used to deploy those VMs?
What is a hypervisor?
A hypervisor is an underlying software that serves as the virtual machine manager. There are 2 main types of hypervisors:
- Type 1 Hypervisor – This hypervisor (also called the “bare metal” hypervisor) runs directly on the server, without the need for a full-blown operating system.
- Type 2 Hypervisor – This hypervisor (also called the “hosted” hypervisor) is installed on an operating system similar to that of a regular application.
Each type of hypervisor has its pros and cons. For example, a Type 1 Hypervisor doesn’t require a regular operating system, so it will have more resources that can be allocated to guest virtual machines. On the other hand, a Type 2 Hypervisor is considerably easier to use.
At the end, which you choose will be dictated by how powerful the host server is, how resource-hungry your virtual machines will be, and whether or not your IT staff is trained to use the more complicated Type 1 Hypervisor.
Type 1 Hypervisors
If you opt to go the Type 1 route, there are several solid options from which to choose.
VMware vSphere with ESX/ESXi
One of the most popular Type 1 Hypervisors is VMware vSphere with ESX/ESXi. VMware has been an industry leader in the virtual machine space for years. The products they create are enterprise-ready and can be cost-effective. Features found in vSphere include a small footprint, enhanced security, hosts that can be created with up to 128 vCPUs and 6 TB of RAM, role-based access, extensive logging and auditing, and support for a wide range of OEM hardware.
KVM stands for Kernel-based Virtual Machine and is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware. To run KVM, your hardware must have virtualization extensions (either Intel VT or AMD-V). Unlike the VMware solution, KVM is both open-source and free to use. KVM includes features like live migration, scheduling and resource control, kernel samepage merging, CPU hotplug support, and nested guest.
Another very popular Type 1 Hypervisor is Microsoft Hyper-V. Although this solution isn’t quite as feature-rich as that from VMware, it’s still widely seen as a very capable platform. You can opt to go with the free option, but if you want the added benefit of a user-friendly GUI and additional functionality (such as live migration and dynamic memory), you’ll need to pay up for a license.
Type 2 Hypervisors
Type 2 Hypervisors are a bit more commonplace at lower levels in the IT chain because these are far easier to use as they run like common applications on a native operating system. Here are some of the more popular Type 2 Hypervisors.
Oracle VM VirtualBox
Owned and maintained by Oracle, VirtualBox is free and is capable of running numerous guest virtual machines. VirtualBox is a great option for individual users/developers and even small businesses who need to work with virtual machines within a LAN. VirtualBox provides support for guests with up to 32 vCPUs and includes PXE Network boot, snapshotting, virtual networks, and cloning.
VMware Workstation Pro
VMware also offers a Type 2 Hypervisor, called VMware Workstation Pro. This solution is packed with advanced features and even integrates seamlessly with VMware vSphere, so you can move your virtualized solutions from the desktop to the cloud.
If you’re looking to either use virtual machine technology as a development environment or a way to run more than one operating system at a time on macOS, Parallels Desktop might be the perfect solution. Parallels has been optimized for Apple’s M1 chip, so it’ll run on the latest hardware. Parallels makes for an absolutely seamless way of working between 2 different operating systems on the macOS platform. You can create either Windows or Linux guests on Parallels.
Which route you go will depend on your needs. If performance is the top priority, you’ll want to look at a Type 1 Hypervisor such as VMware vSphere or KVM. If ease of use is what you’re looking for, a Type 2 Hypervisor such as VMware Workstation Pro or Oracle VM VirtualBox might be your best option. Just remember to make this choice wisely, otherwise, you’ll lose valuable time and money.