There are many different components of cloud computing. On the user end, the ability to access data center storage and applications in a web-based environment is what matters most, but there are many different features and functions that should play a role in the due diligence process. Virtual machines can serve as an integral part of the cloud computing structure, but are not always required. This is what you need to know about virtual machines and the ways in which they function in a cloud computing environment.
What Is a Virtual Machine?
A virtual machine, also known as a VM, refers to a digital file that acts in the same ways as a standard physical computer. Users have access to a desktop, a hard drive, software applications, and all of the same features they are used to using with a familiar operating system via an application window, similar to any other program. In essence, a virtual machine is a computer within a computer. It runs in conjunction, not as a replacement for the machine it is running on; this means that both machines can be used simultaneously to run different programs and accommodate different needs.
A virtual machine uses its own hardware, hard drives, CPU, interfaces, and everything else necessary for a computer to operate. While it is essentially sandboxed into another computer, the two do not cross over in any way; it’s not generally possible to drag files from one desktop to another, for example. For all intents and purposes, the virtual machine and the computer on which it is being operated exist as two wholly independent entities. In the vernacular, the operating system of the parent computer is known as the host, while the virtual machines and the programs they are running are known as guests.
For those with complex needs, it’s actually possible to run multiple virtual machines simultaneously. On the server side, the ability to operate multiple systems concurrently requires the use of a hypervisor, an extra layer of complexity. However, for those with diverse and expansive requirements, this shouldn’t be overly challenging to incorporate properly.
On the surface, this concept may seem complicated. After all, if you have a computer, why would you want a computer within that computer with similar, if not the same, features of the physical parent computer? However, there are uses for a virtual machine, and many individuals and businesses alike can strengthen unique goals through the use of virtualization.
Uses of Virtual Machines
There are many ways to utilize virtual machines, all of which are highly circumstantial. What one company chooses to do with virtual machines and virtual machine software can vary greatly from how another treats this technology; virtual machines are wildly flexible, offering many opportunities and advantages. Some of the most common uses include:
- Conduits for Remote Access: As virtual machines are, as the name implies, virtual, they can be accessed from anywhere regardless of host computer. Generally, VMs can be logged into from any computer with any operating system, providing significant flexibility for use. Rather than simply being able to log on to software application resources stored in the cloud, for example, it’s possible to access the entirety of a desktop, including data stored on a hard drive.
- Beta Testing for Development Projects: In development projects, beta testing is a critical component of finding bugs, identifying vulnerabilities, and making sure everything is prepared for a public launch. However, the process of testing new software can leave a network open to potential attack, particularly if new products aren’t as secure as necessary. Testing on a virtual machine can ensure an extra layer of protection without putting primary device, hardware, software applications, and data storage at risk.
- Creating Backups: Backups are an important part of protecting data and making sure all resources and information are available under any circumstances, even in the case of damage to physical servers or security breaches. Storing backups within a virtual environment can guarantee immediate accessibility to normal systems, protecting against any kind of business interruption. This is a critical component of any disaster recovery plan.
- Mitigating Operating System Incompatibilities: As operating systems become more advanced, so do the software options available. However, there are still come inconsistencies between how programs run from one operating system to another. For example, many advanced art and graphics programs may be more tailored to a Mac OS, while business-specific software, like finance ERPs, may be exclusive to a Windows OS. Running a virtual machine can mitigate these challenges, allowing users to take advantage of the best of both worlds.
- Streamlining Workloads: For those who carry out multiple and varying duties simultaneously, keeping information, data, and processes organized can be challenging. Virtual machines can making keeping roles segmented a little easier, with a different desktop dedicated to different roles based on things like security, software application needs, and operating systems.
Some businesses will utilize VMs for other reasons; there is no right or wrong reason to incorporate virtual machines into business practices.
The Advantages of Virtual Machines
Virtual machines have many advantages to users, creating a resource for companies to use to further technological goals and corporate objectives.
- Multiple Operating System Environments: Sometimes, a single operating system isn’t adequate to meet business needs. While most companies choose to use Windows-based operating systems or, in more technical fields, Linux, there are programs that offer enhanced functionality on a Mac. Running multiple operating systems can open up new opportunities, especially for companies with a variety of needs.
- Added Security: While cloud computing, particularly private clouds, emphasizes security, there can be added benefits to keeping information across multiple machines. For example, keeping internal data on one network and customer data on another machine can add an extra layer of security.
- Additional Development Tools: Development is a big part of operations for many companies, whether for the purpose of creating internal tools or external opportunities. Development on a VM can segment development between test and live environments.
- Easy Remote Access: For those with extensive remote work programs, VMs can make accessing the entirety of a computer, including access to hard drives, hardware, and software. VMs can often be used across devices as well; even smartphones can access VMs in many cases.
- Easy Maintenance: When things go wrong, a VM can be as easy to repair or reconfigure as standard physical hardware. This can eliminate downtime while still providing a quality experience to users who require the kinds of services available through a VM platform.
- Security Testing: Not all software applications are as stable as companies need them to be. Instead of downloading what could be an unstable or insecure program onto standard company computers, you can instead test options on a VM, reducing the risk of allowing hackers into your primary network.
Disadvantages and Points to Consider
Despite the many advantages of virtual machines, VMs aren’t perfect and won’t be appropriate under all circumstances. These are some of the downsides to consider.
- Processing Delays: Due to the virtual nature of VMs, the same processing power is not generally available. This means that VMs generally run slower than physical machines. In most cases, this isn’t a huge downside – things like using spreadsheets, for example, will not result in any noticeable delays – but when running powerful software that requires significant memory, this can result in trouble managing data and carrying out processes in a time-efficient manner.
- Instability: Utilizing two operating systems requires a significant amount of resources. In addition to processing delays, running programs that demand high CPU usage on both a physical machine and a VM can increase the likelihood of crashing and lock productivity.
- Unnecessary Expense: Not every business needs to utilize virtual machines. While they can be useful, many of the innate features of cloud computing are similar to what a VM can offer. Building virtual machine capabilities into a system that has no true need for a VM can accelerate expenses in exchange for few, if any, true benefits.
Service providers that have done a poor job of establishing an effective infrastructure and network can severally hamper a business and ruin their experience with a virtual machine. When we built the CompleteCloud platform we knew these were fears customers had, so we eliminated them. Our virtual machines can handle intensive design work and heavy CAD programs for engineers, architects, and aerospace contractors. We also built them so they would have no performance degradation from a locally run program. Don’t believe us? We’ll be happy to show you.
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Is a Virtual Machine Right for You?
With so many cloud computing avenues available, making a decision on how to proceed can require significant due diligence. Before moving forward, ask yourself the following questions to ensure you’re making the right choice for your business in a budget-friendly manner.
- What can a virtual machine offer you specifically?
- Is there a particular reason you need access to a fully remote machine rather than remote access to software and data storage platforms?
- Do you use software that requires multiple operating systems?
- Is development a large part of your business activities?
- Do you have a particular reason, like added security, for example, to require a virtual machine for accessing software or data?
- Is remote work common in your business?
- Are viruses a particular point of concern?
If appropriate, consider any other context in which you could choose to use a virtual machine that may be outside the bounds of conventional avenues for choosing this avenue. Ultimately, all cloud computing choices are personal, and there is no one right answer.
The Best Virtual Machines
The best approach to virtualization can depend on many factors, from the use of public cloud computing resources to development needs. As such, there isn’t necessarily a best virtual machine solution.
In terms of public cloud computing opportunities, there are several options that come within mass market solutions, like Microsoft Azure. This can be incorporated into existing cloud computing strategies, working as a complement to cloud tools already in place. We wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to go this route though. For those using private cloud service providers, like Avatara’s CompleteCloud platform, you get best in class virtualization, VDI, and virtual machines as a part of the established platform. Virtualized desktop infrastructure can offer VM capabilities in an integrated manner, combining the best of a hosted private cloud with a plethora of virtualization opportunities.
If you are seeking a way to provide benefits like varying operating systems, a secure environment for beta testing, easy remote computer access, and a way to streamline business requirements, virtual machines can be a great opportunity. When combined with a hosted private cloud, however, it’s possible to develop an integrated infrastructure that combines all of the elements necessary to support a wide range of corporate goals and objectives. Contact us today to learn more about our CompleteCloud platform!