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What is a Virtual Machine? Explained in Simple Terms

What is a Virtual Machine? Explained in Simple Terms

As cloud computing technology gains popularity, virtual machines continue to see increased application in the corporate world. With major virtualization companies like Citrix, Oracle, VMWare, and Microsoft expanding their offerings in this market, virtual desktops aren’t going to go away any time soon. But have you ever wondered what is a virtual machine? Is it the same as a virtual desktop? How does an online virtual machine differ from a virtual machine? What do we mean by desktop as a service? What is a virtual desktop cloud?

To help you answer questions such as these, we have explained the concept of a virtual machine in this article in simple terms so that you can gain a better understanding of their functioning and see how they can be beneficial to your business.

So, what IS a virtual machine?

A virtual machine is, in simplest terms, a computer (like a desktop or laptop) that is backed by the resources of a physical computer. This means that you cannot touch or see a virtual machine, but you can only work on it. A virtual machine or virtual desktop is an intangible computer that only exists digitally.

We all know what a computer looks like; a laptop opens (and closes) like a book while a desktop has a monitor screen with a keyboard and mouse placed in front of it. A virtual desktop, on the other hand, is just a program or application file that sits somewhere inside your physical computer’s storage without any infrastructure of its own. This means that a virtual desktop borrows everything from a physical computer to ‘survive’ or ‘exist’.

Can you run or use a computer that does not have the following parts: 1) memory, 2) storage, 3) processor, 4) power source?

No, right?

So, a virtual desktop has NONE of those. It borrows the 1) memory, 2) storage, 3) processing power, and 4) power source from the physical computer which houses it. When you create a virtual desktop or virtual machine, a portion of your physical computing resources (storage, for example) is allocated towards the maintenance of the virtual machine.

Explaining virtual machine with a simple example

Suppose you have taken an apartment on a lease rate of $70,000 per year. However, you feel that the lease amount is too much for you to bear alone and it is leaving a big dent in your finances. Additionally, you realize that you are not using much of the space inside the house.

To reduce some of the financial burden, you decide to go for the option of sub-leasing; you hire a contractor who builds some partitions in your apartment such that 6 new rooms are created. You decide to find tenants for those 6 rooms who would enter into sub-leasing agreements with you. Some rooms are bigger and are hence more expensive than others.

virtual machine real life example

Luckily, you find tenants for all 6 rooms. The combined total amount in leases that you receive from your tenants not only completely pays off your yearly lease obligation, but in addition to that, you also make $3000, which is a pretty good deal. Hence, you managed to use the available space more efficiently with the sub-leasing arrangement.

Now, those 6 tenants are also living inside “houses”, but much like virtual machines, they are built inside the infrastructure (walls and roof) of your physical house and draw electric supply from the main power source, as well.

Let’s look at a more practical example now.

You own a computer and use no more than 25% of the total capacity at any time. This means that 75% of your total resources are sitting idle and hence not benefitting you in any manner. Look at the diagram below to gain a better idea:

But you are paying the electricity bill for keeping the whole computer running, right? What does this mean? It means you are wasting 75% of your computing resources.

This is where virtual machines come in. You can use the remaining 75% of your computing resources to run virtual machines or virtual desktops and squeeze more utility out of your resources.

virtual machine compartmentalization

OK, but how is this related to the cloud?

When you hear the word ‘cloud’, what comes to your mind? Clouds in the sky, maybe? Rains? Weather forecast? Naturally!

But no, cloud in the context of information technology (IT) has nothing to do with rains or the sky or the weather. Instead, it is a fancy term used to denote ‘outsourced’. Whenever you hear the term ‘cloud’ before any word, it means that this thing (program, application, software, service, or anything else) is NOT stored or managed from anywhere on your physical computer.

Here are a few examples:

  • Cloud storage – storage that is NOT on your personal, physical hard disk drive (for example, Microsoft OneDrive)
  • Cloud server – a server that is NOT run or managed from your infrastructure (for example, Microsoft Azure)
  • Cloud services – services that are NOT booted up from your local systems (for example, Office 365)

Now, let us connect the dots between virtual machines and the cloud. Remember when we said that a virtual desktop or a virtual machine runs on the borrowed resources of a physical computer?

In the case of an online virtual machine, those borrowed resources are from the cloud (or the virtual desktop cloud more specifically). It means that the physical computer which is running your virtual desktop is not your own computer or laptop, but some random computer located somewhere in a huge data center. This is the main difference between an online virtual machine and a virtual machine; the first doesn’t boot up on your personal computing resources but the second one does.

When a virtual machine boots up on the physical computing resources of some computer in a data center, but you can access and use the virtual machine from your own computer just like a regular virtual desktop, the service is known as DaaS or Desktop-as-a-Service. In this case, some third-party (like Citrix which is a leading vendor of virtualization products and solutions) provides the virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI on which the virtual machine runs.

Which are the major players in virtualization industry?

VMWare, Citrix, Microsoft, Red Hat, Google, Veeam, Oracle, Amazon are the top companies offering virtual machines. VMWare was the first company to offer virtualization services commercially. With its stronger and robust systems, Citrix offered full virtual apps and desktop solutions that met most of the business requirements. The virtual desktops offered by Citrix were colloquially termed as Citrix VDI.

The technology kept evolving and it was possible to offer services that allowed multiple OSes to function on same physical computer hardware simultaneously. This project was called as Xen Project, and many companies including Citrix started offering products like XenDesktops and XenApps.

A platform was needed to connect your computer or client to Citrix VDI to access the virtual machine or DaaS. Citrix XenDesktop along with the Citrix Receiver establish a platform that connects your local system (on which you will access the VM) with the VDI desktop. Finally, Citrix XenApp uses application virtualization technology to deliver an application ‘package’ to your virtual machine from the centralized application hub located at the data center.

The result? You can use any application on any device from any location. Thanks to virtualization, all you need is an electronic device and an internet connection, and you can access any software regardless of its technical specifications or storage requirements.

Apps4Rent has offered virtual machines and cloud desktops including Citrix VDI, Virtual Desktop, and Hyper-V since 2011. We also offer virtual machine on Microsoft’s Azure platform. We have readymade easy-to-use VM solutions that can be downloaded from Azure.

We hope that you have now understood the basics of virtualization technology and how virtual machines operate. Alternatively, if you have understood how virtual desktops can help your business and wish to include them in your company, get in touch with our Citrix experts today!


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