How Do Virtual Machines Really Work?

Virtual machines connected

Virtual machines are continuing to rise in popularity, particularly because of the rapid move to digital and, more specifically, virtual. Many companies are trying to cut costs while improving their performance, hence the inevitable adoption of virtual systems. Globe News Wire reports that the global data center virtualization market is expected to see a CAGR of 16.7% from 2023 to 2031. This is a pretty consequential jump, but it makes sense considering the increase in the need for data management and resource allocation.

Right now, virtualization is an interesting phase where it has already seen massive adoption and yet still poses some mysticism for many users. With their continued demand, now is the best time to learn exactly what virtual machines are and how they work.

What is a Virtual Machine?

A virtual machine, as the name implies, is a “machine” that purely exists in a virtual capacity. It’s basically an application that actually runs on a physical machine and then independently operates as its own system. An alternative name you might come across is also a “guest machine”, which is often used to make the distinction between the host and its virtual machine clearer.

Although it exists as a “guest”, it is unaware of the existence of a host and purely allocates resources as if it is its own machine. In turn, its host also believes that it is interacting with a separate machine instead of an application within its system. They basically run simultaneously and independently of each other.

VMware is known for leading the market in Hyperconverge Infrastructure (HCI) systems, which are responsible for the creation of hypervisor software among other things. As such, it also carries a 44.9% market share in virtualization. Citrix and VMWare vSphere also follow behind in terms of domain capture.

How Does a Virtual Machine Work?

The way a virtual machine works isn’t actually too complex once you break it down. MongoDB’s guide to virtual machines (VM) explains that this can be better understood by starting with the three types of virtualization commonly seen in VMs. These are hardware virtualization, desktop virtualization, and application virtualization. Though other specifics exist, these three are the most relevant to both business and personal users.

There are also two types of hypervisors to be aware of. A type 1 hypervisor runs directly on the host machine and can make use of all of its resources to allocate to the VM, and it has its own kernel. A type 2 hypervisor makes use of the host machine’s OS, which then allocates the resources for particular tasks in determined environments.

The hypervisor system generally applies to all virtualization, but arguably the easiest concept to start with is hardware. This sees the physical hardware of the computer or machine getting partially dedicated to the existence of the virtual machine, which will then have its own isolated environment to run tasks without slowing down the host. It is able to do this because it is assigned its own CPU, storage, network, RAM, and storage. You essentially create a pocket within the host machine that can focus on its own work while the larger network continues to have access to its own resources.

Common Uses for Virtual Machines

You will also likely have an easier time understanding how VMs work if you learn about their common use cases.

For starters, VMs are great for cybersecurity because they can create an isolated space where you can isolate any vulnerabilities and attacks. Because it’s pretty much ‘quarantined’ from the host machine and other virtual machines, you can purge everything without having to worry about having to restore everything from scratch. We’ve covered how SaaS applications are popularly becoming targets for cyberattacks, with more than 6 million data records exposed through breaches in the first quarter of 2023 alone. With a VM, you can run your application safely in a secure environment with quick snapshotting to take you back to a good state in the event of a breach.

Virtual machines are also great for emulating other types of machines. You usually hear about emulation these days in gaming, especially with the rise of iOS emulators in Android and PC systems. While these emulators mimic the native iOS system, a virtual machine can natively run whatever OS you choose to install on it. This can be a completely different OS than the one the host machine is running. This gives developers a great testing environment that can make use of different OS-specific functionality.

For web developers, this means you can deploy your applications and programs with more ease. It also helps with resource allocation as you can effectively work in multiple environments in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. For both budget and timelines, this can be a godsend.

The Growing Role of Virtual Machines

As the digital landscape evolves, virtual machines are becoming increasingly prevalent. Many companies are embracing virtual systems as a means of enhancing performance while managing costs more effectively. According to Globe News Wire, the global data center virtualization market is projected to grow at a significant CAGR of 16.7% from 2023 to 2031. This growth aligns with the rising demand for improved data management and resource allocation.

While virtualization has seen widespread adoption, it still holds an air of mystique for many. Given their continued significance, now is an opportune moment to delve into the intricacies of virtual machines and gain a better understanding of their inner workings.


In conclusion, the ascent of virtual machines in our digital landscape is undeniable. As businesses strive to strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and enhanced performance, the adoption of virtual systems continues to surge. The projected growth rate in the global data center virtualization market underscores the pivotal role that virtual machines play in the modern era.

Understanding virtual machines is not a mere technicality; it's a necessity for those navigating this evolving terrain. These entities, existing both independently and symbiotically with their host systems, represent a fusion of technology and innovation. With their ability to isolate vulnerabilities, emulate various operating systems, and streamline development processes, virtual machines have become indispensable in cybersecurity, software development, and beyond.

As we move forward in this digital age, the role of virtual machines is set to expand further, offering new avenues for efficiency, security, and cost savings. Embracing this technology is not just an option; it's a strategic imperative for those seeking to thrive in our rapidly evolving digital landscape.


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