How to Run a Virtual Machine?

A virtual machine (VM) allows you to run an operating system within your current OS. VMs are useful for testing environments, running legacy software, or using multiple operating systems on one computer. This guide will teach you how to run a VM properly to optimize performance and security.

How to Run a Virtual Machine?

Choosing VM Software

The first step is selecting virtualization software to create and manage your VMs. The most popular options are:


VMware Workstation is an industry standard for running VMs locally. Key features include:

  • Supports Windows, Linux, and custom OSes
  • Easy VM networking and sharing
  • Snapshots to restore VM states
  • Unity mode for running VMs in separate windows

VMware vSphere is enterprise-grade for managing VMs on remote servers.

Oracle VirtualBox

Oracle VM VirtualBox is a popular open-source and free solution. Highlights:

  • Cross-platform: Windows, Mac, Linux hosts
  • Intuitive GUI for easy VM management
  • Extensive hardware device support
  • Seamless mode to run VMs in host OS windows


Hypervisors like VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V provide bare metal virtualization for maximum performance.

Cloud Solutions

Services like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure offer hosted VMs accessible online. This removes hardware restrictions for scaling.

Creating a Virtual Machine

Once you select virtualization software, follow these steps to create a VM:

  1. Choose a VM OS – Select the guest OS like Windows 10 or Linux Ubuntu depending on your needs.
  2. Allocate VM system resources – Assign CPU cores, RAM, hard drive storage, and additional hardware like graphics cards. Allocate enough to run your intended programs smoothly.
  3. Configure VM settings – Select networking mode like bridged, host-only, or private. Configure any other options like copy/paste between host and VM.
  4. Install VM OS and programs – Run the VM OS installation process like any regular computer. Install any applications needed for the VM workload.

VM Performance Optimization

Tuning and optimizing your VM properly ensures maximum performance:

  • Assign adequate vCPUs – Add more virtual CPUs for parallelized workloads. However too many vCPUs can degrade performance when shared with limited physical cores.
  • Allocate sufficient RAM – Add enough RAM to avoid memory swapping which drastically slows down VMs. But overallocation wastes resources.
  • Use paravirtualization – Paravirtualized hardware drivers reduce virtualization overhead for much better efficiency.
  • Isolate VM workloads – Ensure other programs on the host computer do not interfere with VM processes.
  • Application optimization – Tune and configure applications running inside each VM for peak utilization of allocated resources.

VM Security Best Practices

Proper security is vital since VMs share resources and kernels:

  • Harden host OS – Patch and secure the host computer’s OS that runs the VM software.
  • Isolate VMs – Ensure VMs cannot access each other’s data with proper network configuration.
  • Use snapshots – Take regular VM snapshots to easily restore after infections.
  • Install security software – Run antivirus scanners and firewalls tailored for virtual environments.
  • Encrypt data – Use full-disk encryption with SSE extensions to encrypt VM data.
  • Restrict resource access – Configure strict resource limits for VMs to prevent breakouts.

Common Virtual Machine Uses

Some typical use cases and scenarios where VMs provide major benefits:

Testing Environments

  • Safely replicate precise production environments for applications and OS testing without risking live infrastructure.

Running Legacy Software

  • Support legacy software on newer host OSes by virtualizing compatible older operating systems.

Isolating Critical Services

  • Partition critical infrastructure like databases, web servers, etc into separate VMs to enhance security and availability.

Developing Across Platforms

  • Develop software for different target OSes like Windows, Linux, and macOS from a single computer.

Computer Labs

  • Streamline management and reduce hardware costs for organizations like schools with computer labs needing multiple OSes.

VMs power all kinds of computing workloads more efficiently, securely, and flexibly than physical hardware alone.

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual machines allow running multiple OSes as software programs isolated from the host computer.
  • Setup involves allocating hardware resources like CPU, RAM, and storage to VMs.
  • Proper optimization and security hardening is vital for peak VM performance and safety.
  • Use cases range from testing environments to running legacy software and platforms.


Virtual machines make using multiple operating systems fast, affordable, and secure by abstracting hardware through a hypervisor. Carefully configure resources for smooth performance based on intended VM workloads. Hardening both host and guest OSes through latest updates, encryption, and isolation ensures protection.

With robust virtualization software now commonplace, barriers continue lowering for harnessing VMs across devices and platforms. The next frontier is containerization through frameworks like Docker for distributing applications within streamlined OS environments. As virtualization technology evolves, capitalizing on it unlocks more flexible and efficient computing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What hardware should my computer have to run VMs effectively?
    Your computer should have a recent multi-core processor, at least 8GB of RAM, SSD storage, and hardware virtualization support to run most VMs capably. Dedicate 2 CPU cores and a minimum of 2GB RAM per VM.
  2. Is virtual machine performance worse than native?
    VMs can experience up to ~3-5% performance overhead in CPU and graphics versus native hardware. Using paravirtualized drivers and avoiding resource overallocation minimizes this difference. Most workloads function excellently in VMs.
  3. What causes poor VM performance?
    Insufficient vCPU cores or RAM, storage bottlenecks from using HDDs, slow network connections, and unoptimized or incompatible applications lead to poor VM performance. Analyze resource usage when troubleshooting.
  4. Can VMs increase security risks?
    VMs can improve security isolation between applications and data sets. However, both host and guest OSes must be properly hardened with strict resource controls to contain any VM breakout attempts. Keep systems patched and use encryption.
  5. What is the easiest virtual machine software for beginners?
    Oracle VM VirtualBox is the most user-friendly free solution for running your first VMs. The intuitive workflow covers everything from initial operating system installation to post-configuration.
  6. Can I use VMs for gaming?
    Gaming in VMs is possible for less resource-intensive games by assigning a suitable discrete graphics card. However pass-through GPU support varies across virtualization solutions. Native hardware still outperforms VMs for peak gaming capability.
  7. How do I optimize my VMs?
    Benchmark VM workloads to find and eliminate bottlenecks by adding more CPU cores, RAM allocation, using SSDs, and isolating the VM from other processes through hypervisor functionality. Also tune your applications running inside VMs.
  8. What causes high VM RAM usage?
    Having insufficient RAM allocated to handle OS and application memory demands causes constant paging by the guest OS to available storage which cripples VM responsiveness. Provision more RAM to meet peak usage needs.
  9. Can I copy/paste or share files between host and VMs?
    Most VM software facilitates transferring text, images, files, and clipboard contents between host and guest OSes through shared folders, drag-and-drop, and copy-paste support configurable during VM creation.
  10. How do I back up and restore VMs?
    Leverage snapshot functionality in VM software to checkpoint VM states allowing rollback to previous instances later. You can also back up entire VM installation folders or image files to external drives for cloning or archiving purposes.
  11. Can I migrate VMs to other hosts?
    VM portability is a key benefit of virtualization. You can move VM data between compatible host computers with no changes provided the underlying virtual hardware remains identical during migration. Some VM software also facilitates live migration without downtime.
  12. Is VM encryption necessary?
    While the hypervisor isolates VM data strongly, full-disk encryption using extensions like AES-NI provides vital protection against theft of VM files and snapshots. This renders VM content unrecoverable without the encryption keys.
  13. How do I troubleshoot VM issues?
    Monitor utilization metrics for CPU, RAM, storage, network, etc during operation to isolate resource bottlenecks. Updating drivers, applications, and OS patches also mitigates common stability issues. Most hypervisors include management tools to diagnose VM problems.
  14. What are paravirtualized drivers?
    Paravirtualization involves modifying guest OS kernels to replace hardware drivers with optimized alternatives aware of the virtual environment for much better performance. This bypasses emulation overhead.
  15. Do VMs support USB passthrough?
    Yes, VM software allows USB controller passthrough to assign select host system USB devices directly to VMs as virtual USB ports. This facilitates connecting devices like scanners, printers, cameras etc unmodified inside VMs.
  16. Can I run macOS or iOS on a VM?
    Apple’s EULA officially prohibits virtualizing recent macOS versions. Older instances can still VM on VMware and VirtualBox but with no GUI acceleration. iOS cannot run as VMs and requires actual Apple hardware.
  17. How are hypervisors different from VM software?
    Hypervisors like ESXi run directly on host hardware providing native virtualization. VM software runs within host OSes so performance is somewhat reduced. But hypervisors are exclusively intended for virtualization with no other apps.
  18. What is the difference between containers and VMs?
    Containers package apps with libraries into standardized runtime environments for greater portability. VMs virtualize an entire hardware environment including separate guest OSes. Containers are lighter and faster while VMs provide stronger workload isolation.
  19. Can I run desktop VMs in the cloud?
    Many cloud platforms like AWS, GCP, and Azure support provisioning fully functional persistent desktop VMs accessible through remote connection protocols. These offer better performance, scalability and availability than local desktop VMs.
  20. How do I manage a large number of VMs?
    Robust datacenter-grade VM management platforms like vSphere and XenCenter make it easier to monitor, optimize, orchestrate, and secure massive VM deployments efficiently through automated resource provisioning, fault tolerance, load balancing capabilities etc.

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