A virtual machine is a solution designed to provide all of the functionality of a physical computer in a totally software-based "virtual" environment. Many business and professional users often use virtual machines to mimic the capabilities of old hardware, to emulate software, to troubleshoot potential configuration issues before a full deployment, and so much more. However, the uses for virtual machines stretch far beyond these.
There are a number of cool uses for virtual machines that you probably haven't had the opportunity to try yet that are more than worth exploring.
1. Disaster Recovery Has Never Been Easier
Disaster recovery is always a top priority for enterprise users everywhere, but thanks to virtual machines the process has never been easier or more effective. Building in a failsafe to protect your data is always an integral part of any business continuity or disaster recovery plan. With a virtual machine, on the other hand, you can take things one step further by protecting the entire environment itself.
The benefit of this is that not only will you have all of your data in the event that something goes wrong, but you'll also be able to preserve productivity by accessing that environment via any unaffected computer regardless of hardware.
2. Saving Data From a Legacy System
Legacy systems are more than just outdated hardware or software solutions; because they naturally grow more inefficient and cumbersome over time, they have a way of costing any organization very real money in terms of lost productivity alone. However, that doesn't make the data created on them any less important.
Many companies often hold on to legacy systems for far longer than they should in an effort to preserve this data for as long as possible. Thanks to virtual machines, however, this is no longer a requirement. You can get rid of (or upgrade) all of that hardware without fear of losing so much as a kilobyte of important information. Just run old applications or other solutions in a virtual machine that matches the configuration of your old environment, and most users probably won't even realize that something changed in the first place.
3. Testing a New Operating System or Software
If you're eagerly awaiting that new version of Windows or Linux but don't want to install it on your main machine out of fear that certain major bugs might cause you trouble, you don't have to wait for updates – just install it on a virtual machine instead. You can create a copy of your existing installation – along with all of your data – on a virtual machine to see exactly what changes will be made when you upgrade a new OS or piece of software.
If things go smoothly, you can then port it over to your primary machine. If something breaks, you still have a chance to play around while you wait for official patches to roll out.
4. Hang Onto Old Apps
Most people know the pain of downloading an update to your favorite application only to find that it isn't quite the same experience as it used to be. Maybe developers released new features for the sake of it rather than to actually improve functionality and the user experience, but the result is the same – the new version pales in comparison to the old version you loved.
With a virtual machine, however, there's nothing stopping you from hanging onto that old version – even if your computer's operating system is "too new" to run it. Do you still have some Windows 95 or Windows 98 apps that you love? Install your operating system of choice on your virtual machine and keep right on working the way you've always loved.
5. A True Internet Sandbox
Finally, one of the coolest (and best) uses for virtual machines that you probably haven't tried has to do with how the process lets you create a true Internet sandbox in every sense of the term.
A sandbox is a concept that refers to a virtual, isolated space where software can be executed in a way that doesn't allow it to affect anything else on a computer. Installing and running a web browser on a virtual machine takes things one step further, as even if you are hacked or succumb to a virus, your virtual machine is kept totally separate from the host computer – meaning that you're at no risk of losing or compromising any files or other sensitive information. You can browse the Internet in complete peace, clicking on whatever you'd like, without worrying about any potential consequences as a result.
These are just a few of the cool uses for virtual machines that you probably haven't had the opportunity to try yet. Once you do, however, you'll begin to realize just how valuable virtual environments are – both as a concept and as a technique that allows you to work exactly how you feel the most comfortable, regardless of what hardware you're currently using.