Virtualization or platform virtualization refers to the creation of a virtual machine that acts like a real computer with an operating system. Software executed on these virtual machines is separated from the underlying hardware resources. For example, a computer that is running Microsoft Windows may host a virtual machine that looks like a computer with the Ubuntu Linux operating system; Ubuntu-based software can be run on the virtual machine.
In hardware virtualization, the host machine is the actual machine on which the virtualization takes place, and the guest machine is the virtual machine. The words host and guest are used to distinguish the software that runs on the physical machine from the software that runs on the virtual machine. The software or firmware that creates a virtual machine on the host hardware is called a hypervisor or Virtual Machine Manager.
Different types of hardware virtualization include:
- Full virtualization – almost complete simulation of the actual hardware to allow software, which typically consists of a guest operating system, to run unmodified.
- Paravirtualization – a hardware environment is not simulated; however, the guest programs are executed in their own isolated domains, as if they are running on a separate system. Guest programs need to be specifically modified to run in this environment.
Hardware-assisted virtualization is a way of improving overall efficiency of virtualization. It involves CPUs that provide support for virtualization in hardware, and other hardware components that help improve the performance of a guest environment.
Hardware virtualization can be viewed as part of an overall trend in enterprise IT that includes autonomic computing, a scenario in which the IT environment will be able to manage itself based on perceived activity, and utility computing, in which computer processing power is seen as a utility that clients can pay for only as needed. The usual goal of virtualization is to centralize administrative tasks while improving scalability and overall hardware-resource utilization. With virtualization, several operating systems can be run in parallel on a single central processing unit (CPU). This parallelism tends to reduce overhead costs and differs from multitasking, which involves running several programs on the same OS. Using virtualization, an enterprise can better manage updates and rapid changes to the operating system and applications without disrupting the user. "Ultimately, virtualization dramatically improves the efficiency and availability of resources and applications in an organization. Instead of relying on the old model of “one server, one application” that leads to underutilized resources, virtual resources are dynamically applied to meet business needs without any excess fat" (ConsonusTech).