Answered By: Emma Sansby, BA (Hons) MA MCLIP
Last Updated: 10 May, 2016     Views: 39

A virtual machine is a type of computer.  Most of the computers in the library are virtual machines.   

For you as an end user the differences between using a virtual machine and a physical computer are minor, but behind the scenes things are very different! On a traditional computer network each computer has a monitor, a CPU (central processing unit), a keyboard, and a mouse.  The CPU is essentially the computer's brain.  All of the CPUs act independently of each other and each needs separately maintaining and updating on a regular basis.  When you have large concentrations of computers, like we do on campus, this can be a very time consuming process.   

On a virtual network everything is administered centrally and CPUs are replaced by 'virtual machines'.  A virtual machine is a little grey box, about the size of a DVD case, which uses a fraction of the electricity of a CPU.  Unlike CPUs, virtual machines have very little inside them (they don't need their own brains because they run off one big central brain!).  Virtualisation means that large networks are much easier to manage and provide lots of energy and efficiency savings.