Should You Use Virtual Machines For Development? Pros and Cons


Virtual machines (VM) enable you to run a separate operating system in an app window on your computer. They are useful in many ways, for example:

– You can use VMs to operate a different OS (e.g., run Windows on a Mac) side by side yours;
– You can run software your main computer cannot;
– You can try out apps and software in a safe, contained environment.

In this article, you’ll get to know more about virtual machines, what some of their applications are, and the pros and cons of using them for development.

What’s a Virtual Machine?

Virtual machines create virtualized environments on your computer. The VM runs as a process in a task window on your current OS. To execute a VM, you can boot OS installer disks inside a VM window. The operating system disc believes it’s running on a full computer and will be available for installation.

Whenever you want to run the VM, you open your VM client and use it as you would any other window on your desktop. After installation, your computer is then known as the host while the VM is referred to as the guest. It helps you keep straight one or more VMs.

One of the best features of VMs is that the information they contain stays on a virtual hard drive. It is only a large, multi-gigabyte file on your real hard drive. It means you don’t have to figure out complicated disk partitions that can cause you all sorts of issues.

Virtualizations do use some resources, so don’t expect it to be as fast as if you had the OS on a real computer. If you’re looking to operate demanding apps or games that need a lot of RAM and CPU power, virtual machines aren’t the best option. But if you need to perform simple tasks such as app testing or using networking tools, they’re perfect for that.

As long as you have space on your hard drive and enough system resources, there’s no limit to the amount of VMs you can have installed on your machine. You can run different versions of Windows, Linux, macOS, and other operating systems at the same time.

The Pros of Virtual Machines

VMs have a lot of pros, especially for designers and developers. As mentioned, they create safer, contained environments for you to run beta-testing and try out other new things. Other Pros of VMs include:

Less physical hardware. You don’t need as many servers and computers to create the different environments you need.

Prevents malware infection. Only Virtual PCs suffer when attacks occur.

Simpler asset management. You can manage everything from one location.

Eco-friendly. Running a VM cluster reduces energy, also saving you money.

Scalability. You can scale with new devices, and you don’t need to buy new servers.

Easy upgrades. If something happens in the virtual environment during updates or patch, you can roll back to the machine to a previous snapshot

Support legacy operating systems. As hardware evolves, older operating systems become obsolete. With virtualization, you can upgrade while still having access to necessary older operating systems. Likewise, it makes them forward-compatible too.

The Cons of Virtual Machines

While VMs may have many benefits, you do need to weigh these out with their cons:

Higher upfront costs. Upfront costs of operating systems, software, and OS can be much higher than typical startup costs. You need to be willing to design the system for current and future needs.

Complexity. The hardware and network aspects of the VM setup can be complicated. You’ll need to put in place both routing rules and virtual local networks (VLAN).

Security. The complexity in the setup can create security vulnerabilities if not configured correctly. Since hardware is bundled, a single disaster may cause significant downtime.

Security, again. While virtual machines can indeed save your primary computer from malware, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep an eye for other digital threats. If you use a VM to make an unencrypted connection to online platforms via public WiFi, hackers and other third-parties can still intercept your data. For this reason, it is smart to integrate NordVPN Teams into your security configuration. It secures any VM connection to the internet with military-grade encryption.

Hardware keys. Using hardware keys is much more difficult. You can bind a USB port to a virtual machine, but you won’t be able to move the VM without moving the key.

Adding hardware. Not all equipment is compatible with virtual machines. You need to test anything before deploying. It may limit which device the VM can use because it is linked to a specific piece of hardware.

Virtual Machines: The Bottom Line

Virtual machines can be beneficial for a considerable number of reasons. When successfully implemented, they can reduce costs, increase efficiency, and create greater flexibility. But VMs are not perfect.

Keep the pros and cons of virtual machines in mind, and you will know when it’s worth using a VM for development and when it isn’t.