What Is a Hypervisor? Types, Use Cases, and Career Opportunities

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what a hypervisor is, what they’re used for, and how you can work with virtualization technology.

[Featured Image] A person stands in a room full of servers examining a laptop computer.

Virtualization technology makes it possible to separate physical hardware resources (like CPU and storage) from computers. Most famously, it’s the foundation of cloud computing. Hypervisors play a key role in the process of virtualization. In the following guide, you can learn more about hypervisor use cases, types, benefits, and disadvantages. 

What is a hypervisor?

A hypervisor is a thin software layer also known as a virtual machine monitor (VMM). Before their existence, most computers could only run one operating system (OS) at a time. With a hypervisor, you can run multiple operating systems using one host machine. This practice helps reduce the waste of physical servers and computational resources.

What is the main function of a hypervisor?

Hypervisors separate a system's operating system (OS) and resources from the physical machine. They organize these separated resources into files called virtual machines (VMs), hence the pseudonym virtual machine monitor. Then, they assign computing power, data, and storage to each one. A hypervisor prohibits these files from interfering with one another, thereby maintaining the system. 

Read more: Introduction to Virtualization: What is a Virtual Machine?

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Types of hypervisors

There are two main types of hypervisors. Type 1 is the most commonly deployed type of hypervisor. However, type 2 hypervisors can be better suited for certain projects. In the following sections, you'll learn how each one works. If you're determining which type of hypervisor will be best for your project, consider the pros and cons.

What is a type 1 hypervisor?

A type 1 hypervisor is sometimes called a native hypervisor or a bare-metal hypervisor. Its pseudonyms (or nicknames) are derived from its installation method. Bare-metal hypervisors are installed and run directly on the physical hardware of a computer. A type 1 hypervisor can take the place of a host operating system.

Pro: Programs and software typically go through an OS layer to reach hardware resources like CPU and memory. Since a type 1 hypervisor has direct access to the physical computer, it's fast, secure, and efficient for them to run guest operating systems.

Con: Type 1 hypervisors may require a dedicated machine separate from the host hardware. This secondary machine is needed to instruct the virtual machines, manage the virtual environment, and control hardware resources.

What is a type 2 hypervisor?

Type 2 hypervisors run like applications through the OS of the physical machine. This type of hypervisor is also known as an embedded hypervisor or a hosted hypervisor. Unlike type 1 hypervisors, hosted hypervisors don't have direct access to the underlying hardware. They must go through the hardware's OS to interact with its physical resources. 

Pro: Type 2 hypervisor setup is quicker and easier because operating systems are more user-friendly. 

Con: Latency issues such as lagging are more common among type 2 hypervisors. They also tend to be less secure. Both of these issues exist because hosted hypervisors must access hardware resources indirectly through an OS. If the hardware's OS is compromised, the OS of any virtual machines the hypervisor has created will be too. 

What is the main function of a hypervisor?

It is unlikely that a single OS would occupy all of a computer's resources. However, multiple operating systems running alongside each other (VMs) can. Hypervisor technology allows more use of a system's available computing resources. They save space and maintenance because they create independent operating systems that share the resources of a single machine.

What is the difference between a hypervisor and a virtual machine?

Virtual machines are files that recreate the computing environment of a physical computer. A hypervisor is software that runs these files. Hypervisors allocate hardware resources to virtual machines and ensure they remain independent from one another, thereby maintaining the system. A good way to conceptualize the relationship between the two is to imagine hypervisors as the platform on which virtual machines must operate. 

How to work with hypervisors

If you're interested in hypervisors and virtualization technology, you might be a great fit for a computer science and information technology career. These roles make twice the median annual wage for all occupations. This year, an estimated 377,500 jobs will be created in this industry [1]. You can learn more about starting or advancing your career in this field in the sections below.

Degrees and graduate certificates

If you want to land a computer and information technology job, you might consider obtaining a degree or graduate certificate in a relevant field:


Or, consider building your computer science skill set by earning a certificate for your resume in a relevant study area. You can find a few relevant options in the list below. Each one is offered by a tech industry leader or an accredited university.

  • Building Cloud Computing Solutions at Scale Specialization. Duke University offers this specialized training focusing on cloud virtualization technologies such as containers, virtual machines, and Kubernetes. In the final project, you'll create a containerized Flask application to deploy to a cloud platform continuously.

  • Network Function Virtualization. In this seven-hour course offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, you'll focus your studies on developing and deploying virtual network functions.

Careers in virtualization 

The next few sections outline positions allowing you to work with virtualization technology.

Systems engineer

Many systems engineers work with hypervisors. Their primary responsibility is overseeing computer systems' engineering, management, and security. For this reason, systems engineers should have excellent project management and problem-solving skills.

Pay range: The average total pay for a systems engineer in the US is $112,022 per year [2]. 

Recommended education: 13 percent of systems engineers have an associate degree, 70 percent have a bachelor's degree, and 13 percent have a master's [3].

Where to get started: Introduction to Systems Engineering online course by the University of New South Wales:

Virtualization engineer

Virtual engineers specialize in managing virtual computing platforms. Their duties include migration management, end-user troubleshooting, and the maintenance of hypervisors and virtual machines. Virtualization engineers must stay current on virtualization trends and technologies. For this reason, Professional Certificates in relevant fields of study can be highly beneficial for this role.

Pay range: The estimated annual pay for virtualization engineers in the US is $110,033 [4].

Recommended education: 15 percent of systems engineers have an associate degree, 68 percent have a bachelor's degree, and 12 percent have a master's [5].

Learn more about hypervisors and virtualization with Coursera

Get comfortable with key concepts and expand your virtualization skill set with an online course like Introduction to Operating Systems 1: Virtualization.

If you're already familiar with Linux components or have some experience as a system administrator, consider sharpening your skills for free with this intermediate-level, one-hour Guided Project:

Planning to earn the Linux Foundation Certified IT Associate (LFCA) Certification? You can earn credentials while practicing for your certification by enrolling in the Learning Linux for LFCA Certification Specialization. This program is designed to prepare you for the LFCA certification exam by focusing on Linux programming, management, security, and DevOps methodology.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm.” Accessed January 4, 2024.

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