Introduction to Virtualization: What Is a Hypervisor?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what a hypervisor is, what they’re used for, how to work with them, and other FAQs about virtualization.

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Virtualization technology makes it possible to separate hardware resources like CPU and storage from physical computers. Most famously, it’s the foundation of cloud computing. Hypervisors play a key role in the process of virtualization. The following article explores hypervisor use cases, types, benefits, and disadvantages. 

What is a hypervisor?

A hypervisor is a thin software layer that is 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 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). Then, they assign computing power, data, and storage to each one. A hypervisor prohibits the files from interfering with one another, thereby maintaining the system. 

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

Types of hypervisors

Type 1 hypervisor

A type 1 hypervisor is sometimes referred to as a native hypervisor or a bare-metal hypervisor. Its pseudonyms are derived from the method of installation. Bare-metal hypervisors are installed and run directly on the physical hardware of a computer.

Pro: Typically, programs and software must 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. 

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

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 a hypervisor used for?

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 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

Occupations that work with hypervisors and virtualization belong to the computer and information technology field. This decade, an estimated 667,600 jobs will be created in this industry [1]. If you want to land a job in computer and information technology, consider obtaining a degree in a relevant field. Examples of applicable degrees include a master of computer and information technology and a master of engineering in engineering management.

Career paths in virtualization 

The list below outlines a couple of positions that may work closely with virtualization technology:

  • Systems engineer. Many system engineers work with hypervisors. Their primary responsibility is to oversee the engineering, management, and security of computer systems. For this reason, systems engineers should have excellent project management and problem-solving skills. The average total pay for a systems engineer in the United States is $102,106 per year [2]. 

  • 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. Professional Certificates in relevant fields of study can be highly beneficial for this position. The estimated annual pay for virtualization engineers in the United States is $108,072 [3].

You can learn more about operating systems and build your virtualization skill set with an online course like the Introduction to Operating Systems 1: Virtualization.

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Build a deeper understanding of hypervisors and virtualization with a specialized course taught by a systems engineer. Earn a certificate through Georgia Tech’s Network Function Virtualization.

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Article sources

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm.” Accessed May 18, 2022.

2. Glassdoor. “How much does a systems engineer make? https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/systems-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed May 18, 2022. 

3. Glassdoor. "How much does a virtualization engineer make?https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/virtualization-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,23.htm.” Accessed May 18, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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