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, how to work with them, and other FAQs about virtualization.

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

Virtualization technology makes it possible to separate 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. 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 and physical servers. 

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 the files from interfering with one another, thereby maintaining the system. 

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.

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 its installation method. Bare-metal hypervisors are installed and run directly on the physical hardware of a computer.

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 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

If you’re interested in working with hypervisors and virtualization, consider the computer and information technology field and earning a degree in a relevant field. Advanced careers in this field may require a graduate degree. Several relevant master’s degrees are offered on Coursera,  such as Master of Computer and Information Technology and Master of Engineering in Engineering Management degrees offered by top universities.

Career paths in virtualization 

The list below outlines a couple of positions that may work closely with virtualization technology and their average base salaries:

  • Systems engineer (C$91,308 [1]): Many system engineers work with hypervisors. Their primary responsibility is to oversee the engineering, management, and security of computer systems. You’ll need excellent project management and problem-solving skills to succeed in this role. 

  • Virtualization engineer (C$56,836 [2]):  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.

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

Getting started with Coursera

Build a deeper understanding of hypervisors and virtualization by taking an online course on Coursera. To learn more about network virtualization and boost your resume, consider earning Georgia Tech’s Network Function Virtualization. This program covers network functions, deploying virtualized networks, and more. 

Article sources


Glassdoor. “Systems Engineer Salaries in Canada, https://www.glassdoor.ca/Salaries/systems-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed October 18, 2023

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