A virtual machine (VM) is a software implementation of a machine (for example, a computer) that executes programs like a physical machine. Virtual machines are separated into two major classes, based on their use and degree of correspondence to any real machine:
- A system virtual machine provides a complete system platform which supports the execution of a complete operating system (OS).A number of different OS (BSD, Linux, Mac OSx, Windows) can be accommodated in a single environment. These usually emulate an existing architecture, and are built with the purpose of either providing a platform to run programs where the real hardware is not available for use (for example, executing on otherwise obsolete platforms), or of having multiple instances of virtual machines leading to more efficient use of computing resources, both in terms of energy consumption and cost effectiveness (known as hardware virtualisation, the key to a cloud computing environment), or both.
- A process virtual machine (also, language virtual machine) is designed to run a single program, which means that it supports a single process. Such virtual machines are usually closely suited to one or more programming languages and built with the purpose of providing program portability and flexibility (amongst other things). An essential characteristic of a virtual machine is that the software running inside is limited to the resources and abstractions provided by the virtual machine—it cannot break out of its virtual environment.
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