There are several ways to convert a physical machine to a virtual machine. They all involve acquiring software that runs and maintains the virtual machine on the host system. A complete copy of the current computer operating system and programs also needs to be created in most cases. The new virtual machine software is installed and executed. The disk image of the original operating system is mounted into the virtual machine and the computer is prepared to run the original operating system in virtual mode.
There are many available software packages that can help to change a physical machine to a virtual machine. Some of these are very simple to use and can turn the process into a series of simple clicks. Other versions offer more control and options and can help to establish rules for the new virtual machine during installation. They are available both free and for retail sale. The first step is to select the software with the necessary features and technical level for the user.
The next step is not always the same and depends on the software being used. For certain programs, it will be necessary to create a disk image of the operating system and other programs so they can be used immediately by the virtual machine without needing to be re-installed from the original disks. Some virtualization software will perform this process through special partition functions, and others do not require anything to be moved at all. Even though this step is not strictly necessary, it is still recommended.
With the computer programs and operating system ready to be installed under the virtualized environment, it is time to install and use the virtualization software. The software does not need to be run on the same computer from where the operating system was imaged; instead, it can be run on another computer, providing software emulation to run the operating system on a different physical machine. Each program will have a different installation process, depending on the ultimate use for the virtualized computer.
The last step is either to re-install the imaged disks with the operating system on it, or to re-install it from the original disks. This step completes the basic process of moving a physical machine to a virtual machine. In this setup, an entire computer can be transferred to another computer to run exactly as it was. It can be used to create backups, run diagnostics or, in certain circumstances, to have parallel systems running in tandem.
There is a special type of virtual software creator that does not require installation on the computer and can work while the computer is running. This can create a virtual personal computer (PC) without the need for many of the normal virtualization steps. It does require more system resources but provides an almost fully automated virtualization process.
One reason for converting a physical machine to a virtual machine might be to run several individual web servers off of one computer through virtual servers. This can require further steps to set up load sharing and access to hardware ports. In this scenario, it is important to understand that virtual machines do not always have direct hardware access and instead might be going through virtual versions of the hardware, which can affect performance and require more advanced networking knowledge and hardware.