How to Run Virtual Machines from External Drives

There are countless reasons you might be interested in hosting a virtual machine. Depending on the work you do and the tasks you need to accomplish with your computer, you might want a separate operating system just for certain activities. Suppose your work involves interacting with malware or computer viruses, for example. In that case, you don’t want to risk your own operating system while working, so a virtual machine makes perfect sense for you.

A virtual machine is, in a sense, just another file located on your computer. Because of this, you can store the virtual machine on an external drive, just as you would any other file. The following will explore how you can store and run a virtual machine from an external hard drive, as well as the pros and cons of choosing to keep your virtual machine external. 

What Is A Virtual Machine

In the broadest sense, a virtual machine is a file (often called an image) that acts as if it is a computer. It is a computer within another computer. Like most other programs, it will run in a window, giving you the same basic experience that you would have if you were using the host operating system in a non-virtual sense.

It is important to note that the virtual machine is kept separated from the rest of the computer system. This means that you don’t need to worry about the software within your virtual machine influencing the computer itself. Because of this, many view virtual machines as excellent grounds for testing beta releases of operating systems, working with data that has been affected by viruses, creating backups, and using software or applications on operating systems that they were not designed to work with.

When people speak about virtual machines, they sometimes use the term guest to refer to the virtual machine and host to refer to the machine that the file is being run on. More than one virtual machine can exist within a host at any given time.

How To Get Your Virtual Machine On An External Hard Drive

To begin, you are going to want to make sure that your virtual machine is shut down. Once this is done, locate the virtual machine on your device. By default, on Mac, virtual machines are often saved to Documents/Parallels within your User folder or in /Users/Shared/Parallels. This being said, you may have chosen a different location to store your virtual machine in. If you are unsure where your machine is located, you can search for files with a .pvm extension.

Once you’ve found your virtual machine file, you can copy or move the file to your desired location. The location you choose to store the file in will have an impact on how quickly the virtual machine can function. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little research on the best external hard drive for your purposes to make sure you’re not slowing yourself down unnecessarily. Once the file has been moved over, you’re done. Any time you wish to use the virtual machine, you can connect the hard drive to your physical machine and open the file. It is as simple as that.

The Pros Of Virtual Machines

You might be wondering why someone would be interested in using a virtual machine. There are many factors to consider, but one of the main reasons an everyday consumer might be drawn to the prospect of hosting a virtual machine is because this will allow them to use multiple operating system environments on a single computer. Additionally, virtual machines are easy to access, manage, and maintain. They can easily be moved from one server to another (even while they’re running) and can be created quickly via cloning. Virtual machines also offer disaster recovery options that many find appealing.

The Potential Drawbacks

While internal or external locations for your virtual machine make nearly no difference, there is one factor you might want to keep in mind depending on why you are running a virtual machine from your external drive. Because external hard drives are typically connected to your machine via USB interfacing, the speed of your virtual machine will be affected. This being said, if you’re using the virtual machine for basic operations, this change in speed is not likely to be too noticeable.

With the above information, you are well on your way to running a virtual machine from an external hard drive. As with all technical advice, it is important to remember to complete regular backups of your devices. This includes your virtual machine. Some conditions can result in damage or data loss.

How to Run Virtual Machines from External Drives was last updated October 28th, 2020 by Allen Brown