In software development, the amount of time invested in software testing directly correlates to the success of a finished product. That being said, no one can afford to test a product endlessly when the priority is getting it to market. Techniques like unit testing have helped to streamline how software developers critique their creations, but these are not a total solution.

Testers still struggle to create proper testing environments, which is where virtualization comes in.

Virtualization involves creating a virtual computing environment with specific parameters that testers can use to experiment with software running under particular conditions. Historically, creating these environments drained time and other resources from the part of this process that really matters: running the actual tests. Now, however, multiple virtual environments can be spun up on a single machine so that testing takes priority.

Other benefits of virtualization include better resource distribution, cost-savings on hardware, and improved cybersecurity support. The benefits run deep — but only as long as the virtual testing environments accurately mimic real-world conditions and come backed with reliable security. For that, developers are turning to third parties like Microsoft and Amazon to test software based on virtualization.

Increasingly, it’s not just an option — it’s the best option.

Virtualization Moving Forward

Virtualization will likely become the standard in software testing because it addresses two core challenges: security and specificity. Virtual machines are less vulnerable than physical hardware, making them more secure for testing sensitive software that could otherwise fall into hackers’ hands.

Virtualization also supports containerization solutions like Docker and Kubernetes, which allow developers to recreate only a part of an operating system instead of the whole thing. With better security and greater flexibility, testing proceeds efficiently.

We did something similar at our company: We created two additional virtual machines that were an exact replica of our original machine. All processes were conducted on these virtual machines, so we didn’t have to worry about a crash or a hack. This approach also allowed us to avoid using the main machine during security testing, and we could also store backups of the virtual machines on the main machine in case of a breakdown.

Inherently, virtualization improves the depth and quality of the testing process.

Developers may be spending fewer hours on testing, but they’re learning more thanks to the infinite potential of virtual environments to mimic real computing conditions. Testing the edges of compatibility or experimenting with different user profiles — things once considered prohibitively difficult — are now accessible to any development team.

Consider how hypothetical testers might utilize virtualization. When they discover a bug in the software, they create a snapshot, essentially saving all the salient details. That snapshot is then sent to another developer working on a cloned copy of the original virtual environment for further study. Because a bug in a virtual environment can’t hurt the physical machine housing that environment, the tester can explore the bug freely.

In practice, virtualization lets testing proceed quickly but also cautiously, but virtualization isn’t perfect.

Virtual machines can’t completely emulate all computing environments. Plus, technical issues can arise, and final testing must always be done on real machines. Even with the drawbacks, however, virtualization offers significant advantages over all the alternatives.

Getting Started With Virtualization

As helpful as virtualization may be, it’s essential to work with simulated environments that have several key features. Being highly configurable — meaning users can precisely define OS version, RAM size, channel capacity, or CPU clock within the testing environment — is essential.

Real computing environments are incredibly complex, so it takes a dynamic virtual environment to recreate all the forces and variables in play. Virtual environments should also be backed up and easily recoverable. Virtualization exists, in part, to push software to its breaking point. Failure is the goal, but testers must be able to quickly restart the scenario afterward, which requires an accessible backup.

Finally, testers must be realistic about when virtualization is and is not the appropriate option. For instance, virtualization isn’t ideal for performance testing or for scenarios where software draws heavily on a physical computer’s resources.

Every piece of software is unique, and no approach to testing works for everything.

From my own experience using virtualization, I suggest testers remain cautiously optimistic. In many cases, it leads to the kind of idealized experience a tester hopes for: fast, efficient, and thorough. In some cases, however, falling back on physical testing machines is easier.

In all cases, this is less about how you test and more about how much you test. Regardless of the method, software should always be tested until developers know it’s up to par.

Image Credit: Zan-X: Unsplash

Dennis Turpitka

Founder and CEO of Apriorit

Dennis Turpitka is founder and CEO of Apriorit, a software development company that provides engineering services globally to tech companies, including Fortune 500 tech giants.