This step-by-step guide will show you how to set up a virtualization environment (called a hypervisor) on your computer that will allow you to run Virtual Machines. Most of our guides and technical support deals primarily with the VirtualBox hypervisor, which is a free, multi-platform, open-source tool. Other hypervisors may be used to run our Virtual Machines, such as VMware, which is available freely to SCS Computer Science Students and is supported with some documentation. Other hypervisors include KVM, Hyper-V, Parallels, etc., but we do not provide technical support for those.
Step 1: Prepare your computer for Virtualization
Step 2: Install Hypervisor (Virtualization Tool)
Step 3: Import a Virtual Machine
Step 4: Start the Virtual Machine
Step 5: Using the Virtual Machine
Step 6: Shut down the Virtual Machine

This guide is not intended to provide detailed steps for every item on every operating system. It is meant as a general guide, and you will have to google to find the procedure for your particular operating system and computer model.

Step 1: Prepare your computer for Virtualization

Before getting started with any hypervisor, there are a few things you will want to check on your host computer. Checking these before attempting to install and run your virtual machine reduces the chance that something will go wrong.

  • Enable Processor Virtualization: Ensure Virtualization is enabled on your computer. See the Virtualization Error (VT-d/VT-x or AMD-V) for troubleshooting support
  • Review File Sync Services for tools like OneDrive, Nextcloud, DropBox Sync, iCloud, etc. If you are using a data synchronization service, make sure it DOES NOT (or at least not frequently) synchronize the folder in which your hypervisor imports and installs the Virtual Machines. File sync services can cause a dramatic fall-off in performance for your entire system as these services try to synchronize these massive files that are getting updated constantly while you are using the Virtual Machines.
  • Sufficient Disk Space: Virtual Machines require a significant amount of Disk space (10 GB or more each is typical). Ensure you have sufficient space on your computer
  • Admin Privileges: Installing a hypervisor on a host in most cases requires admin privileges.

Step 2: Install Hypervisor (Virtualization Tool)

Installing a hypervisor on your host is usually quite simple. In most cases, the install program will ask only a couple of questions, such as where to install the hypervisor software.

WARNING: We only rigorously test our new Virtual Machines on up-to-date versions of VirtualBox. We encourage everyone to use that hypervisor if they can.

  • VirtualBox Installation Instructions: text | video

IMPORTANT: We encourage that you update your hypervisor each term if you are using new Virtual Machines, as they are often built using the most up-to-date hypervisor (typically VirtualBox for most SCS course Virtual Machines)

Step 3: Import a Virtual Machine

The first step is to download the Virtual Machine for your course from our Course Virtual Machines page. This will download a .ova file.
The .ova file is actually a compressed (zipped) tarball of a Virtual Machine exported from VirtualBox

  • VirtualBox VM Import Instructions: text | video

Once the Virtual Machine has been imported, it will normally show up in the guest list within your hypervisor tool.

Step 4: Start the Virtual Machine

To start up a Virtual Machine guest in most hypervisors, you simply click on the desired guest and click the Start button (often double-clicking the guest icon will work as well).

IMPORTANT: Some of our larger Virtual Machines can take up to a minute to start up the Linux operating system and show you the login screen. If the start-up is a lot slower, or if the performance when logged into the Virtual Machine Desktop or Shell is poor, then consult the Trouble-Shooting section below.

Step 5: Using the Virtual Machine

How you use a Virtual Machine will depend on your course, so consult your TAs. Some useful things to know:

  • Sharing files between the guest and host: To learn about different ways of sharing files, check out this guide.
  • Run a command with sudo (root) privileges: Open a terminal and type any command with sudo in front to run that command as root.
    Example: sudo apt-get install vim – will install the vim text editor package on an Ubuntu Linux Virtual Machine
  • Find the IP address of your guest: Open a terminal and type ifconfig | more – The | more (pronounced “pipe more”) will “pipe” the output of the ifconfig command to the more command, which will show the results one page at a time, so it doesn’t scroll by before you see it all.
    If you have a Host-Only Network IP address, you will see an IP of (or something similar). Check the Trouble-Shooting section below for more information about the Host-Only Network.

Step 6: Shut down the Virtual Machine

When you are done using a guest Virtual Machine, regardless of hypervisor, you need to shut it down properly. This can be done in three ways:

  1. Press the shut down button found on the desktop, taskbar, or task menu of the guest operating system
  2. Open a terminal and type the command: sudo shutdown -h now
  3. In the guest window, click Machine (menu) -> ACPI Shut down – This will simulate the power button being pressed

WARNING: If you shut down a guest operating system any other way, such as by just pressing the “X” button on the guest window or File (menu) -> Close, this can have unintended consequences. In some cases, this can be the same as pulling the power cord out of your desktop computer. This can result in hard drive errors depending on what the guest’s operating system was doing when you killed it.

NOTE: Some of our VMs can take as much as a minute to shut down depending on what the system was doing, please be patient.