Microsoft Hyper-V Explained

Hyper-V represents the virtualization technology that Microsoft built to fight against VMware and the other competitors that provide virtualization solutions.

I’m writing this post because several customers ask me about the different versions of Hyper-V and how to decide wich version better fits their environment.

For an overview of the last version of Hyper-V features read http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831531(v=ws.11)

he technology is deeply chained into Windows Server (also in Windows 8 client) and is offered in five “flavors”:

  • Hyper-V Server (Free)
  • Windows Server Core Standard Hyper-V
  • Windows Server Full Standard Hyper-V
  • Windows Server Core Datacenter Hyper-V
  • Windows Server Full Datacenter Hyper-V

Let me explain the difference…

Hyper-V Server

This is the free version of the Hypervisor.  And it’s downloadable from http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/dn205299.aspx

The pro and cons are:

  • Hyper-V Server is lacking a graphic interface so everything needs to be done using powershell (it’s possible to use System Center Virtual Machine Manager to manage Hyper-V Server from a more friendly graphic console).
  • Hyper-V Server it’s free but for every VM that you run using the Hypervisor, you must pay the Guest OS license.
  • Hyper-V Server it’s built on top of the classic Windows Kernel but it’s limited to Hypervisor functionalities. That’s means that you are not running a complete Windows Server so you have a limited number of roles and features that you can enable. From a virtualization perspective, the free version of Hyper-V provides every capability than the for-pay versions.
  • Hyper-V Server it’s more secure due to the fact that it’s a minimal version of Windows. So the attack surface is limited as the number of updates that you need to apply.
  • You must pay attention about the supportability of every products that you want to install on the Hypervisor. For example the antivirus product needs to support the fact that it’s running in a no-graphical environment. Several antivirus, antispyware and other utilities don’t support a Windows Core version (They don’t be able to install due to the lack of graphic API). Before install this version of Hyper-V, list every products that you need (UPS software, RAID utility, Health checker…) and ask vendors about supportability.
  • You must also ask your hardware vendor about the supportability of this kind of OS because it’s derived from Windows Server but it’s not Windows Server.

Windows Server Core Standard Hyper-V

Hyper-V is a role that you can enable in a Windows Server Core Standard installation.

When you install a Windows Server you can choose the version (Standard or Datacenter) and if you want to run the full graphic environment (full installation) or the minimal no-graphic environment (core installation).

The pro and cons are:

  • Windows Server Core is lacking a graphic interface so everything needs to be done using powershell (it’s possible to use System Center Virtual Machine Manager to manage Hyper-V Server from a more friendly graphic console).
  • Windows Server Standard it’s not for free but if you use it as an Hypervisor, you have 4 Windows Guest OS licences included (if you are running 10 Microsoft VMs, you must pay only 6 licenses) .
  • Windows Server Standard (full or core) it’s a complete version of Windows so you can add every role and feature that you need.
  • Windows Server without graphic interface it’s more secure due to the fact that it’s a minimal version of Windows. So the attack surface is limited as the number of updates that you need to apply.
  • You must pay attention about the supportability of every products that you want to install on the Hypervisor. For example the antivirus product needs to support the fact that it’s running in a no-graphical environment. Several antivirus, antispyware and other utilities don’t support a Windows Core version (maybe they don’t be able to install due to the lack of graphic API). Before install this version, list every products that you need (UPS software, RAID utility, Health checker…) and ask vendors about supportability.
  • It’s for granted IMHO but I suggest to be sure that your hardware can support Windows Server without graphical environment.

Windows Server Full Standard Hyper-V

Hyper-V is a role that you can enable in a Windows Server Full Standard installation.

When you install a Windows Server you can choose the version (Standard or Datacenter) and if you want to run the full graphic environment (full installation) or the minimal no-graphic environment (core installation).

The pro and cons are:

  • Windows Server Full you have the possibility to use a friendly graphic interface to set up your enviornment or you can also use powershell Scripting.
  • Windows Server Standard it’s not for free but if you use it as an Hypervisor, you have 4 Windows Guest OS licences included (if you are running 10 Microsoft VMs, you must pay only 6 licenses) .
  • Windows Server Standard (full or core) it’s a complete version of Windows so you can add every role and feature that you need.
  • You don’t need to care about the supportability of applications that you need to install on the Windows Server just because it’s running the standard graphic environment.
  • You don’t need to care about the supportability of hardware.

Windows Server Core Datacenter Hyper-V

Hyper-V is a role that you can enable in a Windows Server Core Datacenter installation.

When you install a Windows Server you can choose the version (Standard or Datacenter) and if you want to run the full graphic environment (full installation) or the minimal no-graphic environment (core installation).

The pro and cons are:

  • Windows Server Core is lacking a graphic interface so everything needs to be done using powershell (it’s possible to use System Center Virtual Machine Manager to manage Hyper-V Server from a more friendly graphic console).
  • Windows Server Datacenter it’s not for free but if you use it as an Hypervisor, you can fun all Guest OS without pay additional licenses (if you are running 100 Microsoft VMs, you don’t must pay 100 licenses) .
  • Windows Server Datacenter (full or core) it’s a complete version of Windows so you can add every role and feature that you need.
  • Windows Server without graphic interface it’s more secure due to the fact that it’s a minimal version of Windows. So the attack surface is limited as the number of updates that you need to apply.
  • You must pay attention about the supportability of every products that you want to install on the Hypervisor. For example the antivirus product needs to support the fact that it’s running in a no-graphical environment. Several antivirus, antispyware and other utilities don’t support a Windows Core version (maybe they don’t be able to install due to the lack of graphic API). Before install this version, list every products that you need (UPS software, RAID utility, Health checker…) and ask vendors about supportability.
  • It’s for granted IMHO but I suggest to be sure that your hardware can support Windows Server without graphical environment.

Windows Server Full Datacenter Hyper-V

Hyper-V is a role that you can enable in a Windows Server Full Datacenter installation.

When you install a Windows Server you can choose the version (Standard or Datacenter) and if you want to run the full graphic environment (full installation) or the minimal no-graphic environment (core installation).

The pro and cons are:

  • Windows Server Full you have the possibility to use a friendly graphic interface to set up your enviornment or you can also use powershell Scripting.
  • Windows Server Datacenter it’s not for free but if you use it as an Hypervisor, you can fun all Guest OS without pay additional licenses (if you are running 100 Microsoft VMs, you don’t must pay 100 licenses) .
  • Windows Server Datacenter (full or core) it’s a complete version of Windows so you can add every role and feature that you need.
  • You don’t need to care about the supportability of applications that you need to install on the Windows Server just because it’s running the standard graphic environment.
  • You don’t need to care about the supportability of hardware.

Considerations

From my experience I can say that I prefer the Windows Server full installation for the following reasons:

  • No many third part vendors are commited to supporting the core version of Hyper-V (both free and paid versions) so you can have several problems to install drivers and utilities for the no graphic version of Hyper-V. For example, recently a customer that I follow discovered that his version of Trend Micro Antiviurs is not supported on Core version of Windows (it can be installed, it works, but it’s not directly supported).
  • If  you were consolidating a group of your existing Windows servers with their existing licenses onto the Hyper-V platform it would be in your best interest to use Hyper-V Server. If you are creating VMs from scrach you must consider that Windows Server provides Guest OS licenses (4 for the Standard, unlimited for the Datacenter).
  • It’s possible to set up the Hypervisor with powershell commands but in the day by day management it’s more quick and easy to have the graphic interface.
  • Even the Core version of Windows Server or Hyper-V Server need to be updated and rebooted. The difference is that the number of updates that you need to apply is less than using a full Windows Server with graphic interface.
  • The Datacenter edition provides unlimited Guest OS licenses but it’s expensive (check http://download.microsoft.com/download/F/3/9/F39124F7-0177-463C-8A08-582463F96C9D/Windows_Server_2012_R2_Licensing_Datasheet.pdf). You must create a little business case about how many Guest OS you will run on every Hyper-V Servers and the cost of licenses. The formula is something like (Guest OS number – 4) * Guest OS license + Windows Standard License. If the result it’s less expensive then the price of a Windows Datacenter License, you can purchase the Standard Version of Windows.
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One thought on “Microsoft Hyper-V Explained

  1. Pingback: How to know if a Hardware is ready for Windows 2012 R2 | Marco Moioli's Blog

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