Pop quiz: Which Operating System edition from Microsoft has been free for use throughout it’s almost 10 year long lifespan?
Microsoft Hyper-V Server.
What is it?
Hyper-V is Microsoft’s hardware virtualization product. It lets you create and run a software version of a computer, called a virtual machine. Each virtual machine acts like a complete computer, running an operating system and programs. When you need computing resources, virtual machines give you more flexibility, help save time and money, and are a more efficient way to use hardware than just running one operating system on physical hardware.+
Hyper-V runs each virtual machine in its own isolated space, which means you can run more than one virtual machine on the same hardware at the same time. You might want to do this to avoid problems such as a crash affecting the other workloads, or to give different people, groups or services access to different systems.
There are 3 big players in the virtualization scene. VMware is probably the most well-known player and has been around for a long time. I have worked with ESX from their 2.5 days somewhere in 2004. While many things have changed, the basics are still the same.
You start with the Hardware > Installation of Hypervisor > Management through web interface. This is basically it. ESX has become picky with web browsers but in theory all you need is your web browser to do all the things on your server.
Microsoft began with Hyper-V as a direct competitor against VMware with the introduction of Windows Server 2008 (aka the Vista edition). Yes it was a 1.0 product for them but it worked. One advantage and probably a disadvantage at the same time was that it could be a dedicated role on your server but it also allowed you to use your server as a regular server with the role Hyper-V on the side. Management throughout the GUI was done by a MSC (Microsoft Management Console snap-in). If you had a full server installed with GUI it was easy to manage on the server itself otherwise you almost had to have the server joined in a domain to manage it. It was possible to manage it from a workgroup but you would have to ‘break’ security on the server-side and perform some DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) actions on the managing computer that resemble working with a crowbar.
Xen backed by Citrix is the third player in the Hypervisor scene. Began as open-source project, was bought by Citrix and given back to the community. In comparison to VMware and Hyper-V it looks more like VMware. I have never worked with the pre-Citrix area of this product but from version 5.6 on you could manage your server through the XenCenter application, a Windows only program. There were alternatives for Linux like OpenXenManager but they were not officially supported by Citrix. The XenCenter application allows to connect to your server over the network with a username and password.
vSphere 6.5 webclient, navigation bar on the left, menu bar on the top, content in the large screen. It’s okay for regular use. In previous versions you could ‘hack’ the performance monitoring tab to extend the only one hour limit of the free version to 3 days but this doesn’t seem to be possible anymore which is a shame and kind of negative point if you don’t have another system monitoring performance (which is kind of unusual in homelab setups)
Hyper-V Manager, traditional MMC layout. List on the left, middle part has the content, right side covers the action bar. The Hyper-V Manager has has the basics of what you could do with a VM. Performance monitoring is real-time and will show only live CPU usage and Memory demand/usage.
XenCenter, navigation bar on the left, toolbar with operations on the top, works with tabs for each different feature. Works great and I love the performance graphs. In previous releases Citrix sometimes used to change the feature level of the free edition and in the 6.x era you could enable enterprise features by using an older client but there is no need for these tricks anymore for regular users.
And XenCenter has one small benefit over the other 2 products with small and simple console allow you to start or shutdown VM’s on the console.
Part 1 Finished
I won’t be going into much details which product is better for what reason but I chose Hyper-V Server for 1 reason as my ‘home‘ server. While VMware and Xen are pure virtualization hosts Hyper-V allows me to use my server also as a file server.
Sure you can run a guest VM on VMware or Xen with multiple terabytes storage but my files are more important that a virtual machine and keeping my files on my harddisk on a VMFS formatted datastore in a VMDK or a XenServer Storage Repository running LVM and ext3 could be hell is something goes wrong with the hypervisor. I prefer to have my files on a harddisk and in case of a server failure I can remove the disk out of my server and plug it into a USB dock. Couldn’t be more simple than that.
Part 2 will cover the commands to make the most kickass home server setup for file sharing and running some VM’s.