Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2012: too painful to use?

A user over on the technet forums says that the free standalone Hyper-V is too painful to use:

I was excited about the free stand-alone version and decided to try it out.  I downloaded the Hyper-V 2012 RC standalone version and installed it.  This thing is a trainwreck!  There is not a chance in hell that anyone will ever use this thing in scenarios like mine.  It obviously intended to be used by IT Geniuses in a domain only.  I would really like a version that I can up and running in less than half an hour like esxi.  How the heck is anyone going to evaluate it this in a reasonable manner? 

To be clear, this is about the free Hyper-V Server, which is essentially Server Core with only the Hyper-V role available. It is not about Hyper-V in general as a feature of Windows Server and Windows 8.

Personally I think the standalone Hyper-V Server is a fantastic offering; but at the same time I see this user’s point. If you join the Hyper-V server to a Windows domain and use the administration tools in Windows 8 everything is fine; but if you are, say, a Mac user and download Hyper-V Server to have a look, it is not obvious what to do next. As it turns out you can get started just by typing powershell at a command prompt and then New-VM, but how would you know that? Further, if Hyper-V is not joined to a domain you will have permission issues trying to manage it remotely.

Install Hyper-V Server, and the screen you see after logging on does not even mention virtualization.

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By contrast, with VMWare’s free ESXi has a web UI that works from any machine on the network and lets you get started creating and managing VMs. It is less capable than Hyper-V Server; but for getting up and running quickly in a non-domain environment it wins easily.

I have been working with Hyper-V Server 2012 myself recently, upgrading two servers on my own network which run a bunch of servers for development and test. From my perspective the free Hyper-V Server, which is essentially Server Core with only the Hyper-V role available, is a great offer from Microsoft, though I am still scratching my head over how to interpret the information (or lack of it) on the new product page, which refers to the download as a trial. I am pretty sure it is still offered on similar terms to those outlined for Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 by Program Manager Jeff Woolsey, who is clear that it is a free offering:

  • Up to 8 processors
  • Up to 64 logical processors
  • Up to 1TB RAM
  • Up to 64GB RAM per VM

These specifications may have been improved for Hyper-V Server 2012; or perhaps reduced; or perhaps Microsoft really is making it a trial. It is all rather unclear, though I would guess we will get more details soon.

It is worth noting that if you do have a Windows domain and a Windows 8 client, Hyper-V Server is delightfully easy to use, especially with the newly released Remote Server Administration Tools that now work fine with Windows 8 RTM, even though at the time of writing the download page still says Release Preview. You can use Server Manager as well as Hyper-V Manager, giving immediate access to events, services and performance data, plus a bunch of useful features on a right-click menu:

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In addition, File and Storage services are installed by default, which I presume means you can use Storage Spaces with Hyper-V Server, which could be handy for hosting VMs with dynamically expanding virtual hard drives. Technically you could also use it as a file server, but I presume that would breach the license.

For working with VMs themselves of course you have the Hyper-V Manager which is a great tool and not difficult to use.

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The question then: with all the work that has gone into these nice GUI tools, why does Microsoft throw out Hyper-V Server with so little help that a potential customer calls it “too painful to use”?

Normally the idea of free editions is to entice customers into upgrading to a paid-for version. That is certainly VMWare’s strategy, but Hyper-V seems to be different. It is actually good enough on its own that for many users it will be a long time before there is any need to upgrade. Microsoft’s hope, presumably, is that you will run Windows Server instances in those Hyper-V VMs, and these of course do need licenses. If you buy Windows 8 to run the GUI tools, that is another sale for Microsoft. In fact, the paid-for Windows Server 2012 can easily work out cheaper than the free editions, if you need a lot of server licenses, since they come with an allowance of licenses for virtual instances of Windows Server. Hyper-V Server is only really free if you run free software, such as Linux, in the VMs.

Personally I like Hyper-V Server for another reason. Its restricted features mean that there is no temptation to run other stuff on the host, and that in itself is an advantage.

33 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2012: too painful to use?”

  1. well its a pain to get started.
    Hyper-V is porly documented and not intended as a quick fix, this is probably why it will not work out of the box.

    ESXI is a lovely product, but it has other limitations. Its a mutch faster way to get strated in a small company.

    I still wish microsoft to make a blue print on how to install hyper-v from immage + Win8 and how to configure it. As a workgroup ! just like the products installs.
    Its not easy to find this information on the net, on how to do this and to get it working. But when its working its fine, and can be administrated nicely. A great bonus would be to describe how RSAT can be installed to do extras @ the same time.

  2. I am currently battling Hyper-V 2012 in my home setup both for home use and as a lab case for learning… I am no stranger to Hyper-V, VMWare, Virtial box etc.

    Frankly I don’t get it, Hyper-V server is missing lots of things that Microsoft typically excels at.
    The argument “learn powershell” doesn’t change the fact that the powerShell equivalent to device manager is not as quick and easy to use for troubleshooting.. it is CLI and scripable wich is great, but why remove the GUI?

    While trying to setup a vswitch I got an error that my nic was already a member of a switch.. the MS KB did not have a command to fix this, it literally had two different programs for me down download to fix what amounts to a check box in the normal gui.

    As far as management goes, the reality is that it REQUIRES Windows 8, and you are still losing GUI functions in that scenario.

    For Enterprise, if you have a BUNCH of imaged machines in a cluster, I think Hyper-V 2012 is not bad..

    If you want to run a stand alone Hyper-V server, you should build it off of Windows server 2012 with the Hyper-V roll for business (you will get visualization instance licenses anyway) or at home Use Windows8 with the Hyper-V roll enabled… Ether way you get all the device management tools you need.

    If you want a bare metal Hyper Visor with grate management and ease of use, ESXi Clobbers Hyper-V 2012 standalone.. however check the hardware compatibility list closely.

    Speaking of compatibility, it appears that MS and Intel for example have started to diverge the Desktop and Server signed drivers for a lot of hardware. You can’t just use a Win8 driver in 2012 if the manufacturer didn’t put the flag in for the driver to also work with 2012.. You can get around this with editing the inf file and flipping driver signing off and on but this also destroys the other Microsoft advantage of driver support.

  3. I’ll ask this here since I can’t find an answer anywhere else. I’m running Hyper-V 2012 Core R2 Preview. Will I be able to perform an in-place upgrade to the final version or am I screwed?

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