Microsoft Hyper-V for Free
Hyper-V is Microsoft’s virtualization technology. It comes available in two forms; as part of Windows Server 2008 R2 and as a free download. In previous versions, the free version had limited capabilities compared to its bigger brother. However; now the difference has been greatly reduced. Hyper-V server now supports > 32 GB of RAM and > 4 processors. The disadvantage? No graphical user interface (GUI) and host management.
That means installation is very simple but lacks the GUI of a full Windows installation. To actually deploy virtual servers you have to install Hyper-V management tools on a local desktop or server.
I’m familiar with Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V so I thought I would give Hyper-V a “shot”. First you can download it here from Microsoft’s site. You must have a processor that supports 64 bit operating systems and hardware virtualization. Be sure and check out more information at the Hyper-V site.
After downloading and burning the DVD I began the install. Even though it doesn’t have a GUI it starts out looking a lot like a Windows 7 install.
After formatting the drive, copying the files, installing Hyper-V, you reboot and get presented with this interface:
Add local administrator accounts
Run Windows Update
Turn on Remote Desktop
Just enough to get the system functioning. If you remote into the system using RDP you get the same interface. How do you install 3rd party drivers? Good question. How do you create a virtual server? Another good question.
3rd party drivers, you’re out of luck. If you have Windows 7 or a Window Server 2008 machine you can download the Administrator Tools and install the Hyper-V management tools. That is the only way to manage the server. It sounds easy but there are tricks to get the tools to run on Windows 7. There are a number of threads out there about it, go to John Howard’s blog for configuring the tools and you can download them from Microsoft here.
In the end I decided to go back to a full blown Windows 2008 R2 install with Hyper-V. However; Hyper-V server itself has advantages; it’s free, uses less resources for the host and if you already have a Hyper-V manager or System Center Manager then I think the choice is even better. The main thing is that you have options and you can have a mixture of servers depending on your requirements and budget.