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WHS 2011, HTPC, and Virtualization Questions


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jmwills

You build servers on top of ESXi, so in essence ESXI is just a central place to control all of your servers from.

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I think we are on the same page in essence.  ESXi is a bare metal hypervisor, right?  So it could run any VM - server, desktop OS, whatever, correct?  At least that's what I thought and I viewed Hyper-V Core the same way.

Edited by ktide1
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Just to add to the debate I think there a bit of confusion about what server core is may have crept in here.

 

Prior to Server 2012, when you installed a copy of Server 2008 or 2008R2, you had the option of a full install or a server core install. If you chose the later then only the core features of the server (as the name suggested) was installed. There simply was no GUI and everything had to be done either on the machine directly using PowerShell scripts and commands or remotely from a workstation or other server and from there you could use the GUI. The advantages were a smaller and faster machine with less of an attack surface (as it's called) to reduce the likelihood of malware infections. The disadvantages were obviously it was far harder to manage, some software wouldn't install on it (Exchange Server for example) and it was impossible to change your mind after installation - if you wanted to add the GUI, you needed to blow the server away and start again.

 

Server 2012 introduced the idea of the GUI being a sort of add-on role, so it is possible to fully install 2012 and then disable the GUI (you do need to reboot) so that it looks and feels like a server core machine, naturally you can re-enable the GUI later if you like. All of the code for the GUI is still there (just disabled) so it isn't quite so cut down and lean as a 'proper' server core installation.

 

Hyper-V server is the free product from Microsoft which you install on the hardware and use to manage your virtual machines. But that's all it does, like the old server-core installation, there is no GUI, just a command prompt and a very small menu of options. You can't add a GUI to it, in fact you really can't do much else with it at all - but that's exactly what you want a hypervisor to do, the hypervisor has one job and one job only; to manage resources for the virtual machines running on it.

 

ESXi is essentially the same thing - as far as I know it has a built in web server so you can manage it from a web browser on another machine, Hyper-V server requires you to install the remote server admin toolkit (which is a free download but only works on Windows 7 Pro, I understand that the Windows 8 version doesn't need Pro) onto a workstation and manage the server from there.

 

So having either cleared that up or managed to confuse you even more, what would be the best approach for you? And before I start this really is only my opinion and I'm sure that others are going to disagree. If you are going down the virtualisation route then only consider ESXi or Hyper-V server to be installed directly on the hardware. Don't be tempted to run Windows 8 or Server 2012 or 2012 Essentials R2 with the Hyper-V role enabled, they are fine for playing around with or testing but for a live or production environment, they simply have far too much overhead, as I said above, the hypervisor should just be for looking after VMs nothing else. The big drawback of course is that management and maintenance are far harder to do, it all has to be done remotely, there is very little you can do on the server itself directly and in the case of Hyper-V you will need to download, configure and install a bunch of tools first.

 

Hyper-V does have a problem with the lack of USB pass-through, although it can pass-through USB hard drives (USB memory sticks are always a bit problematic though). If you need to plug anything else into it then that will probably be a bit of a deal-beaker (supposedly Hyper-V Server R2 will remove this restriction). It does sound as if you will be better off with ESXi.

 

Now having got that sorted out, you can proceed to install your VMs which will actually do all of the work - if you don't want to pay for 2012 Essentials, then WHS 2011 is still more than perfectly servicable and can be picked up for little cost.

 

In my opinion the key to all of this is to ask yourself, "at the end of the day, what so I actually want to be able to do from an end-user perspective?" Once that is answered then  you can start to think about how to actually implement it.

 

John

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jem101 makes good points. The only caveat I would add is that, if a full server install with the GUI and Hyper-V is fast enough and does what you need, then you could opt for that type of install to get the easier administration. You would, however, give up the reduced attack surface.

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jem101 makes good points. The only caveat I would add is that, if a full server install with the GUI and Hyper-V is fast enough and does what you need, then you could opt for that type of install to get the easier administration. You would, however, give up the reduced attack surface.

 

I did mean to make exactly that point but I have a habit of writing long rambling posts so I could have quite easily either missed that out or not made it clear enough.

 

John 

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np. Your post was excellent. I just thought it might be worth mentioning the other possibility, mostly because most members are home users.

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jem101 thanks a ton for your post, it really summarized perfectly what my understanding of these products really is.  I probably confused the issue with my limited knowledge and confusing of terms/names.

 

I think I'm really only interested in the bare metal hypervisors, not a true "core server".  Let me see if I can clear things up better by restating my original post in simpler terms to show how my original line of thinking progressed:

 

  1. Original plan was to build a new WHS 2011 box (to ultimately replace an old WHS v1 box) with enough horsepower to do Plex transcoding.  While researching this, I saw some people on various forums that had used their WHS 2011 boxes to also run XBMC (with a few tweaks for some).  Since the box would be living in our rec room, I thought I could probably run XBMC on it and allow it to serve as a 2nd HTPC in that room without having another dedicated HTPC box there.
  2. With the hardware I wound up with, I began to think I could do even more with the new box, such as re-encode videos as needed and move the Hauppauge capture functions (currently on my main HTPC) to the new box.  This would be nice, as it would free up some resources in other rooms in the house and allow me to perform tasks on the new box in an isolated location without worrying about someone else messing with it or interuppting what I was doing.  The hardware is great for the Plex transcoding I wanted, but otherwise would be grossly underutilized and idle most of the time.  Why not put them to better use?
  3. From there, I realized what I really wanted was a WHS2011 machine and a desktop/HTPC machine in one box to leverage the resources. If I could pull this off, the box would do everything I wanted and also act as a spare, general use desktop when somebody needs one.  So naturally I gravitated to virualization to accomplish this, but was not really familiar with bare metal hypervisors.  Once I started reading about the possibilities, it just seemed like the perfect solution if I could tackle it successfully.  Which is why I wound up on this forum, to get some help evaluating whether (1) it is something I think I can undertake, and (2) whether on not it is really worth it for what I want to do.

So to sum up, I know I want to run WHS2011 as my server solution as it should do everything I want to do from a server perspective (which is pretty stuff basic overall).  If I can figure out a way to also leverage the hardware to run a desktop OS for all the other stuff (plus general desktop use at times), then I would have the ultimate solution for me.  VMs for each of the two functions (running under a bare metal hypervisor) just seems like the perfect course of action for what I'm trying to do.  I'm admittedly a greenhorn on this kind of thing, but not a total idiot either.  I don't mind putting some time and effort into it, but I just don't want to go around in circles for weeks, realize I need an IT degree to figure it out, and wind up with 2 boxes anyway.  That's what I need help to figure out:  Is this something that can be reasonably accomplished by an average Joe with above avearge PC/networking skills?

Edited by ktide1
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jmwills

Server 2012 as the base with the Hyper-V roles installed would do what you want.  You could virtualize WHS and a conventional desktop OS (Win7, ex) and do what you want to do.  I would limit WHS to 4 gigs of RAM and allow 2 to the desktop OS.

 

On the ohter hand, ESXi will also do the same thing but the learning curve is a little steeper.

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Server 2012 as the base with the Hyper-V roles installed would do what you want.  You could virtualize WHS and a conventional desktop OS (Win7, ex) and do what you want to do.  I would limit WHS to 4 gigs of RAM and allow 2 to the desktop OS.

 

On the ohter hand, ESXi will also do the same thing but the learning curve is a little steeper.

 

Understood.  I just don't think I'm willing to put the cash into Server 2012 just yet, at least not without giving the free options a shot first.  Quick question though:  If I used Server 2012 as the bare metal OS, why would I need/want to even use WHS2011 at all?  Just for client backups I suppose?

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