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A new quest, Part 2 - Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 on the N54L


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As some of you know, from a previous post, I've started doing Hypervisor testing with my N54L.  I wanted to look at both a features and performance standpoint at what was available to the home server enthusiast, as well as experiment with what I may end up choosing for our work environment as we look into the future towards virtualization.


I started out with Citrix XenServer 6.2SP1.  The interface of XenCenter is nice.  The product is completely free; the only thing you would pay for is if you want patching to be easier (the paid version adds both support from Citrix, and an option to patch through the XenCenter management console instead of through command-line, which is admittedly nice).  Aside from those features though, you get everything, and it supports the latest Microsoft operating systems, plus Linux and other options.  I thought it was pretty neat, but my concerns were mainly with backup options, and (in the enterprise area) some third-party appliances or plugins (like for UPSes) available for Hyper-V or VMWare appliances easily, that would have to be converted to work with XenServer.  Also, there's not quite as wide a community for support (though it is out there).


This weekend, I decided to wipe the box and move on to round 2 - Hyper-V Server 2012 R2.  For reference, here is how my system is configured:


HP Microserver N54L with Remote Access card


2x 80GB WD Velociraptor drives in RAID-1

1x Samsung HD204UI 2TB 5400rpm drive

All drives are on an HP SmartArray P410 controller with 1GB of flash-backed write cache.


First off, the beginning process of installing Hyper-V Server (and you'll want 2012R2, because it's the most advanced in many ways compared to its predecesors) seems simple.  Hyper-V Server is free from Microsoft, no license required.  There's several articles on the web that go through the initial install, so I won't touch on that, except for one thing.  A Hyper-V Server can be based on a workgroup or a domain, unlike VMWare or XenServer --and Microsoft heavily favors the domain approach, which would mean joining your server to an existing physical server.  This isn't for everyone, especially not us home server enthusiasts, so you're going to want to look at the following articles that help you set up management from a Windows 8.1 client to a Hyper-V server when both are workgroup-based.


HVRemote - This is going to be your best friend in the beginning, and is an awesome tool made available by John Howard of Microsoft.  Necessary for setting things up in Workgroup mode.



PSHVM30 - This tool by James Stephan over at CodePlex can be useful for managing some functions from your new Hyper-V Server, turning them graphical so you don't have to know as much PowerShell.  It also includes a graphical file manager (useful in the limited Server Core environment) and the extended version also includes the very useful Core Configurator tool which greatly simplifies managing basic functions of Server Core.  Another must-have.



You'll want a Windows 8.1 box to administer the 2012R2 version of Hyper-V; if you hate Windows 8, you may wish to try XenServer, which won't require it.  Otherwise, you can also run Windows 8.1 in a virtual machine using Sun VirtualBox, the free VMWare Player, or VMWare Workstation so you aren't running it full time.  You'll also want (in workgroup mode) to have an administrator account on your server and another admin account on your 8.1 box with the same username and password.  You'll end up installing both the Windows RSAT (remote server administrator tools) which you can download free, and the Hyper-V Management console, which is already an installable feature within Windows 8.


I got this far, and decided to spin up a Server 2008R2 virtual machine.  Note, Server 2008R2 only supports Version 1 Hyper-V VM structure.  Version 2 is more flexible, and requires Server 2012 or later, I'll be trying that soon, but wanted to compare my experience to XenServer.  Also note:  Like VSphere (but unlike XenServer) you're going to need to create a virtual network switch in Hyper-V to attach your guest operating systems to.  Again I turned to John Howard with an excellent article on the basics of virtual switches.




My thoughts so far are that Hyper-V's configuration in workgroup mode takes some puttering.  However, my 2008R2 Guest operating system has a noticeable increase in performance, even when running with less RAM allocated to it (1.5GB instead of 2GB).  My current guess is that Hyper-V isn't as hard on disk I/O; CPU usage seems only a little lighter than XenServer.  Either way, I can notice the difference.  VMWare would probably win in a fight --but VMWare done right is no longer free to manage unless you use outdated versions of their hosts, otherwise you're paying money.


If you want to run a lot of VMs on a single box, paying for VMWare Essentials probably gives you the win.  If you like management that's like VMWare but without the cost (management that doesn't require Windows 8), XenServer's a good bet.  But if you're going to run 2-4 VMs and can live with Windows 8.1 as your management platform, Hyper-V Server hould give them both a run for their money.

Edited by LoneWolf
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Nice writeup; a nice, balanced review.




It does lead me to one enterprise conclusion:  If you don't have budgetary concerns, VMWare wins.  Hyper-V (as a friend of mine put it) is "quirky".  You can get it working, and it'll do the job.  However, there's still things you'll pay for even if it's free in enterprise (though at home, going cheap means it's an option).


The resulting testing has led me to look at the VMWare ROBO Kit licensing for work.  I honestly only need VMWare Essentials, and I can get some discounts that make the 3-year license of that with business-hours support (I don't need the 24x7 level that large enterprise needs) very reasonable in price.




In the meantime, due to the management issues we all know and love in getting to run ESXi 5.5 for free at home, I'm going to try out 5.1U2 on the N54L.  Also changed the 2TB single drive to a 2x 2TB RAID-1 array, as I got another disk in for my Gen8, leaving me with a spare.

Edited by LoneWolf
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  • 3 months later...

I'm not trying to necro a thread here or anything, but I've got some strong interest to do this too with my N54L.. however, after reading your review I'm not so sure this box will do the trick without a bit larger balls in the sak.. sort to say :D



I currently got it running just pfsense, with 2x2gigabit NICs... makes for a great firewall, but the processor load is always near zero while memory is at 80% capacity (8GB) :D


but what I'd really like to be able to do is spin up a dedicated VM for certain services (like perhaps a pfsense instance), while having enough power/memory available to spin up two or three more as needed...  not sure this will cut it.


I was curious if you tried it with server core 2012r2 instead of full?  or do you think that wouldn't make much difference and would still be a bottleneck?

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I think it's fairly obvious that you would need to bump up the RAM to 16GB. I think you would be able to run at least pfSense and, say, WHS2011 VMs.

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