An absolute beginner’s guide to Microsoft Hyper-V

Windows operating systems such as Windows Server 2012 and Windows 10 contain hundreds of features, but Hyper-V is one of my favorites. Why? Because Hyper-V saves me a ton of cash, while also making my life easier. Let me explain.

As a freelance writer, I have to be able to run all of the software that I write about. It’s the only way that I can make sure that the techniques that I describe in all of those “how to” articles work correctly. Back in the 90s when I first went freelance, I knew that I needed a very capable lab environment if I were to make a career out of freelancing. Even so, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My lab hardware cost more money than I want to think about, and literally occupied half of my house. On top of that, I had to get an electrician to install some extra outlets, and I also had to beef up the air conditioning.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have never been one to shy away from making an investment in my future. Even so, I have to confess that the completion of my lab build came with a bad case of sticker shock – especially when I began to consider that computer hardware quickly becomes obsolete and needs to be replaced every few years.

Today, I still have a large lab environment in my home, but thanks to Hyper-V, my costs are far lower than they once were.

Hyper-V is Microsoft’s server virtualization platform. The basic idea behind Hyper-V is that most modern hardware includes far more hardware resources than what the Windows operating system really needs. Hyper-V’s job is to allow you to simultaneously run multiple operating systems on a single server. Each of these operating systems runs inside of a Hyper-V virtual machine and behaves as if it were running on physical hardware.

So how much of a difference does Hyper-V really make? Well, it depends on how powerful your server hardware is, and on how demanding your workloads are. If, for example, you have a Hyper-V host server that has 32GB of memory installed, and you have a virtual server that requires 28GB of memory, the server may not have the resources to host additional virtual machines because Hyper-V requires some memory for itself. In most cases, though, Hyper-V allows for significant hardware consolidation. On the other hand, if your virtual machines only consume 2GB of memory each, then you may be able to run a dozen or more virtual machines on a server with 32GB of memory. It’s hard to know exactly how many virtual machines such a server could accommodate, because there are factors other than memory that determine a Hyper-V server’s total capacity. Some of those factors include processing power, storage bandwidth, storage capacity, and network bandwidth.

In most cases, Hyper-V will allow for a significant amount of hardware consolidation. Let me give you a real life example. I can’t remember exactly how many servers I had in my home before I decided to virtualize (it was more than 20), but let’s just say that I didn’t usually have to run the heat in the winter, because my servers would keep my house warm. Friends used to joke about roasting marshmallows in my basement. I have had family members refer to my home as Mission Control or as the War Room, because of all the computer hardware that was present.

Today, I only have seven servers. Of those seven, two run production workloads, and the other five are lab servers. Most of the time only three of the seven servers are even turned on. Needless to say, my adoption of Hyper-V has saved me a lot of money.

Although the bulk of my savings have come from reduced hardware, maintenance, power, and cooling costs, Hyper-V also saves money in other ways, and the fact that Hyper-V is available for free doesn’t hurt either. Yes, you read that correctly. Microsoft makes Hyper-V Server available for free. All you have to do is to download it and install it on your server. As an alternative, Hyper-V is also included with Windows Server (2008 and higher), and with some desktop versions of Windows.

Even though Windows Server is anything but free, a lot of people find that it is less expensive in the long run to deploy Hyper-V as a Windows Server role than it is to use the free version. Even though that idea probably sounds completely counterintuitive, there is a method to the madness.

The reason why Windows Server might be the less expensive option in the long run comes down to licensing. The free Hyper-V license entitles you to install Hyper-V and to create as many virtual machines as you want. However, a virtual machine won’t do you much good without an operating system, and the free Hyper-V license doesn’t come with any operating system licenses. That might not be a problem if you are planning on running an open source OS on your virtual machines, but you won’t be able to run Windows on your virtual machines unless you purchase the required operating system licenses.

In contrast, a Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter license will set you back $6155, and you will need extra licenses if your server has more than two processors. In addition, you will need a Client Access License (CAL) for each user or device that will be connecting to the server. However, the costs end there.

The Datacenter Edition license entitles you to run Windows Server on as many virtual machines as you can cram onto your server. When you consider that a Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard Edition license sells for $882 (and only allows for two virtual operating systems), you can quickly begin to see how purchasing a Datacenter license can save you money in the long run if you are planning to deploy a lot of Windows virtual machines using the same server license, which is permitted.

Having such flexible licensing can be especially helpful in lab environments, or in highly dynamic production environments. To see what I mean, check out the screen capture below of one of my labservers. Right now, that particular Hyper-V server contains eleven virtual machines. Granted, they aren’t usually all turned on at the same time, but they still have to be properly licensed. Furthermore, I create new virtual machines on a regular basis.


Having flexible licensing is even more beneficial in some production environments. Today, many organizations are deploying private or hybrid clouds in an effort to make operations more dynamic. Such environments typically allow authorized users to create their own virtual machines on the fly from a series of predefined templates. With that in mind, can you imagine if such an organization had to take a license inventory every time that a user wanted to deploy a new virtual machine? Stopping to check and possibly purchase licenses would likely undermine the benefits of having a self-service environment.

Hyper-V is a great option for consolidating your server hardware, especially if you work in a Windows shop. If you want to experiment with Hyper-V without the hassles of setting up dedicated hardware, then you might consider using Windows 10. A full-blown copy of Hyper-V is included with Windows 10, and it allows you to run virtual machines on your desktop.

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4 thoughts on “An absolute beginner’s guide to Microsoft Hyper-V”

  1. Hi Brien Posey,
    Thanks for the article, you shared with us. You have mentioned that Hyper V server is a free OS of Microsoft. Based on my recent searching I came to know that these products come up as evaluation version. So, I will not get any support from Microsoft for these products. Whereas, if I go for a Windows Server 2012 r2/2012/2008 r2 GUI and install Hyper V as an additional role, I will get the required support from Microsoft. But we all know that it’s always a good idea to install Hyper V (similar as VMware ESXI) as a bare metal installation, we don’t need to think about other unnecessary services/processes which are running with a GUI based Windows server product. In a nutshell, I need to have the minimal services to run the Hyper V role in a server. So I am much more interested in Hyper V Server OS than Windows Server OS with Hyper V role. As I am informed that Hyper V server OS is not eligible to get technical support from Microsoft, I am worried about the implementation of such product. Could you please share your ideas in this regard? Is there any way to get technical support from Microsoft if I implement hyper V Server 2012r2?

  2. In all honesty, I don’t know anyone who is running the free / standalone version of Hyper-V in production. I’m sure that there are probably organizations that are doing it, but I haven’t run across any personally. My advice would be to install Windows Server as a Server Core deployment and then add the Hyper-V role (and failover clustering if you need it). That will give you supportability without the overhead of a full GUI OS deployment.

  3. This came up as google search of “hyper v for dummies” and yet you say nothing about installing, using hyper v or creating virtual machines,etc.

    All I got was “I had a lot of servers and now I don’t”

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