Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 is a strange bird. Described as a standalone version of the Hyper-V role that's now included in Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V is sort of a bare-metal version of Microsoft's hypervisor. It installs much like any version of Windows Server 2008, but when all is said and done you're left with a command line UI so start that it makes Server Core look like a rich interactive video game by comparison. This might just be a first for a Microsoft server product: As configured out of the box, you actually can't do anything with Hyper-V.

Well, that's a very slight exaggeration. You can actually perform the following very limited set of tasks: Join a workgroup or domain, assign the computer name, configure basic network settings, add a local administrator account, configure Windows Update, configure remote desktop, configure regional and language settings, and set the date and time.

Missing from this list, of course, are such niceties as "install a guest OS on top of the hypervisor." To perform such an action, you'll need to hit the server remotely. That can be done with Hyper-V Manager, a sort of bare-bones management tool that comes with the Hyper-V role on Windows 2008, or can be installed separately on Windows Vista with SP1. How you make this connection, however, will determine your level of success.

These levels include, yes, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good

It turns out there is one sure-fire way to get up and running with Hyper-V Server in a seamless and efficient manner: Install the server in a domain and then configure a Domain Administrator account to be a local administrator on the Hyper-V Server box (using the standard [domain]\[domain username] syntax). If you do this, you'll have no trouble connecting to the server with Hyper-V Manager, and you'll be up and running in no time, creating VMs in child partitions and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Hyper-V Manager running under Windows Vista, managing virtualized environments on two different servers, one running Windows Server 2008, the other running Hyper-V Server 2008.

The Bad and the Ugly

If you don't know the aforementioned trick, or didn't stumble into it coincidentally, you're almost certainly in for a world of hurt. This pain was first documented in unintentionally hilarious form by Microsoft's John Howard, back in late March when the first Hyper-V betas appeared for Server 2008 (see the links below for details). The amount of configuration you need to do on the server and the client will vary according to different conditions (domain vs. workgroup, for example, and whether the server is a full-blown Server 2008 machine, Server Core, or a standalone Hyper-V Server). But it's a lot of work and it's not for the faint of heart.

Here's what Howard documented:

Hyper-V Remote Management (Part 1)
Workgroup access from Vista to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, server configuration.

Hyper-V Remote Management (Part 2)
Workgroup access from Vista to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, client configuration.

Hyper-V Remote Management (Part 3)
Workgroup access from Vista to Windows Server 2008 Server Core Hyper-V, server configuration.

Hyper-V Remote Management (Part 4)
Remote management of Hyper-V in a domain environment.

Hyper-V Remote Management (Part 5)
Remote management of a workgroup-based server from a domain-joined Vista client.

I had mentioned the problems I had with Hyper-V Server here in UPDATE and then on the Windows Weekly podcast I record with Leo Laporte. This generated a phone meeting with the Server folks at Microsoft, during which I was briefly worried that I had missed something. Alas, I had not: Microsoft is working to document the steps needed to make remote administration of Hyper-V--either with the standalone product or with Windows Server 2008--work properly. And while there's no ETA on that documentation, they are at least aware of the issues. Hopefully this explanation of my problems getting it working will prevent you from having similar issues. Once you do resolve the connectivity issues, Hyper-V Server is a very capable system, at least for smaller and test environments. And you can't beat the price.

Edited versions of this article also appear in the October 7, 2008 and October 21, 2008 issues of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul

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