Posey's Tips & Tricks

Windows 10 Hyper-V vs. Windows Server Hyper-V: Which Platform for Which Workloads?

The differences between these two Hyper-V versions are pretty significant, depending on what you plan to use them for. Here's a quick rundown of each platform, from their features to licensing quirks to intended use cases.

Someone recently asked me if there are any real differences between Windows 10 Hyper-V and Windows Server Hyper-V.

The short answer is that Windows 10 Hyper-V is primarily intended to be used as a development platform, or by users who need to run applications that do not work on Windows 10 (such as a Linux application). Conversely, Windows Server Hyper-V is suited to hosting production workloads.

Because the two platforms are designed for completely different purposes, they also have differing feature sets and licensing considerations.

What Windows Server Has Over Windows 10
One of the most important differences is that Windows Server supports failover clustering and high-availability for virtual machines (VMs), while Windows 10 does not. Technically, failover clustering is not a Hyper-V feature, but high-availability is a key capability for any production environment.

Similarly, Windows Server supports the Hyper-V Replica feature, which is not available on Windows 10. If you are not familiar with the replication feature, it allows individual VMs -- and individual virtual hard disks associated with a VM -- to be asynchronously synchronized to one or two other Hyper-V hosts. That way, if the primary host fails, a VM copy can be activated on one of the replica hosts.

Another feature that exists in Windows Server Hyper-V but not in its Windows 10 counterpart is virtual Fibre Channel. Virtual Fibre Channel allows a VM to use a physical host bus adapter to connect to Fibre Channel storage.

Yet another Hyper-V feature that you can't get in Windows 10 is Discrete Device Assignments. The Discrete Device Assignment feature was introduced in Windows Server 2016 and provides a way for a Hyper-V VM to use a physical PCIe device. The Discrete Device Assignment feature does work with Windows 10 guests, but the Hyper-V host has to be running Windows Server 2016 or higher.

One additional capability that is supported by Windows Server Hyper-V but not by the Windows 10 Hyper-V feature is shared VHDX. The shared VHDX feature was introduced in Windows Server 2012 R2 to make it easier to create guest clusters.

What Windows 10 Has Over Windows Server
It would be easy to assume that the version of Hyper-V that is included with Windows 10 is just a watered-down version of the hypervisor that is included with Windows Server. Believe it or not, though, there are at least a couple of Hyper-V features that are found in Windows 10 but not in Windows Server.

One of those features is Quick Create. The Quick Create feature helps Windows 10 users expedite the VM creation process by giving them the ability to select an operating system image from the Quick Create gallery.

Another Windows 10-only Hyper-V feature is the default virtual switch. Microsoft provides the default virtual switch to make it easy to provide connectivity to VMs without the hassle of having to manually create a virtual switch. As such, the default virtual switch is more of a convenience feature than a feature that provides a true difference in functionality.

The Big Picture
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the differences between the two Hyper-V versions. There are so many more things to consider. For example, Windows Server includes licenses to run Windows Server as a guest operating system (although the licensing terms vary greatly between Standard Edition and Datacenter Edition). You don't get that with Windows 10 Hyper-V.

Likewise, Microsoft advises its customers not to run any applications in a Windows Server Hyper-V parent partition. This restriction does not exist with Windows 10. It's pretty much a given that Windows 10 Hyper-V users will be running both applications and VMs.

As you can see, there are some considerable differences between the Hyper-V feature sets in Windows Server and Windows 10. These variations mostly point to the differences in how Microsoft envisions the hypervisors being used. Windows 10 Hyper-V is probably designed as a tool to allow a single user to host dev/test VMs or to run applications that would not otherwise work. In contrast, Windows Server Hyper-V can host enterprise-class workloads.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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