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Should your Hyper-V deployment include a GUI?

Windows Server includes a complete GUI environment, while Server Core includes a minimal GUI and Nano Server has none. Which Hyper-V deployment type is right for you?

A graphical interface is convenient for managing a handful of servers, but it can fall short when it comes to managing...

large-scale deployments. Microsoft offers three different Hyper-V deployment types: as a Windows Server 2016 installation, which provides the full desktop experience, including a GUI; as a server role on top of a Server Core deployment; and as a host configured to run Nano Server and the Hyper-V role. Customers should carefully consider the needs of their organizations before they decide which of these Hyper-V deployment types to use.

Deployment differences

One of the main differences between these three Hyper-V deployment types is the management interface. The full desktop experience provisions Windows Server with a complete GUI and Hyper-V management tools. A Server Core deployment includes a minimal GUI that allows PowerShell to manage Hyper-V, but the GUI environment isn't nearly as rich as the one the full desktop experience provides. Nano Servers provide a bare-bones interface to connect the server to the network, but have no GUI and no built-in Hyper-V management tools.

Given the various ways to execute a Hyper-V deployment, one has to consider whether it's better to include a GUI on Hyper-V hosts or to go without. This subject has been hotly contested since the introduction of Hyper-V and Server Core in Windows Server 2008. Ultimately, your decision should come down to your organization's unique needs.

Consider your environment before deployment

If you are in a large, enterprise-class environment with hundreds of Hyper-V servers, there's little point in installing a GUI.

One of the most important considerations is the size of your Hyper-V deployment. If you are in a large, enterprise-class environment with hundreds of Hyper-V servers, there's little point in installing a GUI. Large shops almost never manage their servers directly from the server console. There are simply too many servers to manage, and local server management doesn't scale well. On the other hand, if you're in a small shop with only a handful of Hyper-V servers, then you're much more likely to manage servers directly from the server console and could probably benefit from a GUI.

Another thing to consider is the amount of host server resources that a GUI consumes, and whether it's better to use those resources to run a GUI or to allocate those resources to your VMs. By way of comparison, Nano Server is roughly about 20 times smaller than a Windows Server 2016 deployment configured to use the full desktop experience.

Management tools

You should also consider which management tool you intend to use. There are no fewer than four different tools to manage Hyper-V. The Hyper-V Manager is the most popular tool for small Hyper-V deployments. Although the Hyper-V Manager can connect to multiple Hyper-V servers, it doesn't provide a consolidated view of the VMs that live on those servers. The Hyper-V Manager primarily handles single server management and doesn't scale well.

The Failover Cluster Manager manages highly available Hyper-V VMs, but this tool isn't suitable for stand-alone Hyper-V servers. You can also manage Hyper-V with PowerShell, though most admins seem to prefer a graphical management tool. Finally, you can manage Hyper-V with the System Center Virtual Machine Manager. SCVMM must be licensed separately from Hyper-V and is the tool of choice for large-scale deployments.

If you depend on the Hyper-V Manager or the Failover Cluster Manager for management, a Hyper-V deployment with a GUI will make your life easier. Conversely, if you manage Hyper-V through PowerShell or through SCVMM, then you really don't need a GUI environment on local Hyper-V servers, since both of these tools are designed for remote management.

Ultimately, there's no universally right or wrong answer as to whether you should choose a Hyper-V deployment with a GUI. Every organization's needs are different, and you have to consider factors such as the organization's size, the management tools it uses, the skill level of its administrative staff and whether or not you're willing to use host server hardware resources for running the GUI environment.

Next Steps

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This was last published in May 2017

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