by Lazaro Herrera

Before the Home Lab: Selecting the Best Hypervisor

This training series will provide a beginner’s overview on common lab operations and will detail how to get the related operations done. This first series handles hypervisor download, installation and deployment. The expected outcome is to give those in the lab the ability to deploy one, or many, hypervisors for evaluation and long term usage. For the purposes of this guide I will be considering VMware ESXi (vSphere), Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, Proxmox and oVirt. 

Hypervisor Selection Criteria

Hypervisors are the cornerstone of modern virtualization and used in modern data centers to allow hardware to be better utilized by enabling virtual machines at scale. Most modern hypervisors have nearly identical performance to non-virtualized performance. Hypervisors come in two general types (1 and 2). A Type 1 hypervisor is full operating system built with the idea of virtualizing as a native component while a Type 2 hypervisor is usually just a software virtualization component added to a regular operating system installation. Debates on which method is more secure are probably the Xbox vs Playstation discussions of the internet: long, boring and ultimately useless.

A word on cost. In order to allow for fairness, my use case is a baseline where I can assign every core on my test bench and every GB of RAM if wanted along with the ability to pass hardware directly to a Virtual Machine (GPUs, PCIe cards) and no ridiculous VM limits (at least 10 VMs can be run). Additionally, there should be some support for clustering and migration between hosts, the target hypervisor should have a GUI based management solution so anything that is command-line only is probably not going to fly (exception: if there’s a third party GUI that does the job... I’ll allow it).

Hypervisor Test Bed

Lastly, our test bed. I have a Dell PowerEdge R720xd running on a mix of eBay-grade DDR3 4Gb RAM sticks totalling 96GB of RAM, with two Intel E5-2630L v2 6-core processors for 12 cores and 24 hyperthreads with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 GPU. Each hypervisor will be virtualized and deployed with 4 cores, 8GB and 50GB of thin provisioned 120GB SSD backed storage.

Hypervisor Comparison

A quick overview on the hypervisors included in this series:

  • ESXi or vSphere is VMware’s solution for virtualized systems. ESXi actually ships the free version with everything you may need to upgrade so upgrading is just popping in a new commercial or enterprise key.

  • Hyper-V is Microsoft’s solution for virtualized systems. In modern windows systems (8 and above) along with server editions, Hyper-V can be utilized to virtualize other operating systems.

  • XenServer is Citrix’s virtualization platform based on the Xen Project. It is often considered as the best alternative for getting VMware-like features in an open source product.

  • Proxmox VE is an open-source platform for virtualization that integrates the KVM hypervisor and LXC containers on a single platform with a web management interface.

  • oVirt is an open-source virtualization solution that uses the KVM hypervisor and is built upon several other community projects including libvirt, Gluster, PatternFly, and Ansible (Ansible Deep Dive).

Name Type Free Limitations* Cost***

VMware ESXi (vSphere)
How to Install ESXi
Download Link

  • No vCenter / vMotion
  • 2 Physical CPUs max
  • 8 vCPUs/VM max
$200 Annual VMUG Membership
Microsoft Hyper-V
How to Install Hyper-V
Download Link
  • No Free Version
  • Windows 10 Pro License
    • $200 cost
    • No live migration

$4860 Server 2019 Standard (calculator)

  • 12 physical cores
  • 80 core licenses
  • 10 OSEs
Citrix Hypervisor (XenServer)
How to Install Citrix Hypervisor
Download Link
  • No High Availability
  • No GPU passthrough

Not a limitation**

  • Max cluster size of 3

~ $1500 Standard

  • 2 physical cores 
How to Install Proxmox VE
Download Link

Not a limitation**

  • No enterprise repository support

€160 (~$180) Community Edition

  • 2 physical cores
  • Enterprise repository support

How to Install oVirt
Download Link


Not a limitation**

  • Relatively new player
$0 Open Source
* Limitations: Limitations imposed on a free or trial version of a product. If I'm evaluating a product, I’d like to know what’s the most you can do with it when evaluating.
** Not a limitation: Something that is not a violation of the limitations, but is good to keep in mind. This can be a software limitation or something that does not strictly fall under limitations.
*** Cost: I speak of the minimum cost to enable the features under limitations, not a limitation from the software provider.

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