I left mainstream development about 2 years ago to start my own company. Now we are finally ready to move out of the garage and employ extra developers.

When I left virtualisation was just taking off, and I started to use VMWare Fusion to run Windows XP/Vista/7 and several Linux distros.

What I want now however seems simple, but the numerous products both open source and commercial are quite confusing.

What I'd like:

  1. Run VM in on a central rack of servers and storage
  2. A GUI to manage these VM
  3. Remote clients to be able to access these VM and run them locally - for compatibly labs and testing
  4. Developers to be able to provision their own servers

Ideally it would be a free open source solution but I'm not adverse to paying for a commercial solution if it meets my requirements.

5 Answers 5


ESXi is free for use and has a stand alone vSphere (GUI) for remote access which gives you control over the ESXi server, the VM's and console access to the machine. Downside is no USB support if you need it.

Windows Hyper-V server is also free (not to be confused with Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V), but I haven't used it (yet), but have heard good things about it with things like live migration and it has a GUI as well.

Both of those are production grade for servers. I'd say give them both are try and see which you like more.

  • How is Windows Hyper-V server different to Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V? Isn't Hyper-V free only that is is an addition to Windows Server 2008 in the first place?
    – Sim
    Nov 5, 2009 at 2:29
  • Here is Windows Hyper-V server : microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/… -Includes download to the free product And Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V : microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/products-server.aspx Basicly Hyper-V server is a bare metal hyper visor and free to download (like ESXi) and Server 2008 with Hyper-V is a Win2008 server that allows guest OS's to take advantage of Hyper-V. I haven't used it in detail so any feel free to make any corrections. Nov 5, 2009 at 9:19

We setup a similar solution for our developers who needed specific high-end server configurations to test against. The best and cheapest solution for us was to have a pool of Dell PowerEdge 2900 servers (a cheap 8 core alternative that supports a good amount of memory and storage) running Windows 2008 with Hyper-V and then using System Center Virtual Machine Manager and the Self-Service Portal to allow developers to provision new environments on the fly.

This allows us to have a set of preconfigured templates ready to go and it literally takes 5 minutes to have a new server setup. We also use the built-in quota system to prevent single developers from using too many resources on the server. Additionally, since these are now running on central servers, versus desktop environments, it makes backups a possibility. No longer do we risk losing days or weeks of work because a VM became corrupt on someone's desktop.

VMware does have a similar product, but we found Microsoft's to be considerably cheaper and easier to deploy.

SCVMM http://i38.tinypic.com/21a08ci.gif


As others have mentioned VMware have some pretty good solutions - VMware Lab Manager is ideal for what you want to do but in addition to the cost of the your vSphere cluster ($1k per physical host CPU + $5k for vCenter for vSphere Standard) Lab Manager is an extra $2k or so per host CPU. Even with the cheapest storage and Servers you can find you're not going to walk away with it for less than $35-$40k, and I'm sure you want to host it on good servers and storage.

By comparison vSphere Essentials has an all in cost of $995 and covers the CPU licensing and vCenter license for up to 3 hosts (6 CPU's in total, up to 6 cores per CPU). With that you get a proper VMware Cluster, support for deployment from templates, delegated management with the ability to apply limits to what users can do (so your developers can provision new VM's themselves relatively safely), a good management GUI and remote console for the VMs. You don't get the extra clever things like VMotion, Distributed Virtual Switches, DRS and so on with Essentials but it's an excellent basic Virtualization platform that supports all of the systems you want to cover.

It's not free but it's not a huge extra on top of the cost of a pair of reasonably powerful host systems and it is easy to work with.


VMWare of course comes to mind, but their prices bite. Take a look at RHEV: http://www.isthereachoice.com/


I would recommend looking closely at Parallels' offerings, particularly their Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal product since it provides the most flexibility with relation to the guests you can deploy on it. I made good use of their Virtuozzo product to do Linux server and desktop virtualization and if your environment is relatively homogenous (all Linux but supporting different distros or all Windows) then it is a great option. They have Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) capabilities in addition to their basic virtualization options.

Although they don't have any free offerings I found that the administrative interface provided was worth the cost of the license over the OpenVZ project on which Parallels' Virtuozzo product is built. Plus their support is very good and well worth the money spent.

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