Hyper-V Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V?

There has been a lot of talk about Hyper-V in its 2012 editions. One of the questions that I hear on a regular basis is about which version of Hyper-V to use. Usually the conversation goes something like this.

“So Microsoft makes Hyper-V Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V?”


“Hyper-V Server 2012 is a free download, right?”


“So why would I want to use Windows Server 2012 to get Hyper-V?”

The question is a good one, and it has a really good answer. Licensing! Here are the nitty gritty details. First this from the Microsoft Hyper-V Server2012 page;

“Hyper-V Server is a dedicated stand-alone product that contains the hypervisor, Windows Server driver model, virtualization capabilities, and supporting components such as failover clustering, but does not contain the robust set of features and roles as the Windows Server operating system.”

The language is clear that the focus of Hyper-V Server 2012 is to provide the platform components to run virtual machines for Windows Servers that are already licensed. For example if you were consolidating a group of your existing Windows servers with their existing licenses onto the Hyper-V platform it would be in your best interest to use Hyper-V Server 2012. If you were implementing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) for your existing Licensed Windows environment then Hyper-V Server 2012 is a great solution because here again you already have the OS licenses. But what if you don’t already have the licensed Windows Servers?

Windows Server 2012 is all about virtualization rights. Both editions (Standard and Datacenter) have the exact same functionality. The only difference between the two editions is the virtualization rights. Windows Server 2012 Standard edition gives the purchaser the rights to run 2 virtual instances of Windows Server, while the Datacenter Edition has unlimited virtualization rights. That’s it. Now of course Windows Server 2012 also has all of the cool roles and features that you can install on the host machine but when it comes right down to it we generally keep the hosts as clean as possible from running additional workloads outside of Hyper-V.

The Hands-On Guide on Understanding Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012I know someone reading this is thinking, “Couldn’t you run Hyper-V Server 2012 and just buy the Windows Server 2012 licenses?” The answer is; Of course you could. Should you do it? No. Maximize your licensing position by using the full version Windows Server 2012 and add Hyper-V.

Next time someone asks you about Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V, or Hyper-V Server 2012 you can smile and nod your head knowingly and then tell them “It seems to be a question of licensing.”

For more information about all things Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 please check out the free E-book from Veeam The Hands-On Guide on Understanding Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012.



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  • Yan says:

    Thanks for the info.

    So if I am going to setup a new Hyper-V farm, assuming I already have my datacenter licenses, should I install hyper-V server or Windows 2012 server with Hyper-V? In terms of OS, is the hyper-V server lighter/better? Any difference in features, performance, etc between the 2?

  • If you have your windows server 2012 datacenter licenses, it is preferred to install the full Windows 2012 Server and enable the hyperr-v role. Hyper-V server is not lighter or better if you use Windows Server 2012 in core mode. Note that you can install and configure Windows Server 2012 in full mode now, and go to core afterwards! A very nice improvement

  • Yan says:

    Thanks Mike :)

  • Biki says:

    Thanks Chris, it is really helpful. But one thing I really didn’t get it.
    If I had Server 2012 Datacentre fully licensed, then if I installed 5 VMs (2012 Std servers), will I need all those 5 VMs fully licensed as well?

  • Equallogic says:

    So if I have 1 Server 2008 Datacenter license and want to setup a cluster using Hyperv server 2012 can I still spin up unlimited VM’s or can I only do this on a Server 2008 r2 DC host?

  • No, then you will need a Windows Server 2012 datacenter license. In fact, then you better use Windows Server 2012 with hyperv for cost savings (depending on how many VMs you are going to spin up)

  • Ryan Prosser says:

    The Server 2012 Datacentre license is per physical server. It has ‘virtualization rights’ for UNLIMITED guest VMs of server 2012 std/dc

    So in your example, No you do not also buy licenses ‘per guest’ VM you install – as that is included with the Datacentre license that you have for the host

    FYI Standard edition has ‘virtualization rights’ for just 2 guest VMs

  • movi123 asd says:

    kindly clear the statement again.. if i buy one windows 2012 data center license i don’t need to buy 5 vm license that i will run on that host..
    mean only 4000$ and above for one license and i can run as many as vm i can..

  • movi123 asd says:

    can you clear one thing for me.
    if i buy two win 2012 standard license for two physical server, i know i can run 4 vms on that. but do i need extra license for that. i mean 4 more license for those vms ?
    or those 2 license i bought is enough for me.
    and should i apply the same license key on vms ?

  • mlevkina says:

    Hi movi123 asd, as I understand the virtualization rights included in standard edition allow you to run two VMs using the host license, additional VMs must then be licensed as usual (you can run as many VMs as you like on standard edition). With two standard licenses you can run 4 VMs without having to purchase individual licenses for each guest OS.

    In any case it’s better to contact a Microsoft reseller for the best advice, and to have options (technical and pricing) calculated for you.

  • mlevkina says:

    Hi movi123 asd, thank you for this question! As I know, the licensing structure for Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard remain unchanged. It means that you can create many VMs, however only two of them will be licensed with Windows Server 2012 R2. You can find licensing datasheet here: http://download.microsoft.com/download/F/3/9/F39124F7-0177-463C-8A08-582463F96C9D/Windows_Server_2012_R2_Licensing_Datasheet.pdf

  • Mark says:

    Hi Mike, following on from what Yan posted if for example the clustered hosts are licensed for Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter edition can Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 be used instead of the full Windows Server while still covering the VOSE rights for unlimited VMs on each host? Hyper-V Server is a bare metal hypervisor therefore is more secure and stable since no other roles or GUI can be enabled therefore is my preferred option Regards Mark

  • Hi Mark,
    Theoratically that is possible… but I don’t agree on your statement about Hyper-V Server. If you use the full version installed (or reverted afterwards) in core than you have the exact same version as Hyper-V Server. I do like that you see that no GUI or other roles are preferred because that is indeed the way to go! But again, Windows Server 2012 R2 with the hyper-v role enabled in core is Hyper-V server… Exactly the same :-)

  • Mark says:

    Thanks Mike, with Hyper-V Server no other roles than those necessary for Hyper-V and clustering can be installed on the host. This in my opinion is extremely important to ensure the stability and performance of the environment. Other than that technically Hyper-V Server and Windows Server with Hyper-V are the same product and have identical features and limitations (except for VOSE licensing) given the same roles and features are installed.

  • Kristan Rae Burlat Arcino says:

    If we have Windows Server 2008 R2 enterprise already licensed. Can we fire up free 4 VMs on Hyper-v Server 2012 R2?

  • Per Ekstedt says:

    Is it possible to use the host server 2012 as a domain server serving the other guests managed by the hyper V server?

  • Sreenath Gupta says:

    Dear Hyper-V team, we are facing very horrible situation with hyper-v 2012 performance, we have installed hyperv 2012 on Dell R820 server and the performance is very bad, for the first hour everything is good, after sometime, i am facing network latency issue and i am getting more than 10 ms, i have seen lot many articles and blog to find out the issue but i could not, kindly help us to solve the problem.

  • BBritton says:

    I appreciate the explanation, I’ve been on hold with MS for over 1 HOUR! to get this basic info! Do these people have any training before they are hired?

  • Gareth says:

    Check your power settings (set high performance) on the server and also update the driver and firmware if you have a Broadcom chipset

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