Running Windows Home Server in a virtual machine

The idea of having separate physical machines for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Home Server has always seemed wasteful to me: space, hardware cost, power usage, and heat are all issues when you have two boxes.

So, as an experiment, I’ve installed Windows Home Server in a Hyper-V virtual machine running under Windows Server 2008. It seems to be working well so far. Here’s what the Server Storage panel looks like:

WHS server storage on Hyper-V VM

Interestingly, Windows Home Server recognizes that the drives are virtual and thinks each one is 400GB in size. In reality, they’re dynamic virtual disks on a physical drive that is 500GB in size. And right now, the actual physical space in use on that drive is only about 100GB or so. Eventually I’ll have to replace that drive with one that can actually hold 800GB, but I won’t come close to using that much storage space anytime soon, so I can afford to wait. Meanwhile, I have breathing room to replace the existing drive later without having to go through the hassle of re-creating the server.

In the long term, I think this option has tremendous potential. Anyone else out there trying it? I’ve seen this fairly old thread at the Windows Home Server Community forums, but the responses stop in December 2007, and most are talking about running WHS on Virtual PC (ugh).  Sean Earp has an old post (dating back to when WHS was in beta, in fact) that has installation instructions for WHS on Virtual Server 2005 on Windows Server 2003. but the Hyper-V platform is much neater. I can’t find anything in the license agreement that governs installation on a virtual machine, but I also haven’t looked closely.

I’m interested in hearing reports from those who are using this configuration today. Any issues? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

This post was revised for clarity shortly after its original posting.

17 thoughts on “Running Windows Home Server in a virtual machine

  1. I’ve tested a similar setup using VMware Workstation and had decent results – I certainly didn’t run into problems and a virtualized server is much easier to get up and running following a hardware issue than a physical one is.

    Lately I’ve been test driving VMware ESX which does away with the need for the base OS on the system and I have to say that I’ll be rolling several physical systems into one or two dual quad Xeon servers over the next few months.

  2. My problems were lack of space (you don’t get a warning – and snapshots take up a lot of space) – and in the end I got the console with no “settings” button.

    On the other hand Home Server activated without problems even though the setup was on a different machine than my original home server.

    All in all my experiment was a definite success.

    I will try again later, but first I must get about 8 GB of ram.

  3. Hi Ed,

    I am using a Home Server as a Virtual Server in Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 running on Vista x64. I don’t have the space for a discreet extra computer so I purchased 2 external drives, a 500GB eSata and 400GB USB disk. Both of these are plugged into my Quad Core desktop and mounted within a Virtual Servers folder on my D drive. I created 450GB and 350GB dynamic virtual disk on the respective drives and then deployed Home Server onto them with 750 mb ram. I have all my Music, Pictures, Videos and Documents on these disks replicating between the two. Home Server works quite happily, and I have all the remote access functionality etc etc.

    I have also deployed the Home Server connector onto the host desktop and my laptop. Both talk to the Home Server quite happily. My desktop resumes from sleep at 7am every day and if it reboots the Home Server VM starts up automatically so it is available whenever I need it. To be on the safe side I adjusted the Virtual hard disk permissions so I can’t accidently delete them.

    I have also deployed Foldershare and Windows Live Mesh. Mesh replicates the documents and pictures folders between the web, my desktop and my laptop. Foldershare is deployed as a service on the HomeServer and is installed on my desktop. This replicates all the documents and pictures plus several GB of software between the desktop and home server (I can’t use mesh for this as it insists data is replicated to the web and you only have 5gb storage). Jungle Disk on the home server then backs up the data on all the share onto the web. I find the solution runs very smoothly and have peace of mind that all my data is in multiple locations and on the internet.

    As I have Home Server I can also connect remotely (and securely) onto all my PCs without having to open the standard 3389 RDP port to the web.

    I don’t have any particular performance issues with the Home Server and as the desktop is Quad Core, 4gb ram and x64 the footprint from the VM is barely noticeable.

  4. Interesting, I did try it on a VPC and it worked but not how you would want to do it but running it on server 2008 could be a good idea

  5. and how about running Vista on it and them you have one box doing both roles, its just a shame the tuner card would not work under a VPC

  6. I have another concern; you’re basically throwing all your eggs in one basket here… If that one computer goes down you have to get stuff of the net. Not an ideal situation at all…

  7. Jarle, yes, but I have Server backup on the WS 2008 box. I can backup everything to an external hard drive and it can be restored in a few minutes. Including the backup database, which can’t be backed up on a physical machine.

  8. Ian, the problem with running Vista on it is that it doesn’t support Aero, doesn’t decode HD, nor does it support USB devices. I do run copies of desktop OSes on this box, but for test purposes, not for production.

  9. I’m migrating my current 2003 server to 2008 (with hyperv) and then will make the 2003 box my WHS box (it’s bigger case than the Inspiron 530 and thus more drives/space). My issue will be having the WHS on a domain network (I run AD on my home network) and connecting the PCs to it.

  10. I’m in the process of building a new machine for home, which will encompass WHS (among other things) on top of a Server 2008 Enterprise base with Hyper-V. First, a few modest specs:

    SuperMicro X7DCA-L-O (mATX)
    2x Xeon L5420
    12GB RAM
    Main OS/active files drive (xxxGB Raptor)
    320GB VM-only drive
    1TB storage drive ( with identical 1TB offline backup drive)

    At the moment, I’ve got WHS (65GB dynamic VHD), Vista Ultimate x64 (~30GB dynamic VHD), and Server 2008 Ent with SQL Server 2008 (~60GB dynamic VHD) running in Hyper-V. I’m far more interested in the web interface of WHS than the PC backup capability. My problem is that I’ve already got my 1TB drive(s) half full. Out of the box, WHS wipes any additional storage you add to it. With some tricks, I’ve gotten WHS to see one of my 1TB drives as its own storage WITHOUT wiping the original contents. However, I can’t take that drive out (physically) and add files to it while attached to another physical machine.. So, for now, I’ve removed the 1TB drive from the WHS VM and only have it attached to the base OS. I’d ultimately like to have the files on the 1TB drive visible to WHS while retaining full control of that drive outside of WHS.

  11. Scott, I installed Virtual Box on a build for my mother (just in case an old app didn’t run on Vista), and I liked it. The one thing I preferred with MS’s solution is that it didn’t require a series of keystrokes to get the get the mouse out of the virtual OS.

  12. guys,
    it appears that I found the right place to get some advice regarding virtual machines, WHS, and TV tuner hardware?

    I currently have a WHS with my CD and recorded TV programs streaming to a EVA8000/stereo/TV. Which is really nice.

    The next stage is to drop a dual TV tuner card in to the Windows Home Server, and then stream live TV, recorded TV, and music over the network to media extenders, PC or HTPC. After a couple of months of half-hearted fiddling, can I politely say that it is not a straightforward exercise.
    Rather than risk breaking either my WHS server , or the PC I use for work, I was planning on using a box I was putting together on the cheap using an existing Windows XP professional x64 licence, a low powered dual core, 500 GB hard drive, and 4 GB of RAM. And then using virtual machines to test run the TV tuner card under Windows Home Server with various combinations of OS and software on the server and client machines/media extenders.

    Three questions Is this a reasonable approach, what flavour of virtual machine would you recommend, and is the hardware is sufficient?

    Suggestions welcome please!

  13. I have been running WHS on Vmware ESX 3.5 since earlier this year. It has been a smooth ride except for a few minor glitches dealing with add-in’s and the ESX firewall ports. On the plus side, disk expansion is a breeze and performnace, well, I don;t use my WHS for anything too intensive like some other folks do, so it’s fine for me.
    One additional plus is that my WHS is now configured for high availability and disaster recovery. If my first ESX host goes down, it moves my WHS to my second ESX box without a hiccup. And with scheduled snapshotting, I can always get a recent backup when needed.
    I would like to try it on Hyper-V though, and compare the results.

  14. @Kevin You could install VirtualBox extensions just like VirtualPC has and then you don’t have to fiddle with switching in and out of the virtual session with your mouse. More seamless.

  15. Has anyone tried setting this up on a stand-alone Hyper-v server? Most of you here are talking about the Server 2008 version and I’m curious to know if Ed or anyone else has an opinion on using the stand-alone version of Hyper-v. I’m considering setting one up like that.

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