If you want to take advantage of virtual machines and servers for your company, you will need to make sure you have the right hypervisor to manage and control them. There are many different hypervisors available, each of which will provide you with a different user interface and functionalities. For small businesses, it typically doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on an enterprise solution. Fortunately, there are plenty of free hypervisors that will typically meet the needs of most small businesses.
Read through the following five free hypervisors to see if they are right for you. They will provide you with an excellent level of control, and don’t cost a thing (at least until your environment grows to a certain point).
Type 1 vs Type 2 Hypervisors
The first thing you will want to do is determine whether you want a type 1 or a type 2 hypervisor. Both of these options can provide you with excellent results. In the list below, the first three options are type 1 and the last two are type 2. Here is a brief explanation of the differences between the two types of hypervisors:
- Type 1 – Type 1 hypervisors run on the physical hardware itself. These systems are used to run both the virtual machines as well as any hardware that exists. Type 1 hypervisors are often called bare-metal hypervisors.
- Type 2 – A type 2 hypervisor has to be installed on an existing operating system. This adds some additional layers of complexity since the data has to go through the host operating system as well as the hypervisor itself. This is often not a big deal for smaller environments, but at an enterprise level, it can cause some problems.
Note that you can install an interface on a PC that will access a type 1 (or 2) hypervisor that is on its own server. This allows you to access and control your hypervisor from anywhere with this software installed.
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VMWare (Free ESXi)
VMware (is the most recognizable name when it comes to hypervisors and is very commonly used by large corporations. The free version of this platform is technically called Free ESXi, but it has most of the same key features that make VMware so popular. This free option includes the vSphere client, which is the graphical user interface that makes it easy to control all of your virtual machines.
You can use the free version of this hypervisor as long as you do not have a large environment. It is limited, for example, to 32 gigs of RAM per server, which is typically going to be the limitation that causes a small business to upgrade. Fortunately, VMware comes in 5 different commercial versions so if you expand beyond the limits of Free ESXi, you can upgrade to an affordable commercial option.
Hyper-V from Microsoft
Hyper-V is a great option from Microsoft. It really started growing in popularity with Windows Server 2012 and has had a lot of great improvements over the years. The free version of this hypervisor can be scaled up to handle a lot of systems and provide you with an excellent level of control. The one big downside to the free version of Hyper-V is that it does not have a GUI, so you need to manage your environment via the command line. For those who are comfortable with this, it is a great option. If you want the GUI, you can upgrade to one of four commercial editions to get added features.
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Citrix HyperVisor (formerly XenServer)
Citrix is another big name in the world of virtualization, and the Citrix Hypervisor (formerly XenServer, or just called Xen) is an excellent hypervisor. In 2007, Citrix purchased XenSource and incorporated it into their platform. This hypervisor is available in several different commercial versions so it can certainly grow along with your company should the need arise. Most smaller businesses, however, will never run into the limits for the free version of Citrix Hypervisor. The main things that are unavailable on the free version are technical support from Citrix engineers, commercial packaging and certifications, streamlined patching, and access to the Citrix knowledgebase. You can use the free system to manage as many environments as you would like.
The open source Xvisor has one set of software that is needed to access and control your entire environment including hardware, virtualized CPUs, and more, which makes it very convenient. This is a great option for companies that want a simplified environment, which is especially ideal for smaller systems. Businesses that do not expect to have to grow or expand significantly will likely be very happy with this system. It does not have the commercial versions that are needed for enterprise level environments.
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As another Type 2 hypervisor, Oracle VirtualBox has a much more advanced set of features than Xvisor. This system is only available for 32-bit and 64-bit hosts, and it does need an operating system already installed. It comes with a very easy to use interface that makes running virtual environments simple, even for those with minimal experience in this area. This system even comes with a system called Open Virtualization Format (OVF), which means you can import virtual systems from other existing virtualization software. This makes it a lot easier to migrate to this system if you are looking to move away from another type of platform.
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Consider Your Options Carefully
While all of these hypervisors offer a great way to manage your virtual environments, you will want to really think through your options. Knowing not only what types of environments you need to manage today, but also the future needs of your company will be very helpful. If you will be using primarily Citrix environments, for example, you will likely want to use a Citrix based hypervisor. If you’re running more Windows environments, then a hypervisor that is Windows based may be more appropriate.
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