- Proxmox Virtualization Environment (VE)
- VMware ESXi
- Microsoft Hyper-V
- Comparison of Proxmox VE, ESXi, and Hyper-V
- Comparison at a glance
Proxmox Virtualization Environment (VE)
Proxmox VE is an open-source enterprise-class virtualization platform featuring a kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) and Linux Containers (LXC) virtualization technologies under a unified platform. It is based on Debian Linux and offers a built-in web-based interface to manage your virtual data center. In Proxmox VE, you get all the features for free. The paid subscription also gives you access to the enterprise repository for receiving updates and technical support. If you're new to Proxmox VE, check out my recent article on getting started with it.
Key features of Proxmox VE
- Built-in support for running containers.
- Compatible with a wide range of hardware.
- Supports Linux, Windows, and other KVM/Qemu supported guest operating systems.
- Supports a wide range of local and network storage options, such as LVM, iSCSI, CIFS, GlusterFS, CephFS, and ZFS. The built-in ZFS support makes it stand out from other hypervisors.
- Built-in firewall to control traffic for out-of-box security.
- Fully featured web interface for easier management.
- CLI and API are available for advanced management.
- Role-based permission management for granular access control.
- Support for live migration of VM, containers, and storage.
- Support for high-availability clusters. There is no master node; you can use any node to manage the cluster.
- Support for VM templates, snapshots, export/import, cloning, and replication.
- Support for hardware passthrough (GPU and USB passthrough).
- Built-in option to schedule backup jobs. The Proxmox Backup Server can also be integrated for more efficient backups.
- The open-source AGPL v3 license allows you to use all the features for free.
Cons of Proxmox VE
- Low adoption in enterprise environments
- Initial setup and network configuration can be tricky
- Not a large online community to get support when needed
- Running Windows-based guests requires additional drivers, and the availability of proprietary drivers could be an issue
VMware ESXi (provided as part of vSphere) is a proprietary vmkernel-based hypervisor that allows you to create and manage virtual machines on bare metal servers. The best thing about ESXi is its minimal footprint—it only includes the services that are absolutely essential for virtualization, thus reducing the overall attack surface.
Key features of VMware ESXi
- A small codebase makes the installation extremely fast and easy to patch and maintain.
- Secure design, built-in encryption, role-based access control, extensive logging, and auditing.
- Widely used in enterprise environments due to its reliability and scalability.
- Built-in HTML5 web interface for the management of standalone ESXi hosts. Central management is possible with the help of the vCenter Server (available with a paid license).
- A perfect balance of security and management ease.
- PowerCLI and scripting are available to automate various aspects of vSphere management, such as VMs, guest OS, storage, network, and much more.
- Enterprise-level training and certification programs have made it popular among administrators, unlike other hypervisors (e.g., Proxmox VE and Hyper-V).
- Supports almost all types of guest operating systems (including Windows, Linux, Unix, and macOS). Since Apple moved away from the Intel x86 platform to Apple silicon, VMware decided to discontinue support for macOS. ESXi 7.0.x was the final release supporting Apple Mac platforms.
Cons of VMware ESXi
- Licensing costs are very high. You need to pay more to get advanced features, such as high availability, vMotion, vShield, replication, etc. If your production environment is Windows-based, this cost adds up with Windows licenses.
- Requires compatible hardware to run properly and to make use of technical support.
- Occasional driver updates are known to cause slow boot and VM slowdowns.
- Requires technical skills for initial setup and network configuration. It can be difficult, especially for beginners.
- A high availability cluster requires a primary (master) host.
- Integration support with third-party backup solutions could be improved.
Hyper-V is a robust Windows-based proprietary hypervisor from Microsoft that allows multiple operating systems to share a single hardware platform. The operating system-level isolation is achieved with the help of partitions—a logical isolated space where the operating system is run. Hyper-V requires at least one root (parent) partition, where it runs the host operating system and a virtualization management stack that has direct access to hardware resources. The root partition is then responsible for running child partitions to run guest operating systems in an isolated space, with the help of the hypercall API.
Key features of Hyper-V
- The license is included with Windows. The Datacenter license allows you to run an unlimited number of Windows Server VMs without additional licensing costs.
- Tight integration with Windows offers native support for running Windows-based guests. It also supports Linux and FreeBSD guest operating systems.
- Least manual device driver management is required, since it is mostly handled by integration services.
- There are plenty of options for host server management, such as Hyper-V Manager, Windows Admin Center, PowerShell remoting, PowerShell Direct, System Center, and Virtual Machine Manager. The VMware vCenter Server can also be used to manage Hyper-V hosts in a heterogeneous hypervisor environment.
- Supports export/import, storage migration, and live migration.
- Shielded virtual machines (VMs) help protect Hyper-V hosts and their VMs from malicious software.
- TPM and secure boot further enhance the integrity of guest OS.
- Native BitLocker support offers encryption at rest for complete peace of mind.
- Failover cluster for high availability by reducing the impact of host server downtime for guest VMs.
- Starting with Windows Server 2016, the failover cluster also helps in load balancing by automatically initiating VM migration when a particular host server is overloaded.
Cons of Hyper-V
- Everything depends on the parent partition. If it crashes, all VMs become unavailable.
- Frequent operating system and security updates are known to increase the management overhead and could disrupt business operations.
- Support for VM templates needs improvement.
- GPU passthrough works only with Windows Server as a host operating system. It is not available when the Hyper-V host is running Windows 10/11.
- The efficiency of resource utilization on host servers could be improved.
- There is no support for running containers.
Comparison of Proxmox VE, ESXi, and Hyper-V
Honestly, all three are enterprise-class hypervisors capable of running production workloads and offer advanced services like fault tolerance, load balancing, high availability, etc. However, all of them have a different target audience. Let's compare them based on various criteria.
Supported host maximums
The following table shows the supported host maximums:
|Proxmox VE||VMware ESXi||Hyper-V|
|Maximum logical CPUs per host||768||896||512|
|Maximum RAM per host||12 TB||24 TB||48 TB|
|Nodes per cluster||No explicit limit||96||64|
|Maximum VMs per host||No explicit limit||1024||1024|
Proxmox VE is compatible with a wide range of hardware, making it incredibly hardware friendly. This means you can run it even on a really old computer (having virtualization support, of course).
VMware maintains a hardware compatibility list (HCL) to declare what is supported and what is not. If your hardware isn't on this list (which is highly unlikely, by the way), you shouldn't install VMware ESXi. If you still do and face any issues, VMware will provide little to no support.
Hardware compatibility is not an issue with Hyper-V. Being a Microsoft product, it is supported by a variety of hardware. If a computer can run Windows, it can run Hyper-V as well. Furthermore, the device drivers are easily available for Hyper-V compared to Proxmox VE and VMware ESXi.
Despite providing enterprise-class features, Proxmox VE is mainly adopted by technology enthusiasts in lab environments, home users, development teams, small businesses, and organizations that cannot afford (or do not want to spend much) on expensive licenses. It doesn't mean Proxmox can't handle the requirements of a large-scale enterprise. In fact, it is built to stand and scale massive deployments, but so far, it has rarely been adopted by large companies for running production workloads.
VMware ESXi is the first choice of enterprise environments for running production workloads, since it is highly popular, well-established, well-documented, and offers the best technical support when needed. It gives organizations everything they could ever need to run, manage, and scale their server infrastructure.
Hyper-V has gained significant attention and has emerged as a top competitor of VMware for datacenter virtualization. It is suitable for companies running mostly Windows-based infrastructure. It is stable, well established, and has access to Microsoft support.
Management ease is the most important aspect for admins, and this is where Proxmox VE doesn't disappoint you. It has a built-in web-based interface that allows you to manage your entire virtual datacenter with ease. Admins who love the command line can use the web shell, which is built into the web GUI, to manage advanced aspects that aren't available in the web interface. In the Proxmox VE cluster, there is no master node. Any node can be used to manage a cluster, which gives you a lot of flexibility.
VMware ESXi can be managed using the built-in web-based interface, but the free license does not allow you to manage multiple ESXi hosts under a single interface. The vCenter Server can be used for the central management of multiple ESXi hosts. VMware PowerCLI (a command line tool built on PowerShell) allows you to automate vSphere.
The built-in Hyper-V manager is good for the basic management of multiple Hyper-V hosts. But for central management, you need to install additional components, such as Windows Admin Center (WAC), which is free. Large companies can use System Center—Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) for advanced management, which is part of the System Center suite from Microsoft.
Proxmox VE comes with a lot of security features, such as trusted platform module (TPM), secure boot, built-in firewall, etc. The web-based management interface supports Linux PAM authentication and Proxmox VE authentication, which can be protected with two-factor authentication.
VMware ESXi is secure right out of box since it is designed with a very small codebase. It contains only the core hypervisor functionality, which drastically reduces the attack surface, and there is not much to patch. The SSH service and ESXi shell are disabled by default to prevent the risks of unauthorized remote access. To further improve security, you can enable lockdown mode, which allows the ESXi hosts to be accessed from vCenter Server only. Furthermore, VIB integrity checks help prevent the installation of malicious packages on ESXi hosts.
Hyper-V offers plenty of options to harden the security of host servers and guest VMs. The guarded fabric security model helps protect the host server and its VMs from malicious software. Starting with Windows Server 2019, the entire traffic between VMs can be encrypted with the help of datagram transport layer security (DTLS). Furthermore, shielded VMs, secure boot, virtual TPM, BitLocker, and host guardian service (HGS) all constitute a highly secure server infrastructure. HGS is a service that provides attestation and key protection services to ensure that Hyper-V host servers run trusted software.
Proxmox VE offers enterprise-level support with a simple subscription-based pricing model. Community-based support is available for free users, but it is not extensive. Proxmox VE provides three distinct package repositories for getting regular and security updates. The Enterprise Repository is available for users with a valid subscription and is recommended for production environments. The No-Subscription Repository is recommended for testing and non-production environments since it contains packages that are not extensively tested and validated. Finally, a test repository is recommended only for developers to try and test new features.
As the leader of enterprise virtualization, VMware releases updates and patches to fix security issues and bugs as quickly as possible. Technical support is available based on the type of license and subscription you purchased. There are generally two levels of support: basic and production. With basic support, you get technical support 12 hours/day, Monday to Friday. With production level, you get full-time 24/7 technical support.
Since Hyper-V is integrated with Windows, you get updates, patches, and support from Microsoft. If you're using a free version of Hyper-V, you can get support from the community and forums. Unfortunately, Microsoft has decided to discontinue the free Hyper-V server (not to be confused with the Hyper-V Server role), so basically, 2019 was the last release of the free Hyper-V server. However, the product will be supported until 2029.
Creating VMs from scratch can be very time-consuming, and it can be a nightmare if you have to migrate a dozen or hundreds of physical servers or VMs from one platform to another. There has to be some tool to speed up the migration process.
There is no native tool offered by Proxmox to migrate your physical servers or virtual machines to Proxmox VE. But tools like Clonezilla and VMware vCenter converter standalone client can get the job done for you. Surprisingly, the vCenter converter was removed from the official website for some time, but it is now back with an updated version. The detailed steps of physical-to-virtual (P2V) or virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversion are covered here.
The VMware vCenter converter standalone client can help with P2V or V2V migration of your enterprise servers or VMs, and it is not limited to the VMware virtualization platform. As discussed above, it can be used to migrate your servers or VMs to Proxmox VE, as well as Hyper-V. The tool is available for free, but you need to create an account on the VMware website to download it for free.
Like VMware, Microsoft also had a free tool named Microsoft Virtual Machine Converter (MVMC), but it is no longer available. However, System Center—Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) offers a VM conversion feature that can help with migration. Unfortunately, this tool is not free. It is part of the commercial System Center datacenter management suite.
License and pricing
All are enterprise-class hypervisors offering top-notch performance and are capable of running large-scale deployments without any problems. Let's discuss the licensing of each.
Proxmox VE offers the same set of features and equal performance levels to everyone for free. You only pay for technical support and an enterprise repository to receive updates, which is highly recommended for production environments.
In VMware ESXi, features vary according to license type. For example, if you buy the vSphere Essentials Kit, you get six CPU licenses of vSphere essentials for three servers (with up to two processors each) and one license for vCenter Server essentials. One CPU license covers one CPU with up to 32 cores. If your CPU has more than 32 cores, you need to buy an additional license. Furthermore, this license doesn't give you advanced virtualization features such as high availability, VM migration, replication, etc. To use these features, you need to get a vSphere Standard or Enterprise Plus license. Basically, VMware created different packages for businesses with different budgets. Read this to learn more about its licensing and pricing.
The licensing of Hyper-V works slightly differently. If you're using the free Hyper-V Server (which is essentially a GUI-less server core with only the Hyper-V feature), you do not get any license to run Windows-based VM. However, you can launch any number of Linux VMs. So, if your production workload is entirely Linux based, you can use it for free without spending anything for a license.
If you purchase a Windows Server Datacenter license, you just need to enable the Hyper-V Server role on your host, and you can run any number of Windows Server VMs. With Standard edition, you can run up to two Windows Server VMs (provided the host server is only used for the Hyper-V role).
If you have a license for Windows 10/11 and enable the optional Hyper-V feature, you do not get any license to run Windows in a VM, but you can use it for development and testing.
Comparison at a glance
The following table shows a quick side-by-side comparison of Proxmox VE, VMware ESXi, and Hyper-V:
|Features||Proxmox VE||VMware ESXi||Hyper-V|
|Based on||Linux KVM||VMkernel||Windows|
|Product type||Open source||Proprietary||Proprietary|
|Central management||Built-in||Supported with paid license||Supported|
|Live VM migration||Supported||Available with paid license||Supported|
|Migration/Conversion||Possible with third-party tools||Possible with native and third-party tools||Possible with native and third-party tools|
|Backup and restore||Supported||Supported||Supported|
|Licensing/Pricing||Free||Free with limited features, fully featured paid license||Free/included with Windows license|
|Support and updates||Subscription||Subscription||Included with Windows|
|Remote management options||Web client and CLI||Web client, CLI, PowerCLI, vCenter Server, System Center—Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)||Hyper-V manager, PowerShell, Windows Admin Center (WAC), System Center—Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), vCenter Server|
When it comes to virtualization, no solution exists that fits everyone. In my view, all three hypervisors are capable of handling large-scale deployments without any problems.
Proxmox VE is an ideal choice if enterprise-class features and ease of management are your top priorities. It is also suitable for companies with small or contract-based management teams. To run your production workload on Proxmox VE, you can choose a suitable subscription plan and you're covered with updates and support. If you're a small or medium-sized business that can't afford to pay for a subscription, Proxmox VE is for you.
Hyper-V is an ideal choice if your environment is purely Windows-based. The Datacenter license allows you to run any number of Windows Server VMs as long as the resources of the host server enable you to save a lot on licensing.
Finally, VMware is always a favorite choice for large-scale enterprises to run and scale their business infrastructure since it offers unmatched features, stability, reliability, and support. Licensing costs are not an issue for large companies when it comes to supporting business-critical infrastructure.
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In my next post I will explain how to create a Windows VM in Proxmox VE.