Review: VMM 2016 stiffs Azure, older Hyper-V

System Center 2016 Virtual Machine Manager shines for Windows Server 2016, but does little for prior versions of Hyper-V

Review: VMM 2016 stiffs Azure, older Hyper-V
KeithJJ (CC0)
At a Glance

As you read through the list of new features in System Center 2016 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), you will be hard-pressed to find any new features not directly related to Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. As I worked with VMM 2016, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that VMM 2016 was good ol’ VMM 2012 R2 with bolted-on support for features introduced in Windows Server 2016.

Don’t get me wrong—VMM 2016’s support for Hyper-V 2016 is a good thing. Microsoft would be doing us a huge disservice if it didn’t provide a way to manage Nano Servers, rolling cluster upgrades, shielded VMs, and other new Windows Server 2016 capabilities through VMM. But there is nothing here to entice those organizations that are sticking with older versions of Hyper-V into upgrading to VMM 2016.

Installing VMM

The process of installing System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2016 (VMM) was completely predictable (that’s good). Aside from the requirement to run VMM 2016 on Windows Server 2016, the setup process is nearly identical to that of the previous version. Administrators are sure to appreciate the familiar approach.

During my evaluation, the VMM setup processes completed without incident. I also performed an in-place upgrade of an existing VMM server. This proved to be tricky, because it required me to perform an in-place upgrade of the Windows Server operating system (which Microsoft does not recommend) and an in-place upgrade of VMM. Although the upgrade was time-consuming, it completed without any problems.

Once VMM was installed, I opened the VMM Console and found it to be immediately familiar. As an experienced VMM admin, I had absolutely no trouble navigating through the console and performing common management tasks.

Trouble with legacy Hyper-V hosts

Although VMM 2016 will only run on Windows Server 2016, it is designed to be able to manage legacy Hyper-V hosts. Most of the machines in my lab are already running Windows Server 2016, but I have two production Hyper-V servers currently running Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard Edition.

To see how well VMM 2016 works with legacy Hyper-V hosts, I added these two computers to VMM 2016 as managed hosts. In doing so, I ran into a strange glitch. For some reason, the Add Resources Wizard’s Target Resources screen listed both Hyper-V servers twice. This is the screen that asks you to select the servers you want to add.

A quick check revealed that some updates were available for both Windows Server 2016 and VMM 2016, so I aborted the wizard and installed them. After the updates completed, I once again tried to add the Hyper-V hosts. This time, one of the hosts was displayed twice, the other only once.

I went ahead and selected the hosts I wanted to add, and I worked my way through the wizard’s remaining screens. The rest of the process completed without incident, but that wasn’t the end of the bugs.

Template-based VM deployment

The next snag occurred when I tried to deploy a virtual machine from a pre-existing VM template. As previously mentioned, I upgraded a VMM server from System Center 2012 R2 to System Center 2016. This server contains a template that I have used many times for VM deployments, so I know it works correctly.

I successfully used the template to deploy a VM to a server running Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. However, when I tried using the template to deploy a VM to a Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V host, VMM threw an error message. Keep in mind that this template was originally created for use with VMM 2012 R2, and it had been used to deploy VMs to Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V hosts many times in the past.

The error message reported that not enough memory was available due to the host reserve level. The message went on to state that the reserve level for use by existing and new virtual machines was 12,302MB, the amount of memory requested by the virtual machine was 1,088MB, and the remaining memory was 0MB.

This error message seemed normal enough, but I was skeptical. Although the Hyper-V host contains only 16GB of RAM, there were no virtual machines powered on. The host reserve was set at 2GB, and the template was configured to create a VM with 4GB of RAM. The host should have had plenty of available resources to create the VM.

As a sanity check, I opened the Hyper-V Manager and manually created a VM that mimicked the VM that would have been created from the template. Sure enough, I had no trouble creating and deploying the VM with Hyper-V Manager.

Nano Server support

One of the key features in VMM 2016 is its support for Nano Server, one of the flagship features of Windows Server 2016. VMM 2016 can deploy and manage both Nano Server hosts and Nano Server virtual machines.

First I used Microsoft’s new Nano Server Image Builder tool to create a Nano Server VHD, then turned the VHD into a Hyper-V virtual machine. Hyper-V 2016 had no trouble at all running a Nano Server. 

Then I tried to create a VM template that was based on my newly created Nano Server. I found the template creation process to be identical to that of creating a template for any other Windows Server deployment. I didn’t have to do anything special in order to create a Nano Server template. Furthermore, the process was no different than in the previous version of VMM.

Once my template had been created, I made sure I could use the template to deploy a Nano Server. The process worked flawlessly, and I was utterly amazed by how quickly the virtual machine generation process completed. Nano Server is very small and can be deployed very quickly.

Team 2016

System Center 2016 Virtual Machine Manager introduces a significant number of new features, but the vast majority of these new features are designed to support Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. VMM 2016 brings nothing new to managing Azure VMs or previous versions of Hyper-V. 

I would consider System Center 2016 to be an essential purchase for organizations that are using Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. However, organizations that are running older versions of Hyper-V will be hard-pressed to justify an upgrade to VMM 2016.

VMM 2016 also seems to have a few issues with supporting Windows Server 2012 R2 hosts. The software worked flawlessly when it came to supporting Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V hosts and Windows Server 2016 guests, but I did encounter a couple of bugs when working with Windows Server 2012 R2. I would expect these bugs to be resolved through patches sooner than later, but for right now VMM 2016 may prove to be problematic to organizations running legacy Hyper-V hosts.


COST: System Center 2016 is available in a Standard Edition and a Datacenter Edition. Standard Edition is intended for managing physical hosts, but supports up to two operating system environments or Hyper-V containers (plus an unlimited number of Windows Server containers). System Center 2016 Standard Edition lists for $1,323.

System Center 2016 Datacenter Edition supports an unlimited number of operating system environments, Hyper-V containers, and Windows Server containers. As such, Datacenter Edition will typically be the only practical choice for organizations that want to use Virtual Machine Manager to manage Hyper-V. System Center 2016 Datacenter Edition retails for $3,607. System Center 2016 licensing is based on cores rather than processors. The prices listed here assume the use of a 16-core, two-processor server.

At a Glance
  • System Center 2016 Virtual Machine Manager is great for deploying and managing Windows Server 2016 hosts and VMs, but proved buggy with Hyper-V 2012 R2.


    • Does a good job of supporting the new features in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V
    • The console will be immediately familiar to users of VMM 2012
    • Supports some Windows Server OS-level features such as Storage Spaces Direct
    • Adds bare-metal deployment capabilities


    • Contains bugs that make it difficult to work with legacy Hyper-V hosts
    • Offers relatively little that is new beyond adding support for features introduced in Windows Server 2016 and Hyper-V 2016

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