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When to choose VMware vCenter appliance vs. a Windows install

There are distinct advantages and limitations administrators should consider when deciding whether to use the virtual appliance version of vCenter.

VMware vCenter has become the centerpiece to your virtual infrastructure and is now a required component of any...

software-defined data center

The product has continued to grow and mature, with one of the biggest changes being the ability to use an internal database to scale up to larger installations. This capability makes vCenter even easier to deploy because it no longer requires the external connection. A few years ago, VMware introduced a Linux-based appliance version of vCenter designed to simplify deployment and management. As with anything new, the first versions were a little shaky. However, the appliance has matured and can now support small businesses to enterprises and everything in between. However, the question still remains: Do you install the virtual appliance or the Windows-based version? This is not an easy decision, as there are many factors to consider. Let's weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Scalability support

Both the Linux virtual appliance and the Windows version can scale up to the same number of hosts and VMs with the embedded database. However, a key difference comes into play if you choose to use an external database instead of the internal one. The virtual appliance supports Oracle, while the Windows version supports Oracle or SQL. Keep in mind, officially Oracle is not supported on VMware, according to Oracle. The only hypervisor that Oracle officially supports is its own. If you are using an external database with the virtual appliance, your choices then become Oracle on physical hardware or in a separate Oracle virtualized environment. However, when you look at the Windows environment you have the same situation with Oracle, but VMware officially supports Microsoft SQL, so that gives you an option that can extend beyond the embedded database without the support concerns.

Winner: Windows-based vCenter installation

Installation process

Any Windows installation is going to pale when compared to the ease of deploying a virtual appliance. While the Windows install is really just a string of clicking multiple "next" boxes, the appliance still holds an edge on the installation process. However, the platform is a different story. The vCenter appliance must be deployed in a virtual environment. The appliance can be shared with your existing virtual environment or placed in a dedicated virtualized management environment. With the Windows installation, it can be placed into a physical environment or in a virtual environment. With physical environments shrinking, virtualization is going to be the ideal platform.

Winner: VMware vCenter Appliance

Maintenance and support

Both installation models of vCenter require very little maintenance once installed. Both products have the ability to start and restart the services through a Web browser or Windows services. The real difference isn't vCenter itself, it's the operating system it resides on.

Linux has enjoyed a reputation of stability over Windows, however Windows has a much larger install base. While one could argue over which is truly better, the simple fact is that Windows' larger install base translates into a larger base of support. This ranges from the number of admins and depth of knowledge available to supporting materials (blog posts, whitepapers, among others). If you are going to be calling VMware for all of your technical support, it may not matter as much. However, if you would like your support staff to have some involvement in the process, Windows will most likely be your choice.

Winner: Windows-based vCenter installation

The cost factor

VMware is very quick to point out that the appliance version of vCenter does not require a Windows license. This is true, and as anyone knows, Windows is not free. However, if you are running it as a VM, a Windows Server Datacenter license (with unlimited VMs) can make the cost aspect a moot point. However, the argument and point does exist, and we need to pick a winner.

Winner: VMware vCenter Appliance

Overall winner

At a 50/50 split between scalability and support against installation and cost, the winner is not so clear. Both the appliance and Windows install have merit. However, the value of that merit depends on the environment each is being used in. For heavy Windows shops with existing data center licensing, it makes sense to look at the Windows version. For organizations with existing Oracle servers or Linux experience, the appliance version could make more sense.

I have used both and found both to respond equally well. From a client side, it is next to impossible to tell the difference. With the function being equal, it comes down to what is most comfortable for your admins and makes the most sense for your organization.

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This was last published in October 2015

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Do you use a Window-based installation or a vCenter appliance?
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The VCSA is great for DR testing as it substantially decreases RTO, and is a better choice for smaller environments regardless of the IT shop's orientation.  ESXi is customized Linux, so to argue "we are a MS shop" is a mute point, you don't need to be a Linux guru to support vSphere so why should you need to be one to support the VCSA?   There is a less chance of hack attack when using the VCSA, and less reboots \ downtime for maintenance.  Larger shops should look to either leveraging the VCSA w external DB or stick with the windows version with external DB. 
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In fact, to add, we use both the VCSA and the windows version.. it all depends on where its needed and what you using it for.
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Still need a windoz license to install vum and you must download the entire vim about 3GB just to install vum if your running the vcsa, kinda a pain. i still choose the linux version as updates to vCenter are built in
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There is the point about vSphere Update Manager not working on Linux... That's a point for Windows in my book...
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