VMware offers dozens of products, but at its core is vSphere, its virtualization platform, and vCenter Server, its management family. Understanding VMware's vSphere and vCenter licensing is critical to determining whether VMware virtualization is right for an organization.
In total, IT organizations can choose between six VMware vSphere editions, or bundles, and one free product. The paid editions can be configured with a customer's choice of the full ESX hypervisor, or the "light" ESXi. The free edition is available only with ESXi.
Free VMware ESXi
With a zero-dollar price tag, VMware's free ESXi offering is a compelling option for organizations just trying virtualization. VMware's free ESXi can be easily downloaded directly from the VMware Web site, and users can readily upgrade to a vSphere edition as their needs dictate.
The hypervisor included in the VMWare free ESXi download is the same as that in paid versions of vSphere. The free ESXi is available for hosts with an unlimited number of processors of up to six cores, and for hosts with a maximum of 256 GB of RAM. There is no limit to the number of virtual machines that can run on a free ESXi host.
Free VMWare ESXi does, however, come with several restrictions. It is designated as single server, so administrators cannot use the VMware vSphere Client to manage more than one ESXi host at a time. The reason for this restriction is that ESXi does not include the vCenter Agent, and that its application programming interfaces (APIs) are read-only and cannot be executed against. The restriction also precludes third-party scripts from changing ESXi hypervisor settings.
Upgrading a free ESXi host to a vSphere license enables the vCenter Agent and unlocks the ESXi APIs, enabling management via management interfaces such as vCLI, vMA, PERL Toolkit, PowerShell Toolkit and others.
Support for free ESXi is available through self-service Web offerings per incident, or annually. Per-incident email and phone support is $299 per single incident, $749 for three incidents per year, and $1,149 for five incidents. Annual support is available starting at $249 per processor for Gold (business hours), or $298 for Platinum (24/7), with a minimum purchase of two processors.
VSphere Essentials for SMBs
For SMBs, VMware offers the Essentials and Essentials Plus bundles, for $495 and $3,495, respectively. Both bundles provide ESX or ESXi for up to three two-processor servers, where each processor may not have more than six cores. Groups of more than three hosts licensed with Essentials or Essentials Plus cannot be managed in the same vCenter cluster. Features of the Essentials bundle include a choice of ESX/ESXi, VMware vStorage Virtual Machine File System (VMFS), support for four vCPUs, the vCenter Server Agent, vStorage APIs/VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB), vCenter Update Manager, and vCenter for Essentials. The Essentials bundle includes a one-year subscription; support is offered on a per-incident basis.
The Essentials Plus bundle builds on those features and adds vMotion, VMware High Availability (HA) and VMware Data Recovery. Unlike Essentials, Essentials Plus requires the purchase of at least one year of support and subscription services (SnS), purchased separately.
VSphere for the Enterprise
All VMware's enterprise vSphere editions are licensed per processor, where a processor can have either up to six or up to12 cores, depending on the edition. VMware places no restrictions on the number and kind of virtual machines (VMs) that can be hosted on a server, but it does require the purchase of at least one year of SnS per license.
VSphere Standard Edition includes a choice of ESX or ESXi, VMFS, four-way virtual SMP (vCPUs), the vCenter Server Agent, the vStorage APIs or VCB, vCenter Update Manager, vMotion, VMware HA, and vStorage Thin Provisioning. It is priced at $995 per processor and is available for hosts with up to six-core processors and up to 256 GB of RAM.
VSphere Advanced Edition builds on Standard Edition with the addition of VMotion, hot-add, Fault Tolerance, Data Recovery and vShield Zones. It is priced at $2,245 per processor, and can support systems with up to 12-core processors and 256 GB of RAM.
VSphere Enterprise Edition builds on Advanced Edition with the addition of Storage VMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), and Distributed Power Management (DPM). It is priced at $2,875 per processor and supports systems with up to six-core processors and up to 256 GB of RAM.
VSphere Enterprise Plus Edition includes all the features of the lesser editions, plus Host Profiles and the vNetwork Distributed Switch. It can be purchased for $3,495 per processor, with support for up to 12 cores per processor with no limit on RAM. For $3,995, it can also include the Cisco Nexus 1000V virtual switch.
Managing vSphere with vCenter Server
VCenter Server provides a centralized vSphere management console from which administrators can configure, provision, monitor, troubleshoot and update their virtual environment. It also a prerequisite for many other VMware and third-party management products and is thus a de facto requirement for most VMware environments.
There are three vCenter Server editions: the version included in the vSphere Essentials bundles, vCenter Server Foundation, which provides management for up to three servers for $1,495, and vCenter Server Standard, which is priced at $4,995 but does not impose limits on the number of hosts it can manage.
The following features are included across these three vCenter Server offerings for managing vSphere: a management server, a database server, a search engine, the vSphere Client, the Web Access portal, and vCenter APIs and a .NET extension to provide remote access and integration with other systems.
VCenter Server Standard adds two advanced features for managing vSphere: vCenter Server Linked Mode, for connecting multiple vCenter instances, and vCenter Server Orchestrator, for automating the environment.
As with vSphere, VMware imposes a minimum of one year of SnS on all vCenter licenses.
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