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VMware remote office licensing: a long and winding road from Norway to the UK

A blog post caught my eye a couple of weeks ago, at, concerning the author’s struggles to affordably license vSphere at remote “office” locations (actually shipping vessels).

“After investigating a bit,” the blogger wrote,

it seems that I would need to buy VMware vSphere Standard licenses for all the vessels to be able to get what I want.

For 20 vessels, with the standard pricing available on, inclusive 1 year support, we come up with this (all prices in USD)

Hosts vSphere Standard
License Cost incl. Support
Total Cost
20 1318 26360

In effect, this means that I would need to pay $26360.- USD to be able to get my vSphere Hypervisor hosts connected to my existing vCenter. That simply isn’t feasible in the current situation.

So, this intrepid reporter immediately sprang into action, tracking down this vNinja character, who turned out to be Christian Mohn, network manager for SeaTrans, a Norwegian shipping company. The company’s central IT department was charged with deploying and maintaining single servers on the company’s fleet of 20 vessels.

He wanted to use vSphere Hypervisor, the free edition, on each of the vessels’ servers, since even features like vMotion weren’t necessary in these single-server environments — the goal here was centralized manageability.

But according to his understanding, there wasn’t a way to simply connect the free vSphere instances to his existing Essentials Plus vCenter at headquarters without shelling for licenses at the remote locations.

In the days that followed Mohn’s blog post, fellow vExperts around the Web came to his aid, suggesting Veeam Monitor as a means of keeping track of what was happening aboard ship. OpenNMS even came up in conversation with other users. One VMware employee on Twitter said “I agree we should have a ‘connector’ option.” (The Tweet has since been deleted.)

Mohn went so far as to test Veeam monitor over the satellite links his company uses to communicate with ships. “It worked brilliantly,” he said.

Initially, no one mentioned (or seemed to be aware of) VMware’s vSphere Essentials for Retail and Branch Offices. It was only when I was discussing Mohn’s predicament in a news meeting that another editor on our staff, Alex Barrett, remembered having heard about that edition of the vSphere Essentials license.

I sent the information back to Mohn, who said he hadn’t been informed of this option previously. In fact, it took another series of go-rounds between me, Mohn, and VMware to straighten out what the actual pricing should be for his environment (and it didn’t help that pricing for vSphere Essentials for Retail and Branch Offices had not yet been updated to the new vSphere 4.1 price of $599 per socket on VMware’s website).

In the end, this is how it turned out:

20 x VMware Essentials for Retail and Branch Office with 1 yr of Basic SnS   $599 ($495 + 21% for Basic SnS) = $11980

For the first year, and then

20 x Basic SNS $100 =  $2000 for each consecutive year after that.

“This makes a whole lot more sense to us price wise, even if it still costs a fair amount of money,” Mohn wrote in one of our many follow-up emails. “At least this looks feasible.”

Meanwhile, back when we thought Mohn’s initial calculations were his only option, I bounced the idea off another IT expert, Chris Dearden, a U.K.-based senior hosting center engineer for one of the world’s largest accountancy and professional services firms. Dearden said he was running into a similar issue evaluating a deployment of desktop virtualization products from Kaviza.

“Should we decide to roll it out,” he wrote to me in an email, “we’ll still have to purchase some [VMware] licences for it a) due to a couple of restrictions on the API – needs read/write access and b) we would need to have a view of standalone hosts within vCenter for reporting / monitoring purposes.”

He pointed out that Kaviza takes licensing vSphere at the standard level into its publicly released pricing estimates — to the tune of $50 per desktop. But he’s still willing to go through with this licensing scheme if he decides to deploy Kaviza, since it would still cost less in his estimates than VMware’s View desktop virtualization product.

“As an interesting aside,” Dearden added, “You can run Kaviza on the free version of Xen Server without any problems, [and] I’d imagine you’ll be able to do the same on Hyper-V when they release the next version or so.”

After churning through all this muddy water, two things are clear: vSphere Essentials for Retail and Branch Offices may be the best-kept non-secret in the VMware marketplace, and the cost of licensing for remote office deployments is an area VMware may be becoming vulnerable to competitors.

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