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VMware vSphere 5 licensing sets virtual RAM limits

Some VMware users are up in arms about the new vSphere 5 licensing and pricing, which is based on the amount of memory assigned to VMs.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware’s new vSphere 5 licensing and pricing scheme is causing a kerfuffle among users, who fear they’ll have to pay more and lose flexibility. 

Some people will have problems. It changes the machine-sizing rules.

-Bob Plankers, virtualization architect

Instead of being based on physical CPUs and physical RAM per server, vSphere 5 will go to per-CPU licensing, with a maximum amount of virtual RAM (vRAM) per license, based on the specific vSphere edition.

“It’s going to impact different people different ways,” said Eric Siebert, senior systems administrator for Boston Market Corp. “For larger companies that have big hosts, it’s going to cost them a considerable amount of money to be able to upgrade their licenses. … I think it’s going to really force people to sit down and maybe rearchitect their environments. Rightsizing your VMs is going to be really important now. You can’t afford to waste memory anymore.”

Here are the memory limits, which VMware calls entitlements, and prices for each vSphere 5 edition:

  • VSphere 5 Standard Edition: 24 GB per $995 license
  • VSphere 5 Enterprise Edition: 32 GB per $2,875 license
  • VSphere 5 Enterprise Plus: 48 GB per $3,495 license

VRAM capacity can only be shared among servers licensed with the same vSphere Edition. Initially, at least, memory entitlements are what VMware calls “soft limits”; using more memory than is licensed in the vRAM pool won’t prevent a virtual machine (VM) from powering on.

VSphere 5 licensing changes user approach
The vSphere 5 licensing change remove licensing restrictions based on physical cores and memory, and VMware said it is more in-line with a cloud-like pay-per-use model. But it will require users to buy multiple CPU licenses if the amount of memory in use exceeds the limits.

“It seems like customers will have to do some re-evaluation of their infrastructure and what VMs are running in it now, and it may cause a bit of a slower adoption [of vSphere 5],” said Ed Czerwin, a systems engineer for a large medical devices company near Zurich, Switzerland. “It might account for lower consolidation ratios in the future.”

IT consultant Andrew Storrs said the new licensing “throws a wrench” into some in-progress vSphere projects.

“The challenge I’m facing is that I have two designs in the works with two clients, both based on greater than 96 gigabytes of memory per two sockets,” he said. “If I’d known this months ago, I would have brought in completely different hardware.”

Meanwhile, the potentially increased cost of highly consolidated workloads could give VMware’s competitors a foot in the door. Storrs said the licensing changes led to a conversation about Microsoft Hyper-V with a client that has been using VMware for the last five years. Previously, the cost debate about the free Microsoft hypervisor “was moot after about 20 hosts,” because Hyper-V’s memory management features didn’t allow as much consolidation, Storrs said.

“It was an easy argument,” he added. “It’s a bit trickier now.”

After vSphere 5 licensing shock, acceptance
Some users who have had more time to study the new vSphere 5 licensing said they were able to see reason in the licensing updates -- once the initial shock wore off.

“It’s like the five stages of grief, except for licensing,” said Bob Plankers, a virtualization architect for a large Midwestern university. “Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance.”

Getting to acceptance has come from “actually doing the math, knowing that at my license level, Enterprise Plus, each socket is going to be able to access 48 gigabytes of RAM, and knowing also that it’s not about physical RAM, it’s about allocated RAM to VMs,” Plankers said. “So it doesn’t matter if your host has got 256 gigabytes of RAM and two sockets. What VMs are running on it?”

Plankers said he ran a report using vCenter to see how much memory was allocated to existing applications in his infrastructure, and found the change won’t have a material effect on his costs. But he conceded that different users’ mileage will vary.

“Some people will have problems with this,” he said. “It definitely changes the machine-sizing rules now.”

In some ways, users are paying for the freebie they got moving from Virtual Infrastructure 3 to vSphere 4 two years ago, Gartner analyst Chris Wolf said. At the time, many users moved from dual-core to quad-core processors, “and they were able to expand capacity, and not have to pay VMware an extra cent for licensing,” Wolf said.

With this update, “[VMware] is not going to leave anything on the table anymore, in terms of licensing revenue,” he added

It could be worse, Siebert said.

“I think it’s probably more fair than doing per-VM [pricing],” he said.

Still, Siebert said he would like to see more flexible options made available for adding more memory to existing environments.

“I don’t think buying a whole other processor license is a good way of doing it,” he added. “I think if they implemented some sort of memory packs to add to your existing licensing, it probably would be a little bit more palatable for people.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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Hardly acceptance. More like waiting for Hyper-V to get 'good enough' to switch