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VSphere 5 licensing furor calms down, but problems remain

Most users now realize that the new VMware vSphere 5 licensing model will be about the same price-wise, but it will affect how they use some beneficial features in vSphere.

Now that the initial shock and confusion has worn off, it seems the new VMware vSphere 5 licensing model won’t add costs for most shops, users and partners said. But that doesn’t mean everything’s peachy.

Instead of being based on physical CPUs and physical RAM per server, vSphere 5 will go to a per-CPU model, with a maximum amount of virtual RAM (vRAM) per license, based on the specific edition. VMware said the vSphere 5 licensing will not change costs for 95% of its customers, but some said it will affect their consolidation ratios and use of advanced features, such as memory overcommit.

VMware has been touting memory overcommitment. Now you’re penalized for using it.

Tom Howarth, consultant

“I did calculations on our environment, and we found that with all the licenses we’ve purchased, I still have a terabyte of vRAM to spare,” said Ed Czerwin, a systems engineer for a large medical devices company near Zurich, Switzerland. “That’s more than enough, and as I buy licenses, as long as I can keep a surplus, I’m happy with it.”

Doing the math on vSphere 5 licensing

The fact that capacity reserved for high availability and disaster recovery doesn’t count against the vRAM limit until those machines are powered on softens the blow.

“[It] sounds horrendous until you realize it includes your N+1 entitlement, including the server or two servers sitting out there waiting for a disaster,” said Tom Howarth, an independent contractor and consultant based in the U.K. “You can also use linked vCenter servers to merge the different vCenters so that all your vRAM is pooled.”

Chris Rima, supervisor of infrastructure systems for a utility in the Southwest, said the new licensing will actually be an improvement. His organization just signed a four year enterprise license agreement with VMware for 212 vSphere Enterprise licenses.

“We’re currently using about 1.6 TB of assigned vRAM,” Rima said. “The new licensing model for 212 Enterprise licenses, with each license equating to 32 GB of assigned vRAM, would give us a vPool of about 6.7 TB. So the vRAM licensing model effectively doubles the number of vRAM entitlements based on the licenses we just bought.”

The business effects of vSphere 5 licensing

Despite the benefits that organizations such as Rima’s may realize, few users will pay less under the vSphere 5 licensing model -- especially as server hardware continues to get beefier.

Jay Weinshenker, owner of Austin, Texas-based Weinshenker Consulting, described a client that was looking to reduce its number of vSphere hosts from 16 to seven prior to the vSphere 5 launch.

“Under vSphere 4 licensing, these hardware changes would have allowed the client to reduce their vSphere licensing from 30 Enterprise Plus licenses down to 12 Enterprise Plus licenses,” Weinshenker said in an email. “If the client were to follow this same licensing under the proposed vSphere 5 vRAM licensing, utilizing all RAM on all hosts would require approximately 20 Enterprise Plus licenses.”

This client runs a lot of Oracle, which licenses its software per CPU core, and can still save on hardware costs by going with fewer servers, so the new vSphere 5 licensing did not change the scale-up plans. But it will reduce the overall cost savings the client originally expected to achieve by cutting out hardware, Weinshenker said.

And in some cases, the vSphere 5 licensing will mean higher costs. An engineer for a telco in the Midwest said he would have to purchase extra licenses if he were to upgrade. His newly installed ESX 4.1 server farm uses quad-socket servers with 256 GB of RAM, running vSphere Enterprise Plus.Under vSphere 4.1, the entire cluster can be utilized with existing licenses.

“Going to 5.x would mean 18 sockets of purchase necessary to fully support a 3+1 architecture using all resources, as opposed to the 16 I would need under 4.1,” he wrote in an email. “Anger: no. Understanding: yes. Business impact: yes.”

Limiting virtualization’s value?

Some observers said the new pricing philosophy runs counter to the value propositions that VMware previously touted, based on squeezing every last drop of value out of the underlying physical hardware.

“If you’ve overcommitted your memory on your powered-on machines, it will affect you,” Howarth said. “That’s irritating, because VMware for the last six years have been touting memory overcommitment as a benefit of ESX over other hypervisors. They’ve also been touting their transparent page sharing (TPS) mechanism that saves physical memory, and now you’re being penalized for using it.”

(In response, VMware principal architect Duncan Epping said that using TPS still brings cost savings, even though it does not change the amount of vRAM needed to run virtual machines (VMs), because it reduces the amount of physical memory and number of hosts required to run those VMs.)

VSphere 5 licensing may also make it difficult to take advantage of the new scalability of vSphere 5 VMs, which can now use up to 32 vCPUs and up to 1 TB of RAM, Czerwin said.

“Aside from the licensing, we could virtualize our biggest SAP server at this point,” he said. ”I guess time will tell.”

Other users said they’ll take another look at VMware’s competitors because of the vSphere 5 licensing changes.

“I’m not happy with [the new] pricing, and I’m actively looking at alternatives,” said a CIO for a state agency on the East Coast.

The agency’s standard guest has 8 GB of memory allocated, and the physical servers have 128 GB of physical memory.

“VMware’s licensing allows me only six guests per physical socket, no matter the cores,” the CIO said. “Do you think Microsoft’s memory [entitlements] are going down?”

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

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