VSphere license options for solution providers: FAQ

Become familiar with the different VSphere license options that will appeal to both SMB and enterprise customers, as well as possible license limitations to keep in mind.

A solution provider should have specific information on VSphere license editions and options so they can point their customers in the right directions when making a final decision. There are a number of different variables and requirements to consider during this process. VSphere expert Eric Siebert goes through each of the vSphere licensing editions and a few potential limitations in this FAQ.

Licensing costs play a critical role in this process, so it's important that you read the role that vCenter Server plays in vSphere licensing before you convince either a SMB or enterprise customer to choose a certain edition.

Read what's new with vSphere editions and features for solution providers in part two of this FAQ.


What is the common vSphere licensing method?
What are the limitations with the free version of ESXi that VMware offers?
VCenter Server is very expensive to license, do my customers need it?
Can you list the vSphere license editions?
About the expert


1. What is the common vSphere licensing method?

VSphere has always been licensed according to the number of physical CPUs occupying a socket in your customer's server. There was no limit to the amount of cores that a CPU had in the past, but now that the core counts per CPU have increased over the years VMware has changed its license model. The limit is now six cores per CPU. All editions have a six-core limit per CPU except for the Advanced and Enterprise Plus editions, which allow up to 12 cores per CPU.

But this is considered a soft limit, and the server will continue to function normally if it exceeds the core limit that it is licensed for. To meet the EULA compliance solution providers will need to disable the extra cores in the servers BIOS or purchase the right size license for the host. A hypothetical CPU that supports more than 12 cores would still function properly, but to match or exceed the CPU core total and achieve compliance you need to purchase two licenses.

VMware will most likely adjust their product licensing if that were to occur to meet the needs of any future CPU models with more than 12 cores.


2. What are the limitations with the free version of ESXi that VMware offers?

The free version that was recently renamed vSphere Hypervisor has none of the advanced features that the other vSphere versions have, with the exception of thin-provisioned disks. Because the free version does not include a vCenter Server agent, it cannot be centrally managed. In addition the API has been crippled and is "read only" to limit the ability of third-party tools to integrate and manage it. The free version is only really meant for evaluation purposes and was offered in response to Microsoft's Hyper-V give away. VMware offers a free edition of ESXi, but not ESX.


3. VCenter Server is very expensive to license, do my customers need it?

Your customers will need vCenter Server to use almost all of the advanced features of vSphere such as High Availability, VMotion and Host Profiles. Without a vCenter Server your customers also cannot centrally manage your hosts and must connect to them individually using the vSphere Client.

To help offset the expensive cost of vCenter Server for smaller environments, VMware has released three editions of vCenter Server: Essentials, Foundation and Standard. The Essentials edition of vCenter Server is limited to only managing up to three Essentials licensed vSphere hosts. The Foundations edition can manage up to a total of six host CPUs, and this can be any combination of hosts/CPUs whether it's three hosts with two CPUs or six hosts with one CPU. The Foundations edition can manage any Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus licensed hosts, but cannot manage hosts with Essentials licenses. The Standard edition is similar to the Foundations edition except that it has no limit on the number of hosts that can be managed, and is the most expensive edition to license.

One exception to these rules and limits is a special host license called Essentials/Essentials Plus for Remote Branch Offices (ROBOs) that allows a host to be managed by a Standard vCenter Server instead of the limited Essentials version of vCenter Server.


4. Can you list the vSphere license editions?

VMware split vSphere licensing into two tiers, one focused on the SMB market and the other on the enterprise market. The SMB tier includes the Essentials and Essentials Plus editions, which are bundles that are limited to three host servers with up to two CPU sockets. This tier also includes a vCenter Server edition that can only manage the hosts in the Essentials bundle.

The Enterprise tier includes the Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus editions that support the more advanced features of vSphere (e.g., Fault Tolerance, vShield Zones, Host Profiles, and Distributed Resource Scheduler). All the licensed editions include a vCenter Server agent and can be managed by a vCenter Server.


About the expert
Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran whose primary focus is VMware virtualization and Windows server administration. He is one of the 300 vExperts named by VMware Inc. for 2009. He is the author of the book
VI3 Implementation and Administration and a frequent TechTarget contributor. In addition, he maintains vSphere-land.com, a VMware information site.

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