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What features and functions does free vSphere lack?

You can use the free edition of VMware vSphere to build a virtualization platform, but remember, you get what you pay for.

Since its launch, VMware customers have used the free version of vSphere to build powerful virtualization platforms....

But the software has serious shortcomings that make it better suited for small organizations rather than an enterprise.

Naturally, software you pay for offers more. In this case, free vSphere lacks tools and features, such as VMotion, Fault Tolerance and vSAN -- all of which require a minimum of three nodes to run. The limitations of free vSphere fall into two categories: hardware and functionality.

VMware has tried to eliminate the physical restrictions from the free vSphere hypervisor. For example, the memory limitation in vSphere 5 was set to 32 GB. The most current version of ESXi (6.5) has no hardware limitations other than a maximum of two physical CPUs and eight vCPUs per VM. There is no problem using two hex core Xeon processors, 128 GB RAM and a redundant array of independent disks set up on a single machine. Such a machine would be a potent virtualization host, even without any additional licensing.

Most large production environments only use two socket hosts due to the significant cost per socket under the Enterprise license, so it makes the most sense to increase the core count and reduce physical sockets. This also explains why manufacturers began to license per core, rather than per socket.

A server that uses free vSphere can support a large number of VMs. Customers might notice during day-to-day operations that they can't cluster servers or perform a storage VMotion while servers are still active. You can still move VMs between data stores, but it's a more complex process and requires downtime.

Be aware of deal breakers in free vSphere

Built-in monitoring is another feature absent from the free edition of vSphere. This can be an issue, depending on your environment.

This last item might be a deal breaker for some: The free version of vSphere does not offer Active Directory integration. Customers can still have their own account to log in with -- which provides a degree of attribution -- they just need to add users directly to the host.

The full version of vSphere 6.5 has many new features and upgrades to popular tools. Think you know them all? Take this quiz.

I've noticed that, within smaller commercial enterprise spaces, designs from some providers use multiple dual redundant VMs -- one on each host. Load-balancing logic is built into self-healing applications. You can avoid the cost of a more expensive license by keeping two copies of the same data on different hosts.

There are many ways you can leverage the free vSphere to provide useful system setups. While more advanced licenses provide more features and functionality, in many cases, a free license offers a suitable level of performance and utility.

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This was last published in May 2017

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