The VMware Hardware Compatibility Guide is more than a shield for VMware support or a marketing splash for compatible vendors -- use it adroitly and you'll avoid wandering into a minefield with your data center's infrastructure.
Hardware, operating systems and applications on the bleeding edge are a minefield of unknown interactions with other software and hardware in an IT infrastructure. Enterprises generally shun these new technologies and deploy only known good products, especially when they interface with something as absolutely vital to ongoing operations as the hypervisor. An ecosystem of hardware compatibility guides (HCGs) supports this cautious approach, so VMware users should familiarize themselves with the VMware Hardware Compatibility Guide.
There's no way for VMware to support every piece of hardware or every combination of components in existence; despite this, VMware must help enterprises with troubleshooting and support if it is to stay in business. VMware started the HCG (initially called the VMware Hardware Compatibility List) with lists of tools and products that work with the VMware hypervisor. The guide has grown more detailed with time and changed from consisting of pages listing product names to an interactive webpage, but the fundamental purpose remains unchanged: to narrow the required scope of support.
The VMware HCG provides a sane middle ground for all parties. VMware works in tandem with other vendors to test their software with different hardware models, versions, etc. The compatibility testing minimizes support burdens for vendors and gives enterprises a seal of approval when they're specifying new equipment to support the VMware infrastructure. VMware, meanwhile, can point to the hardware compatibility guides and say to enterprise customers, "If your hardware isn't in that guide, our support can only possibly be on a best-effort basis; nothing is guaranteed."
More on the VMware HCG
VMware answers FAQs about compatibility
The meaning of "VMware-ready"
Resources for VMware beginners
Considerations beyond the HCG
HCGs are more than a simple convenience or a means by which vendors dodge untenable legal situations; they are a guarantee that the combination of elements supporting your IT infrastructure will work. If VMware's hypervisor doesn't work, then nothing -- not your operating systems nor the applications that run on them -- can be considered reliable either.
To ignore the HCG is to bet your reputation as a systems administrator, your business or employer, as well as the livelihood of every member of your staff and all of your clients on something that hasn't been officially tested. There are cases where that gamble is rational; think of your isolated test lab or home environment. In most cases, however, it is not.
How to use VMware's HCG when you need support
Companies of all sizes benefit from the clarity HCGs provide. If your components are listed on VMware's HCG and you're getting the runaround from the VMware support team, then you have the right to start hollering a little bit louder than normal. If the component involved in your problem isn't in VMware's guide, then you're subject to third-party support rules. The first paragraph on the third-party support page states:
VMware Global Support Services (GSS) will assist customers in problem analysis to determine whether or not the technical issue is related to the third-party hardware or software. In order to isolate the issue, VMware reserves the right to request that the third-party hardware or software be removed.
This sounds pretty ominous, but it is no reason to be discouraged. VMware has a decade of good will earned the hard way. They do not hide behind the legalese wording of their third-party support rules, and the support team wants to make sure that a customer's hardware, OSes and applications work. The support clause exists for those moments when you are trying to do something untested -- and thus not something that VMware can officially support -- and it breaks, but nobody can figure out why.
Best practice regarding HCGs is simple: Use them. Buy hardware and use operating systems that are officially supported wherever possible. If you must use a component that isn't on the HCG, then contact the product's vendor and VMware and see what it might take to get that product on VMware's HCG.