VSphere 5.1 licensing changes offer SMBs enterprise-class computing

VMware's new tiers for vSphere 5.1 licensing give SMBs access to enterprise-class virtualization capabilities such as data protection and vMotion.

VMware vSphere 5.1 is an incremental release technologically speaking, but a sea change in tiered licensing. VMware significantly lowered the barrier to enterprise-class features, repositioning technologies and features throughout the licensing lineup. With an entry-level vSphere 5.1 license, SMBs can now compete on the same playing field as large enterprises.

With an entry-level vSphere 5.1 license, SMBs can now compete on the same playing field as large enterprises.

A simpler per-socket licensing scheme has replaced the hotly debated vRAM tax that was the bane of vSphere 5 licensing.

VMware's vSphere 5.1 entry-level line-up includes ESXi Free, VMware Essentials and VMware Essentials Plus.

ESXi Free is a limited hypervisor package intended for test-bed environments, especially within small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that may not have the funds to purchase full vSphere licenses. The hypervisor's free version only supports 32 gigabytes (GB) of physical RAM. If more than 32 GB is present and enabled in the server, the hypervisor will not boot. Once booted, the hypervisor has no vRAM limitation, meaning that you may allocate 128 GB (or any other amount) to your virtual guests, relying on the RAM deduplication within the hypervisor to allow you to overcommit.

The RAM limitation is an important soft-coded limitation on the hypervisor. When first installed, the ESXi hypervisor is in a 60-day trial, making it functionally equivalent to a vSphere Enterprise+ licensed server. In this mode, it supports installed RAM greater than 32 GB. The soft limit goes into effect when you apply the free license. If your system contains more than 32 GB of RAM, your previously functioning server will simply refuse to boot.

VMware Essentials unlocks the hypervisor's RAM limitation, and will cost you $495 with a required first-year support fee of $65. It licenses three dual-socket hosts, and these licenses cannot be split up; you must have three hosts per kit maximum.

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Essentials brings thin provisioning to the table and unlocks the APIs required for third-party applications to work. If you have VMware-centric backup software -- or anything else designed to talk to VMware's APIs -- this is your minimum entry point. The package comes with the vCenter Operations Manager Foundation, a basic version of VMware's management suite.

Organizations will need to license Essentials Plus to get true enterprise-class computing. The license costs $4,495 with requisite one-year support and subscription. Add $944 for Basic ($5,439 total) or $1,124 for Production ($5,619 total).

This spike in system cost from Essentials comes with a bevy of additional features. Essentials Plus gives IT shops the vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA), over $4,000 in added value. VSA unlocks the kits' other features -- High Availability, vMotion, Zones (VM-level firewall), Endpoint (anti-malware integration), Replication and Data Protection -- without a centralized storage prerequisite. If you need active-passive failover, this is your minimum buy-in point.

The vSphere 5.1 suite was an incremental and evolutionary upgrade in the technological sophistication of VMware's offerings. The readjustment of VMware licensing, however, constitutes a meaningful change in approach and tiering. The barrier to enterprise-class high availability and data protection capabilities dropped significantly. With vSphere 5.1 entry-level licenses, SMBs can now truly compete with enterprise IT installations.

This was first published in November 2012

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