VMware licensing FAQ: Navigating View, vCenter and vSphere 5 licensing

VMware has so many licenses for its many products, it can get confusing. We break down vCenter, VMware View and vSphere 5 licensing in this FAQ.

VMware made headlines with the licensing changes in vSphere 5, the latest version of its virtualization platform.

But the new virtual RAM licensing model isn’t the only challenging part of VMware licensing.

VMware admins need to purchase the right virtualization technology licenses for their environment, while staying within their company’s budget. Without the right licenses, you could end up paying more later or sacrificing features you truly need.

VMware began to shift from a per-processor to a per-VM licensing model when it released vSphere 4.1 in 2010. That model applied to the vCenter management line, but vSphere remained per-processor. With vSphere 5, VMware customers are charged based on a combination of physical processors and the amount of memory they assign to virtual machines (VMs).

Of course, vSphere isn’t the only VMware technology you’ll need to license. Learn about VMware licensing for vCenter and VMware View licensing, the vRAM model and more in this FAQ.

What exactly is virtual RAM licensing?

VSphere 5 licensing is a virtual RAM (vRAM) model that charges customers based on memory limits, called entitlements, for each vSphere edition. Users weren’t satisfied with the original virtual RAM limits VMware announced, so the company upped the vRAM entitlements to 32 GB for vSphere 5 Standard, 64 GB for vSphere 5 Enterprise and 96 GB for vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus. (The original limits were 24 GB for the Standard edition, 32 GB for Enterprise and 48 GB for Enterprise Plus.) The following video further explains VMware’s vSphere 5 licensing changes.

How will vSphere 5 licensing changes affect my infrastructure?

With the right planning and resource management, the vSphere 5 licensing changes shouldn’t affect your infrastructure costs too much. Scale-out environments with moderate consolidation ratios will see little effect, because hosts with fewer VMs tend not to overstep their vRAM limits. Larger environments, however, may have scaled up and packed more VMs (each consuming more vRAM) on each host. Those environments may pay a price for upgrading to vSphere 5. Ultimately, the new vSphere 5 licensing model encourages admins to scale out instead of up -- adding more hosts with fewer VMs per machine.

How does vCenter licensing work?

VCenter Server, the management line for the vSphere platform, has its own set of licensing rules -- and it’s a requirement for running any VMware products, so understanding vCenter licensing and how it fits in to the overall vSphere ecosystem is key.

There are three vCenter Server licensing editions, and each offers the following: a management server, a database server, a search engine, the vSphere Client, the Web Access portal, and vCenter APIs and a .NET extension to provide remote access and integration with other systems.

How does VMware View licensing work?

You can purchase VMware View licensing in a bundled model or as an add-on. The bundled version allows you to run the number of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) VMs you purchased, but it also includes licenses for your hosts, plus vCenter Server desktop licenses. With the add-on license, you have to obtain the VMware ESX, ESXi and vCenter licenses separately.

There are also two levels of VMware licensing for View. The Enterprise license allows you to run VMware View Manager and VMware View Connection server. But to run VMware View Composer, the Offline Desktop and ThinApp, you need the Premier version.

Should I upgrade to the vSphere Enterprise Plus license?

VSphere Enterprise Plus is the highest-level licensing tier, released with vSphere 4. It covers every vSphere feature, so upgrading brings lots of benefits over Enterprise, for example Host Profiles, Distributed vSwitches and Network I/O Control (overhauled in vSphere 5). Plus, Enterprise Plus has the highest memory limit of 96 GB. It will cost you to upgrade to Enterprise Plus, but you can save money by bundling your license with the Nexus 1000V virtual switch.

This was first published in January 2012

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