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VMware for small business deployments becomes more realistic

An expensive upgrade path often limited VMware SMB deployments, but recent price shifts are making it easier for SMBs to expand their usage of VMware's ecosystem.

VMware offers an Essentials Kit for vSphere, which is a good starting point for small businesses looking to adopt...

the VMware ecosystem. However, until recently, an expensive upgrade path limited further adoption. New prices indicate that VMware for small business deployments might become more feasible.

The VMware Essentials Kit has long been the entry point into the VMware ecosystem for SMBs. Designed to enable small organizations to use three dual-socket servers as VMware hosts, the Essentials Kit has always been cheaper than other VMware offerings.

The entry-level Essentials Kit costs $495. This comes with a vSphere Essentials server, which enables administrators to manage all three Essentials licensed hosts, but that's all it includes. The entry-level Essentials Kit doesn't come with vMotion or any of the other features that make the VMware system worthwhile.

The Essentials Plus Kit costs $4,495. It's the cheapest VMware service that enables administrators to use the basic, expected features of virtual infrastructures. Like the Essentials Kit, the Essentials Plus Kit supports three dual-socket hosts, but it also includes vMotion, High Availability, Data Protection, vShield Endpoint and vSphere Replication.

Despite other options, such as KVM-based services and comparable Hyper-V features, many administrators and organizations turn to VMware for small business because VMware was the pioneer of virtual environments, and its virtualization ecosystem still dwarfs that of any of its competitors.

VMware offers a vSphere Acceleration Kit in addition to its Essential Kit. Like the Essentials Kit, the vSphere Acceleration Kit supports three dual-socket hosts and provides a license for one instance of vCenter Server Standard. Unlike the Essentials Kit, the Acceleration Kit ships with a full version of vCenter Server, which enables administrators to add hosts.

A vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit with licenses for three hosts and one vCenter Server costs $11,350 -- $6,855 more than the Essentials Plus Kit. The only major feature advantage a vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit has over Essentials Plus is that it includes a full vCenter Server, which VMware values at $6,175.

There's still a discrepancy of about $700 between the cost of a vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit and the cost of an Essentials Plus Kit combined with the cost of a full vCenter Server.

Unlike the Essentials Kit -- and the early 4.x Acceleration Kit -- the 5.x and later Acceleration Kit is just a single SKU for multiple products. The Essentials Kit is actually a single entity. The Accelerations Kit separates into individual Kit components after purchase.

The hidden flaw in the Essentials Kit in the past was that it didn't have an upgrade path.

The hidden flaw in the Essentials Kit in the past was that it didn't have an upgrade path. If administrators wanted to add a fourth host to an Essentials Kit, then they would have had to relicense all the hosts for vSphere Standard. A vCenter Server would also require licensing.

Administrators seeking to adopt VMware for small business settings could buy the vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit, but there was no true upgrade path: the full price would have to be paid. Adding that fourth node became a steep price increase for Essentials customers, but there are signs that this is changing.

Price shifts indicate improved upgradability

Though not prominently advertised or discussed, VMware doesn't offer SKUs that enable SMBs to upgrade their Essentials Plus Kit to a vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit. The SKU for the Standard Acceleration Kit is VS6-ESP-STD-AK-UG-C, and it is available for $7,563.99 on CDW LLC, a technology services provider.

VMware doesn't display an official price on its website, and CDW prices are usually above manufacturer's suggested retail price in their advertised pricing. The $7,563.99 price point is relatively close to the $6,855 difference in price between an Essentials Plus Kit and a vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit, which indicates VMware might be looking to offer SMB customers a more practical upgrade path.

CDW isn't the only place this upgrade path can be found. VMware has mentioned that an official upgrade path from the Essentials Plus Kit to the vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit exists. The SKU can be found in VMware's vSAN promotions, though without pricing.

With this upgrade path, an SMB seeking to add a fourth host to its Essentials Plus Kit must still pay about $7,500 to upgrade to a vSphere Standard Acceleration Kit, in addition to the two payments of $995.00 for single CPU vSphere Standard licenses for the fourth host. This total of about $9,500 is a tough price to justify for the addition of a fourth host, but it's better than the previous $13,500 price.

There is still a long way to go before VMware's upgrade paths are easy to accept for SMBs, but years of critiques appear to have convinced VMware to some degree.

In the meantime, however, the new upgrade path makes the Essentials Kit a viable option for administrators looking to get started with VMware for small business deployments.

This was last published in April 2018

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How else can VMware SMB deployments be made easier?
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Well, this is a broad question, and one that would take a lot more to answer than I am entirely comfortable with pre-coffee.  So here's the TL;DR version:

VMware needs to be able to deliver the feature list of Nodeweaver at a price point for 3 nodes that is cost-competitive with Scale Computing.  For hardware *and* software.  They can jack the prices up after three nodes, if they still think that's wise (it's not), but they need to provide a much smoother transition from the three node world to the fourth node and beyond.

VMware's recent changes have helped, but it's still nowhere close to cost-competitive with the SMB and midmarket virtualization solutions that are actually selling (like Scale Computing).  

All of the above said, I don't believe that VMware needs to go full "free" on their hypervisor.  Religious devotion of Redmondian True Believers aside, most organizations are willing to pay for quality software, and an organization they can (mostly) trust.  Microsoft has shown us all that "free" usually means one gets what one pays for, and the lock-in to an untrustworthy vendor is never worth it.

Given VMware's recent obsession with retreading each and every one of Microsoft's mistakes since about the mid-2000s, I'm not entirely sure that we're likely to see any additional movement on their behalf to reach out to SMBs, however.
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I found the use of "conditional" in your sentences, to be polite and too cautious. For small businesses, VMWare is entirely dead. It has been kicked and wiped out of the SMB market here in the province of Quebec, to a point it is getting hard to find VMWare resources. Small IT shops now sells Hyper-V. Period. No matter what features are missing. They will not pay or send any of their tech to attend formations or shows. IT resources fro that market tend to have grey or white hairs. VMWare is done with small business market, and have become "Netware reborn". VMWare is for 1000 desktops and above. Otherwise, they are dead, impossible to justify, and irrelevant.
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Hi Temporarytech, I must say that I feel that your response is indicative less of reality and more of a personal axe to grind.  I have clients across Canada that are clearly SMB, using VMware, and would string me up by my nethers if I tried to introduce anything else.

First off: Microsoft isn't trusted.  While I am aware that they have a few religious devotees (perhaps you one such acolyte?) their missteps over the past decade have poisoned the customer relationship in most instances.  None of the organizations I know, personally, are willing to use their hypervisor, or their cloud.  And they only use Microsoft's OS because of lock-in.  Their name is mud, and they are as hated as Oracle.

What I do see is a lot of KVM entering this space.  Scale Computing is doing great, especially in Canada.  Nodeweaver is picking up here in Canada as well.  There are many SMB options for organizations seeking to refresh their on-premises infrastructure, and thankfully, Microsoft isn't a requirement for anything excepting the OSE for legacy applications.

Fortunately, those applications will be gone soon.
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