Uncovering the Differences Between VMware ESXi (Free) and VMware vSphere Essentials – Part 1

Uncovering the Differences Between VMware ESXi (Free) and VMware vSphere Essentials – Part 1

When it comes to understanding the differences between VMware ESXi Free and VMware vSphere Essentials, it is important to understand how the different functionality applies to your current server setup. So, to shed some light on this, in this first part of a two-part blog series, I will spell out those differences in greater detail so you can get a better idea of how the levels of licensing best suit you.

Free Is Free, Right?

As the title of this section states, there is no better differentiator than the price itself. Anyone that states that cost doesn’t have an impact on their decision-making process is being slightly more than economical with the truth!

VMware ESXi Free is the same code as VMware’s paid hypervisor. The major difference is in the license key, which switches on and off some of the functionality, so it means it is just one piece of software and there is no need to download anything additional. If you want to go from the free version to the paid version, the only you need to do is purchase and enter the license key, and you can use all of the features.

The free version is typically deployed on just one server. You can have up to 100 servers with the same license key, but there’s no unified management. So, it means each server is managed on its own, and you do not get the advantages of a single pane of glass administration interface. If you want to do something on a server, you have to log into the server directly. And if you want to transfer one virtual machine from one physical server to another, it’s a bit of a hassle! You have to shut it down and copy it over the network, and it takes a long time. But it is a very stable product, the free version is just as robust as the paid one. But with some of the features not available unless you pay for them, you could be losing out.

What Do I Get for My Money?

One of the functionalities you get when you pay is, as I already touched upon, the management. And another feature is the backup API (application programming interface). So if you want to back up virtual machines on the free hypervisor, you can’t use VMcom, you can’t use any backup solution that is targeted at VMware. Instead, you have to install software inside every virtual machine and back up the virtual machines just as you would a physical host. So, it’s the old-fashioned, traditional way of using Windows backup.

Can I Get Away with Just the Free Version?

If you are a small company with just one server, the free version is the perfect fit. Especially if you do not want to invest that much money into expanding your IT infrastructure at the moment. You get the same availability for virtual machines as you would get with a physical server. And if the physical server breaks down and the disk or the power source fails, all the virtual machines fail too and you have to fix the physical host and then you can power them back on. As you can see, it’s really a starting package. Yes, as I said it’s free, it’s robust, but you are really missing all those bells and whistles.

But I want to Try Before I Buy!

For evaluation purposes, when you download the hypervisor, ESXi, you get 60 days of the full-featured hypervisor. It’s just as if you bought the highest edition, Enterprise Plus, you get all the features. And after 60 days, the evaluation ends, and you have the option to buy the product. And if you don’t want to invest in VMware, you can enter the free version license key, which will disable some of the features, and you get the free version. But if you do not register on their website to obtain the free license version key, you cannot continue to use it.

How Quickly Can I Set Up the Environment to Check Its Suitability?

You can install VMware in a few hours to get it fully operational, and then it’s up to you. If you have just one server, you can be up and running in one day. If you want something more complex, it’s going to take a week. But 60 days is generous enough and it’s more than most vendors. It shows their confidence in the product. You get two months, and in reality, after, or even during, this period, you will probably decide to buy it.

You are fully supported as well by the documentation during this evaluation period, but unless you pay, that’s where the support ends. So, if you run into any problems, you have no one to call. But they have very nice forums online, which you can use. But as the product is quite simple to use, it doesn’t have that many features. It is only the API, and they are usually quite complex, but that is disabled in the free version. This means there is not that much to study.

Now that you have a better understanding of these differences, in the next part, I will go a little deeper into the other types of paid licenses and what they bring. In the meantime, I would love to know your experience with VMware or any comments or questions you might have about the points I have raised in this article, please write them below. So, until the next part