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25Aug/09Off

Cheap vSphere installation managable by vCenter

UPDATED - I don't mean to turn this into a Vmware blog or a storage blog as those have been almost all of my posts so far, but as someone who works for a company that hasn't yet invested too much in vmware(was hard enough to convince them to buy any VM solution management wanted the free stuff), I wanted to point out that you can get the "basics" of vSphere in the vSphere essentials pack, what used to cost about $3k now is about $999, and support is optional. Not only that but at least in my testing a system running a "essentials" license is fully able to connect and be managed by a vCenter "standard" edition system.

I just wanted to point it out because when I proposed this scenario a month or so ago to my VAR they wanted to call VMware to talk to see if there were any gotchas, and the initial VMWare rep we talked to couldn't find anything that said you could or could not do this specifically but didn't believe there was anything in the product that would block you from managing an "essentials" vSphere host with a "Standard" vCenter server. But he spent what seemed like a week trying to track down a real answer but never got back to us. Then we called in again and got another person who said something similar, he couldn't find anything that would prevent it, but apparently it's not something that has been proposed too widely before. The quote I got from the VAR who was still confused had a note saying that you could not do what I wanted to do, but it does work. Yes we basically throw out the "free" vCenter "foundation" edition, but it's still a lot cheaper then going with vSphere standard:

vSphere Essentials 6 CPUs = Year 1 - $999 with 1 year subscription, support on per incident basis

vSphere Standard 6 CPUs = Year 1 - $6,408 with 1 year subscription, and gold support

Unless you expect to file a lot of support requests that is.

It is true that you get a few extra things with vSphere Standard over Essentials such as "Thin provisioning" and "High availability". In my case thin provisioning is built into the storage, so I don't need that. And High availability isn't that important either as for most things we have more than 1 VM running the app and load balance using real load balancers for fault tolerance(there are exceptions like DB servers etc).

Something that is kind of interesting is that the "free" vSphere supports thin provisioning, I have 11 hosts running that version with local storage at remote sites. Odd that they throw in that with the free license but not with essentials!

The main reason for going this route to me at least is at least you can have a real vCenter server and your systems managed by it, have read-write access to the remote APIs, and of course have the option of running the full hefty ESX instead of using the "thin" ESXI. Myself I prefer the big service console, I know it's going away at some point, but I'll use it while it's there. I have plenty of memory to spare. A good chunk of my production ESX infrastructure is older re-purposed HP DL585G1s with 64GB of memory, they are quad processor, dual core, which makes this licensing option even more attractive for them.

My next goal is to upgrade the infrastructure to HP c-Class blades with either 6 core Opterons or perhaps 12 core when they are out(assuming availability for 2 socket systems), 64GB of memory(the latest HP Istanbul blades have 16 memory slots), 10GbE VirtualConnect and 4Gbps Fiber VirtualConnect, and upgrade to vSphere advanced.  That'll be sometime in 2010 though. There's no software "upgrade" path from essentials to advanced, so I'll just re-purpose essentials to other systems, I have at least 46 sockets in servers running the "free" license as is.

(I still remember how happy I was to pay the $3500 for two socket fee a couple of years ago for ESX "Standard" edition, now it's about 90% less on a per-socket basis for the same abilities)

UPDATE - I haven't done extensive testing yet but during my quick tests before a more recent entry that I posted I wanted to check to see if Essentials could/would boot a VM that was thin provisioned. Since I used storage vMotion to move some VMs over, that would be annoying if it could not. And it just so happens that I already have a VM running on my one Essentials ESX host that is thin provisioned! So it appears the license just limits you on the creation of thinly provisioned virtual disks, not the usage of them, which makes sense. It would be an Oracle-like tactic to do the former. And yes I did power off the VM and power it back on today to verify.  But that's not all - I noticed what seems to be a loop hole in vSphere's licensing, I mention above that vSphere Essentials does not support thin provisioning, as you can see here in their pricing PDF(and there is no mention of the option in the License configuration page on the host). When I create VMs I always use the Custom option, rather than use the Typical configuration. Anyways I found out that if you use Typical when creating a VM with the Essentials license you CAN USE THIN PROVISIONING. I created the disk, enabled the option, and even started the VM (didn't go beyond that). If you use Custom the Thin Provisioning option flat out isn't even offered. I wasn't expecting the VM to be able to power on. I recall testing another unrelated but still premium option, forgot which one, and when I tried to either save the configuration or power up the VM the system stopped me saying the license didn't permit that.

TechOps Guy: Nate

Comments (5) Trackbacks (3)
  1. It would be rather weird if thin-provisioning didn’t work at all. If you use a NFS solution with thin provisioning (like a NetApp NFS solution), the NFS Server forces ESX to use thin provisioning. So it has to be there anyway otherwise you cannot properly use your storage functionality.

  2. I would assume the NetApp stuff operates entirely at the array level like 3PAR, because NetApp has had thin provisioning for VMware for a while before VMware supported at their own layer.

    So I believe in this case if you are using array based thin provisioning it doesn’t matter, VMware is oblivious to it, so even if there is no licensing, it will work.
    http://www.techopsguys.com/2009/11/06/thin-provisioning-strategy-with-vmware/

    The thin provisioning that Vmware does at the application layer is mainly for arrays that don’t support it.

  3. Sorry on bringing this subject up after a while, but are you able to Manage more than 3 ESXi Essentials Hosts with vCenter Standard? Thanks!

  4. Thought I would mention that this is now no longer possible. I’m not sure at which version they changed the licensing control but I just tried to add an Essentials host to my vCenter standard and it wouldn’t let me. That’s using 5.5 on all.

  5. thanks! Yes I recall noticing that in the release notes at one point, after some digging I believe it was 5.0 update 1

    https://www.vmware.com/support/vsphere5/doc/vsp_vc50_u1_rel_notes.html

    vCenter now enforces restrictions on which vSphere editions can be managed by vCenter
    With this feature, vCenter Standard and Foundation is disallowed from managing vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus host editions. This is disallowed per the EULA already, but was not programmatically enforced until now. The exception to this rule is the ‘Essentials for ROBO’ edition. This is still allowed per the EULA and as per the programmatic enforcement. Furthermore, it is also enforced that vCenter Essentials can only manage Essentials and Essentials Plus hosts.