VMware vSphere 5 Licensure–Take 2!

The release of the vSphere 5 products on July 12th was amazing. Some very cool new functions and updated existing functions! However, all of the new features were tossed by the wayside in favor of focusing on the changes in licensure.

While there is not necessarily a need to go into major detail… a refresher should suffice…

Previously, VMware had used a license that restricted servers to 6-cores per socket. With new processor technology coming out and a need to remove themselves from that equation, the decision was made to drop the core limit on processors and move to something else. What that something else should be was a topic of discussion internally. Mathematically, the next-best option for customers and VMware was the concept of vRAM pooling.

vRAM pooling takes how much virtual RAM is assigned to your virtual machines into consideration versus how much is physically installed. The vRAM pools were based on the editions of vSphere running in your environment and pooled together. If multiple sites had Enterprise licensure, all of the RAM was pooled together in an Enterprise vRAM pool. The licensure allotment was spread across all Enterprise hosts, regardless of site.

The issue was that each edition of vSphere was really lacking in how much vRAM was allowed. The previous thought of high server consolidation by using memory dense physical hosts was, now, being challenged. Licensure costs for immediate upgrades and future projects were being questioned.

VMware had done the math and it really only should affect, roughly, 4% of the customer-base. But, the future looking questions still remained… and the impact to VMware was looking bad.

Those of you who work closely with VMware in one fashion or another know that VMware actually cares about customer experience and empowering customers to adopt their products. While the math penciled out for 96% of the customers, the reaction was poor and VMware recognized a need to resolve the issue…

Which brings us to the announcement from today. VMware has adjusted the licensure scheme as a response to the feedback and needs of the customers. This is the low-down:

vRAM Entitlement Changes


As you can see, the Enterprise and Enterprise Plus licensure has been doubled while the Standard, Essentials, and Essentials Plus have been increased by 1/3. The Free Edition has been quadrupled from 8GB to 32GB.

I was very pleased to see the changes above. a 48GB vRAM entitlement for the Enterprise Plus license was a little tough to swallow. Servers are available to run a ridiculous amount of RAM. So, to think that the Enterprise Plus licensure was only 2x better than Standard was a little off-putting. However, by moving to a 96GB entitlement, those higher consolidation projects can still continue. Seeing as most Enterprise Plus users would utilize dual CPUs, allowing for 192GB of vRAM per host versus 96GB is a major increase in value.

Monster VM!

So, we all know that the vSphere 5 RAM max per VM is crazy. If, for some reason, you have the need to run a 1TB RAM allotted VM, you were going to be hit hard. You would need to buy a ton of Enterprise Plus licensure (or even more Enterprise / Standard edition) to meet the vRAM entitlement licensure.

The fact is that running a single virtual machine should not cost more than a single Enterprise Plus license. So, to help reduce the impact of the new licensure on the monster VMs running out there, VMware came up with a new scheme: The most vRAM entitlement a single VM can consume is 96GB. So, if you run that monster 1TB RAM VM, you do not need to license for 1TB entitlement. Rather, it will only hit the entitlement for 96GB.


Major cost savings for the small group (right now). Although, these license decisions are probably made to be resilient to the future. So, if you are in 2021 and reading this (welcome to the past), maybe every VM is 1TB in size.

The change in the 96GB entitlement cap per VM is not going to be included in the general release of the vSphere 5 product. An update to the product is going to be coming out to add this to the reporting capabilities of vCenter. Also, recall that the licensure change will not stop you from running your virtual machines. So, fire up the 1TB VM and reporting will catch up with you later.

Average Usage vs. High Water

The previous measurement of the entitlement focused on high watermarks of usage. This was thought to have caused too much of a pain point for the TEST/DEV environments and VDI environments.

I could not agree more. In those environments where developers can spin up virtual machines on demand, the number that can be running at a given time for a short amount of time can end up being cost prohibitive.

To combat this issue, VMware decided to calculate the average vRAM pool usage over a 12-month period. Infrequent spikes would be absorbed into the average. More frequent spikes would have a more mild impact on the bottom line.


The View on VDI vRAM Entitlement

Dealing with VDI is another beast altogether. Personally, I feel like running virtual workstations is no different than running standard servers… there is more potential for higher density per physical host, though. So, the entitlement is still valid.

However, VMware decided to take a different route and promote their product line for the vSphere Desktop edition… which is licensed per user, not per vRAM pool. So, $65 per desktop ends up being easier on the company wallet for VDI implementations.

Check out the following blog posts from Raj Mallempati (Director, Product Marketing, End-User Computing). He really dives deep into the pricing and comparison between vRAM entitlement and the per-user license models:

vSphere Desktop Licensing Overview

Desktop Virtualization with vSphere 5: Licensing Overview


Virtual Bill’s Thoughts On The Changes

This is a great move on VMware’s part. It just goes to show that VMware really listens to the customer base. They had numbers to show that it was not going to be that hard on customers but decided to adjust and allow for more flexibility.

Hindsight is 20/20 and we all think that this should have been accounted for prior to the original announcement of the licensure change. However, the adjustments made now, prior to the product being available, is the result of the user community feedback. The licensure is now more refined, flexible, and easier on all of us.

One neat side effect of the change in entitlement is that there is a nice upgrade path for users on versioning. For example, if a company with Standard licensure needs more vRAM made available to them, they end up getting more functionality by moving to an Enterprise license rather than buying a new Standard license. Same with Enterprise to Enterprise Plus. Previously, magic version upgrades happened when an edition was discontinued and users were “upgraded” OR when a new feature was needed. Now, just by doing the math and determining that the next edition up the ladder has the same vRAM entitlement as the 2 lower licenses, the users can get more functionality. Now, it may be easier to get to get VAAI in environments, for example.

Finally, I encourage you to look at Bob Plankers’ posts on the licensure change from the first go-around. While the posts are not necessarily going to reflect the newest licensure changes as described in this post, Bob has put a lot of thought into impact of the vRAM pooling in his environment.

Lone Sysadmin – The Five Stages Of VMware Licensing Greif

Lone Sysadmin – A Look At VMware Licensing Environment Growth

This is all going to work out in the end. The increase in vRAM entitlement per version is a great step and provides VMware an easy way to adapt with improvements in technology.


Footnote: The images in the post were taken from a VMware licensure presentation. The content and data from the images were obtained and created by VMware. I just used it here.


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