ESX for free… but is it really?

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Starting from today, VMware’s ESXi hypervisor will be offered free, supposedly to counter the threat from Microsoft Hyper-V and there is an interesting article over at But dig a little deeper and, as James Staten at Forrester Research notes:

“This doesn’t really address the typical enterprise’s cost of VMware deployment – just the marketing threat of the low Hyper-V starting price.”

James’s article on the release of “free” ESX is worth a read – he continues by noting that:

“VMware has used this pricing strategy several times to help seed the market, grow its customer base and fend off competitors. VMware Player and GSX server were both made free to respond to the threat of open source and other competitors. Both Player and GSX served as nice onramps to try VMware but had performance penalties and limitations, so customers quickly upgraded when they were through experimenting – stopped a lot of customers from experimenting with the open source stuff. The same is likely to be true here; while free ESXi certainly isn’t crippled (it’s the same code as in the commercial versions) the fact that you can’t manage more than one at a time is the driving drawback.”

But the part I struggle with in James’ analysis is the the summary:

“If you want a more mature solution and the live migration and HA capabilities VMware brings to the table, the cost differential is worth it.”

Is it? Is anybody really failing live production workloads over between hosts using VMotion? Not with the change control processes that most of my customers use. That’s why Microsoft’s quick migration is fine for controlled fail-over – a few seconds of outage is generally not a concern when you have already scheduled the work. As for high availability, I can provide a highly available Hyper-V cluster too. Then there is maturity… VMware may have invented the x86 virtualisation space but dealing with the company can sometimes be difficult (in fairness, that criticism can be levelled at other organisations too).

There’s an old adage that no-one got fired for choosing IBM. More recently no-one got fired for choosing HP (formerly Compaq) ProLiant servers. In the virtualisation space no-one gets fired for choosing VMware – not at the moment anyway – at least not until the CFO finds out that you could have implemented the solution using Microsoft technologies for less money. For that matter, when did anyone get fired for choosing Microsoft?

7 thoughts on “ESX for free… but is it really?

  1. You’re not really serious about nobody using VMotion are you?
    Microsoft is far behind in enterprise virtualisation, pretending otherwise is pretty foolish.

  2. @Mark – strong words (calling me foolish). All this VMware vs. Microsoft stuff is getting a bit like the “OS wars” – it’s like I’ve offended peoples’ religious beliefs – and all I’m saying is that I don’t believe that the additional functionality in VI3 is worth the extra money.

    The point I was making about VMotion is that the majority of moves are controlled – yes, VMware DRS (which uses VMotion) can move a workload automatically but I don’t think many change management teams have got their heads around the concept of a truly dynamic datacentre. As for high availability – VMware HA doesn’t help much in the event of a host failure – all it does is restart the workload (possibly corrupt) on another host.

    If you had asked me where Microsoft was on enterprise virtualisation six months ago, I would have agreed that they were a long way behind. Now the gap is closing. Fast. Hyper-V is just a hypervisor (so is ESXi) but when we get SCVMM 2008 in a few months time the management story is very much stronger. And then there will be the Microsoft Hyper-V Server product which really does compete with ESXi as it won’t need a Windows Server installation upon which to run.

    @Mike – I’m sorry to hear that you think I’m losing objectivity – maybe I am slightly biased (I do spend a good chunk of my working day evangelising Microsoft technologies) but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Microsoft is doing some good things with virtualisation. Nevertheless, the feedback is noted – I certainly don’t want to start losing long-standing readers of this blog.

    The point is that VMware have made ESXi free but ESXi is only the sweetener. All VMware is doing is making a marketing statement (“look, we have a free hypervisor too”) but they really want to up sell to the full blown ESX server with Virtual Center and probably the rest of the Virtual Infrastructure products. Hence the title of this post.

    Of course, sometimes a customer needs something that only VMware can offer – or they just want the comfort factor of deploying a more mature technology (maybe that is the “something”) but, for the majority of scenarios, Hyper-V, together with SCVMM, offers enough. I’ve lost count of the number of times that my customers (including internal customers) have told me they don’t need a Rolls Royce solution and that a Ford Mondeo will do. Using that analogy, VMware VI3 is the Rolls Royce, but Microsoft Hyper-V and SCVMM will get you there just as well and you’ll have a lot more money in your pocket to make the most of the journey.

  3. We use VMotion to move our 350 VM’s across our 20 ESX servers to do ESX patches and hardware maintenance all the time. It saves us tons of time not having to plan downtime with the business owners of the 15-20 guests on each ESX server, not to mention not having to stay after hours or on weekends to do the work.

  4. @Chris – I understand that being able to move the workload without the users noticing is a huge benefit – my point is, would a few seconds of downtime (“quick migration”) suffice – or do you absolutely need “live migration”?

    I appreciate that some applications are sensitive to a loss in connection but many (most?) would tolerate the few seconds of outage that it takes to fail over a VM with quick migration.

  5. Regarding the question of live vs. quick migration I think for some applications it really is essential. Telnet sessions are going to disconnect, remote desktops disconnected and reconnected. The point of it is also the ability to do maintenance during office hours as Chris said above.
    What you seem to be getting at is the extra cost of vmware esx intrastructure over Hyper-V. When you look at the cost of getting big 4-way servers stuffed with ram, SANs full of disks and FC switches to connect them together, then to spoil it all for the sake of saving the cost of esx, just isn’t something you want to do.

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