Opinion: What you need to know about vSphere 5's new pricing model

VMware is charging based on a 'pool' of memory in virtualized servers that can be shared as well as on the usual number of CPU cores.

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In my opinion, there are three factors that may cause you to be over your vRAM entitlement:

  • Multiple overprovisioned virtual machines
  • Not using high availability (meaning you don't have idle servers with vSphere licenses that can contribute to the vRAM pool)
  • Using the "scale up" model (for example, using servers with relatively few sockets and a high amount of RAM)

Customers who have been using (or are planning to use) the "scale up" model will be hardest hit by this vRAM pooled licensing. For example, say that you use servers with 2 sockets and 256GB of RAM. Even if you bought two vSphere Enterprise Plus licenses, you are entitled to only 96GB of RAM (48GB x 2). Likely, you use overprovisioning but even if all you did was to configure 85 virtual machines up to the physical server RAM (using the VMware average of 3GB per VM), you would need to buy 6 vSphere Enterprise licenses (to meet your 256GB need) instead of 2 licenses under the current pricing scheme.

This simple example gets progressively worse the more servers you have and the higher density the RAM on each server.

Customers respond

Customers took to the airwaves to express their opinions about the new pricing scheme. A VMware administrator named Bob Plankers wrote in his blog, "I don't like that the change penalizes those using the 'fewer, bigger machines' model, which is a giant time and money saver." However, he goes on to say, "I do like the new licensing because I can now assign direct values for chargeback for VMs, based on size."

Commenters on Plankers' blog entry -- over 40 as of this writing -- also raised a combination of good and negative points about the changes.

Another blogger, Gabrie van Zanten, had a more positive spin. He did the math for five different licensing scenarios. "I was surprised to learn that NONE of them will require more licenses when upgrading to vSphere 5," he writes.

More customer feedback, generally negative, can be seen on the VMware communities blog and on another VMware blog, here. Many of the posters are complaining about the additional licensing costs this change will incur for them.

Other opinions, including those from industry analysts and other experts, can be seen on Wikibon.

My perspective

VMware does admit in its vSphere 5 Pricing and Licensing document (PDF) that the new pricing model is meant to "align virtualization costs with value received" and "lay the foundation for a pay-per-consumption model." Thus, if this is an alignment then it makes sense that some customers will be "mis-aligned" and will have to be "re-aligned."

Also, it makes sense that if the new pricing is pay per consumption, then some customers -- especially those with servers that have large amounts of RAM -- will have to pay more because they are consuming more. This is like customers who have cellular data plans that have had to change from unlimited plans to capped and per-megabyte plans over the past few years.

VMware Enterprise Plus customers are also having to change to the pay-per-consumption model. While this transition may be painful to some, these changes may not have any effect on others.

Still, VMware vSphere is the leading virtualization platform for a good reason. It offers unparalleled features that, in my opinion, the competition can't get close to. (For a great overview of vSphere 5's features, check out this video of VMware CTO Steve Herrod.) I would bet that most admins who talk about moving to another hypervisor just haven't used those hypervisors. If they did try them, they would find that VMware vSphere is worth the extra cost. At least, this is the way I felt when I used some other hypervisors.

Your next moves

There are some steps you can take to make sure you're not overpaying. Most important, make sure to do the math. Enterprise virtual infrastructures are complex and, when combined with the variables presented by the new vSphere licenses, there are many permutations that can and should be considered to ensure that your company doesn't pay any more than necessary.

Spend time making sure that your virtual machines aren't vastly overprovisioned (third-party tools can help). Use the upcoming vSphere 5 tool to analyze your vSphere 4 infrastructure and find out if you need additional licenses. And finally, if you do have to pay more than you think you should, make sure that you take that up with your local VMware representatives and at your local VMware user group meeting. There might be some other configuration for your application needs they can help with.

David Davis is the author of the best-selling VMware vSphere video-training library from Train Signal. He has written hundreds of virtualization articles on the Web and is a vExpert, VCP, VCAP-DCA and CCIE #9369 with more than 18 years of enterprise IT experience. His personal website is VMwareVideos.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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