My Take on the vSphere 5 Licensing Kerfuffle

Update: I’ve posted a link to new information from VMware at the bottom of this post.

I’m too busy right now building my XenDesktop environment on our FlexPods to digest all of the big cloud and other announcements coming out of Cisco Live and elsewhere.  All I’ve been able to do is try to catch up on the day’s news from Twitter over dinner, but even doing that, I could hardly miss the kerfuffle caused by VMware’s announced new licensing model for vSphere 5.

I don’t really have a dog in this fight, especially considering I’ve written about our decision to build out my XenDesktop environment and begin to create a private cloud on vSphere 4.  Other people have written more about this mess than I plan to.  Go check out Kevin’s Blue Shift Blog.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but he put some thought into it.  If you’re looking for something a little more flashy, check out everyone’s favorite VDI celebrity, Brian Madden.  Here’s another post someone sent me via email, at Virtualization Review.  Finally, here’s a thread with 220 replies (as of this moment) on VMware’s active community site.

So read up on the issue and figure out how it will impact you.  I haven’t had a ton of time to look into this yet, but I have done some quick math on the impact this could have on our current dual FlexPod deployment, as well as future upgrades.  I’ve also begun discussing the issue with our CIO and our CTO, and their initial response hasn’t been what you would call positive for VMware’s chances of selling us vSphere 5 licenses.

Our new virtualization environment is built on 52 UCS blades (26 per FlexPod), with a total of 104 sockets.  The blades are a mix of B200, B230, and B250, with installed RAM amounts of 48, 96, 128, or 192 GB.  Right now we have 104 Enterprise Plus licenses.  The new vSphere 5 licensing model, with what some are calling the vRAM tax, would require a total of 116 Enterprise Plus licenses.  That’s if we make no changes to the installed memory on our B200 blades, something we’ve discussed as a possibility after our initial rollout.  If we decide to bump all the B200 blades to 96 GB, though, our need for licenses increases from 104 to 142.

Looking to the future, it only gets worse, with every B250 with 2 CPU and 192 GB RAM requiring not 2 Enterprise Plus licenses, but 4.  What if we decided to max those bad boys out with 384 GB – 8 Enterprise Plus licenses instead of 2.  I don’t even want to think about picking up the 512 GB or 1TB rack-mounted UCS servers I’ve been drooling over.

So that’s how it would impact us, near as I can tell right now anyway.

I’ll leave you with something to think about.  As I explained this situation to my wife, her first question about it was telling.  She asked, “If you have to pay more to have servers with huge amounts of memory, wouldn’t you just buy more servers with less memory instead?”  I’ve seen others suggest this might result in a push to scale out rather than scale up.  How ironic that a company like VMware that has built its hugely successful business on enabling companies to reduce data center hardware and the power and cooling that go along with it, might now be incentivizing its customers to move in the other direction?

Update #1

Looks like VMware is introducing a “new standalone vSphere edition” called vSphere Desktop.  You can read about it here, but a quick skim makes me think that may resolve some, and perhaps most, of the concerns I and others have expressed about the impact of vSphere 5 on our growing virtual desktop environments.  I think there are still reasons to be concerned about the “vRAM tax”  for general virtualization environments, as it penalizes high density deployments, but that’s at least not as large a number of potentially unhappy customers.

I’ll have to give this a closer read this evening, but right now it looks like VMware is handling this in a way friendly to desktop virtualization customers, so kudos to them for that.

Update #2

I’ve had more time to read about vSphere Desktop.  I think it is a move in the right direction, and based on the timing, something I’d bet VMware had in their back pocket when they made the vSphere 5 licensing announcement two days ago, ready to deliver as a response if the “vRAM tax” didn’t go over well.  I see two main problems with it, though, especially as it relates to our environment.

  1. vSphere Desktop is for new customers only.  Current vSphere 4 Enterprise Plus customers like us are out of luck.  If our support agreement allows a move to vSphere 5, it will only be to vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus, not Desktop.  That means we’ll have a choice of moving to vSphere 5 Ent+ and buying additional licenses to give us enough vRAM for my desktop virtualization project, or buying new additional vSphere Desktop licenses.  Either way we spend a lot of money.  Or, I suppose we can make the switch to Hyper-V or XenServer.  Since we’re going to do a cost/benefit analysis and develop a migration strategy anyway, I may do a post at some point detailing, as much as I am able to discuss publicly, the cost differences for us.
  2. vSphere Desktop does nothing to address the “vRAM tax” levied against servers with very large amounts of memory that aren’t used for VDI.  Every B230 and B250 blade we purchased for general virtualization came with either 128 GB or 192 GB of memory, so vSphere 5 is going to cost us more money even without considering my desktop virtualization project.
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