About vCenter Licensing

Lately, I have been having a lot of discussions that revolves around VMware’s vCenter Server.

Side Note: For those people out there who are not too familiar with vCenter, vCenter is VMware’s unified management tool that helps virtualization admins to manage and monitor their vSphere environments centrally.

A lot of customers are confused about the licensing options and the features that comes with it. Hence, in view of the recent discussions which I have had with people…. this post today is dedicated to vCenter.

Let’s talk about Licensing

There are 3 different types of vCenter licenses:

  1. vCenter Server Essentials
  2. vCenter Server Foundation
  3. vCenter Server Standard

How are they different?

1. vCenter Server Essentials
Very simply, vCenter Server Essentials comes with vSphere Essentials/Essentials Plus Kit. These kits are created for small businesses since it has a hard limitation of 6 physical CPUs or 3 ESXi hosts (whichever limit is reached first). vCenter Server Essentials can only manage vSphere Essentials/Essentials Plus.

2. vCenter Server Foundation
This edition of vCenter Server is meant for smaller environments. It is able to manage up to a maximum of 4 ESXi hosts. The difference between Foundation and Essentials is that vCenter Server Foundation can manage the normal/standard vSphere licenses (i.e. vSphere Standard and vSphere Enterprise Plus). Do take note that it cannot manage vSphere Essentials/Essentials Plus.

3. vCenter Server Standard
The standard edition is the most common edition found in customers’ environments. This edition of vCenter can manage up to 2000 ESXi hosts. Not just that, it comes with a lot of other useful features such as Enhanced Linked Mode, vCenter Server HA, vCenter File-based Backup and Restore, as well as vCenter Server Migration Tool. For customers who have environments that might scale in future, this edition of vCenter is suitable.

What about the Features?

The extra features can only be found in vCenter Server Standard edition. These features, as mentioned above, are: Enhanced Linked Mode, vCenter Server HA, vCenter File-based Backup and Restore, as well as vCenter Server Migration Tool. Allow me to briefly explain what these features are and why it is useful for you.

1. Enhanced Linked Mode
Enhanced Linked Mode connects multiple vCenter Servers together by utilising PSCs, Platform Service Controllers. What this does really, is that it allows you to have an environment where you can get full visibility of all the vCenter Server systems you have and allows you to manage all the inventories in the group.

Note: You can only create a vCenter Enhanced Linked Mode group during the deployment of a vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) or installation of vCenter Server. This cannot be done after you have deployed or installed vCenter.

2. vCenter Server HA
This feature is aimed to protect the vCenter Server Appliance against host and hardware failures. Note that this is an availability feature, not a disaster recovery solution. The reason for this is because it only protects vCenter and not the workloads/hosts.

This can be achieved via the Active/Passive architecture.

3. Center File-based Backup and Restore
This feature is able to support the backing up of both the vCenter Server Appliance and Platform Services Controller (PSC). There is no need for backup agents and does not require any downtime of the vCSA or PSC. The backup files are streamed to a backup target using supported protocols such as- FTP(s), HTTP(s), and SCP.

4. vCenter Server Migration Tool
We have simplified vCenter migrations by including the migration tool inside the vCenter Server Appliance. Gone were the days where you required scripts and downtime just to migrate hosts one cluster at a time. This migration is pretty awesome because it copies the configuration and inventory of the source vCenter by default. The migration tool also comes with a nice workflow that you can follow through easily.


Screenshot 2019-04-12 at 12.35.14 AM.png
vCenter Server’s Capabilities | Source

vCenter is a crucial component in any virtualised environment you have today. You can consider it as the central intelligence HQ where it manages all your VMs and ESXi hosts. In terms of licensing, it comes in different flavours- Essentials, Foundation and Standard. The Standard edition would be the ultimate choice for most environments while the Foundation edition is great for environments up to 4 ESXi hosts. Essentials? Well… just remember that it can only manage vSphere Essentials.


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