Fairly often new people discovering VMware asking this questions: Esxi free vs paid? What's the difference? While for many folks, VMware certified people, and others, this question (and especially the answer) is obvious, the new people who just discovered virtualization, might want to know exactly. That's why this post. At first you might want to read my post ESXi Free – What's the Limitations?
The ESXi Free version is the same download as the full blown ESXi, but stays unlocked only for 60 days. It is the exact same ISO image. If you don't enter the serial number for the free version, the product works as full version during 60 days. When the trial period ends and the product lock out the advanced features, and becomes ESXi free (you'll still have to apply a serial number, which is available with the free version when you download it. If you don't know how to do it just follow my tutorial on this!
How do I Download and Install the free version of ESXi?
Step 1: You can download the free version from VMware, directly from the product page here. It's an ISO image, which you can burn to a CD, and then boot the physical server by using the CD.
Step 2: Configure a static IP address directly from the console, set a new password, and connect from another machine via the IP address, by using web browser. On the web page you'll find a download link for VMware vSphere Client, which is a software to access the Vmware ESXi hypervisor.
Step 3: After installing the VMware vSphere client on a management station, you can access the hypervizor via the vSphere Client, start creating your VMs from scratch or do a P2V conversion by using VMware Converter Standalone – free tool.
ESXi Free – for Which usage?
For very small shops which wants to try out virtualization is the best way to start. The free version of ESXi with some local disks in the server can be a good start to explore the VM operations, how to manipulate the VMs from the vSphere client, test the snapshot technology, etc.
But think twice before start running some production workloads. The VMs running on the ESXi Free version won't be able to backed up with software like Veeam or others, unless using in-guest software applications to backup the data and application configuration. It's because the ESXi has the APIs locked out.
“Dr scenarios” – You can start to virtualize some production physical servers if you want to, and have some kind of DR scenarios (a VM running in isolated test environment on the ESXi host). But it's like the poor man's DR scenario with using VMware Converter. Good enough for small shops without funds to invest to more reliable, more robust solution? But when the production environment becomes critical. Or critical enough that the boss says, ok, now we cannot afford having 2hours of downtime. That's when you can step in and say, ok, we need to buy licensed (paid) version of ESXi.
What's the lowest (cheapest) package of VMware ESXi?
The cheapest package is VMware vSphere Essentials and it offers unlocked APIs, so the external backup applications can leverage the hypevizor's snapshot technology to create backups of VMs running on ESXi host. With vSphere Essentials is possible to manage up to 3 ESXi hosts by using vCenter Server Foundation.
And as you can see on the image below, there is much less to play with when you don't have vCenter…
The usage of ESXi Free is obvious. Learning, testing workflows, small DR tests, validating architectural decisions. By using snapshots, you can also validate windows patches. Example you might want to create an isolated clone of your production server by using VMware Converter and P2V technology, and you want to test a big Microsoft service pack before rolling it directly into the production environment, and possibly causing a downtime.
The next step would obviously be one of the entry level VMware packages like vSphere Essentials or Essentials Plus, where the Essentials Plus offers not only vCenter Foundation, but also many other products within the bundle, including backup solution vSphere Data protection (VDP). You can read about VDP and the deduplication technology used in this product in my series of articles, where I've deployed and tested the solution in my lab – vSphere Data Protection – a new backup product included with vSphere