vSphere 5's licensing opens the door for open source

VMware's vSphere 5 pricing could accelerate the shift toward a mixture of commercial and open source products in the virtualization arena

EMC VMware's vSphere 5 brings new features and performance improvements, as InfoWorld's Ted Samson reports. vSphere 5 also introduces a new licensing approach, one that many users are claiming will significantly increase prices. Will your organization be hurt by the new pricing? If so, consider using an open source hypervisor for certain workloads.

New vRAM licensing model explained

With the introduction of vSphere 5, VMware is evolving its product licensing model to give customers a "pay for consumption" approach to IT. The new licensing model is still based on CPU cores, but does away with a limitation of physical RAM per server license. Instead, VMware has introduced the notion of virtual memory, or vRAM in VMware's terminology (vRAM is defined as the virtual memory configured to virtual machines). vSphere 5 is licensed per processor with a varying amount of pooled vRAM entitlements based on the vSphere package purchased.

According to VMware's white paper on the new licensing model for vSphere 5, vRAM helps customers better share capacity across their IT environment:

An important feature of the new licensing model is the concept of pooling the vRAM capacity entitlements for all processor licenses. The vRAM entitlements of vSphere CPU licenses are pooled -- that is, aggregated -- across all CPU licenses managed by a VMware vCenter instance (or multiple linked VMware vCenter instances) to form a total available vRAM capacity (pooled vRAM capacity). If workloads on one server are not using their full vRAM entitlement, the excess capacity can be used by other virtual machines within the VMware vCenter instance. At any given point in time, the vRAM capacity consumed by all powered-on virtual machines within a pool must be equal or lower than the pooled vRAM capacity.

Because vRAM entitlements can be shared among multiple host servers, VMware suggests that customers may require fewer vSphere licenses.

Prepare for higher VMware vSphere licenses due to available RAM memory

But VMware doesn't mention that the new vRAM-based licensing model could lead to significantly higher license requirements as the per-CPU licensing for vSphere 5 only has limits on vRAM per license. If your configuration has more vRAM than is entitled for use with the CPU license of vSphere 5, you need additional licenses.

For example, the vSphere Enterprise Plus package, priced at $3,495 per CPU, allows up to 48GB of vRAM. Let's evaluate a scenario where you have a two-socket processor, with no more than 12 cores per socket, with 256GB of RAM. The two processors would require two vSphere licenses, resulting is an entitlement of 96GB of vRAM entitlements (two bundles, each with 48GB of vRAM per licensed CPU). However, your server has 256GB of RAM, all of which needs to be licensed. As a result, you must buy four additional vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus licenses. In total, you would need six licenses of Enterprise Plus -- not two -- to be entitled to run 288GB of vRAM, sufficient for your 256GB of physical RAM.

Many users are shocked by new VMware vSphere prices

User response to the new licensing at VMware's community forum has been decidedly negative. One person commenting on the VMware forum writes: "We just purchased 10 dual-socket servers with 192GB RAM each (enterprise license level), and we'll need to triple our license count to be able to use all available RAM if allocated by VMs." Another person claims that his small and medium business will see a 300 percent increase in price as a result of the new model.

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