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UPDATED (October 18th, 2018): The vCenter Server features by licensing chart has been updated to reflect that the vCenter Server Migration Tool is included in the ISO and is available to use with all vCenter Server licensed versions.

 

vCenter Server allows virtualization administrators to centrally manage and monitor their vSphere environments. Lately I’ve received several questions from customers about the different vCenter Server licensing options and what features are included with them. There are three different vCenter Server license categories; Standard, Foundation, and Essentials. vCenter Server licenses for Standard or Foundation, are sold separately from vSphere licensing, where vCenter Server Essentials licensing is included with a vSphere Essentials Kit. It’s important understand the differences between the three licensing options for all supported versions of vCenter Server and which one best fits your environment.

vCenter Server Licensing

vCenter Server Standard

vCenter Server Standard is the version containing all available vCenter Server features. vCenter Server Standard first differs from Foundation in it can manage up to two thousand vSphere ESXi hosts compared to only four hosts. This version of vCenter Server also brings the ability to leverage vRealize Orchestrator for automating key tasks, allows for Enhanced Linked Mode (ELM), vCenter Server High Availability (VCHA), vCenter Server File-Based Backup and Restore, as well as the vCenter Server Migration Tool (included on the ISO for all vCenter Server versions). vCenter Server Standard is best suited for vSphere environments that have many vSphere hosts to manage or those looking to scale out their virtual infrastructure or take full advantage a rich feature set that streamlines monitoring, orchestration, and provisioning of virtual machines. vCenter Server Standard is also sold separately from vSphere licensing.

vCenter Server Foundation

Next let’s discuss vCenter Server Foundation. This version of vCenter Server is limited in some features when compared to other versions although it still provides the basic management necessary for smaller vSphere environments. It is sold as a separate license and only supports managing up to four vSphere ESXi hosts. This is true for vSphere starting with vSphere 6.5 Update 1 and above, older vSphere versions will support up to three hosts. vCenter Server Foundation does not come with vRealize Orchestrator, vCenter Server High Availability (VCHA), vCenter Server File-Based Backup and Restore, and does not support Enhanced Linked Mode (ELM). This version of vCenter Server is best suited for environments where there will be no more than four vSphere ESXi hosts to manage and no requirement of some of the business continuity features.

vCenter Server Essentials

vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus are kits designed with the SMB space in mind and are getting started with virtualization. These kits also include vCenter Server unlike when purchasing vSphere Standard, Enterprise, etc. where the vCenter Server license is purchased separately. The vCenter Server version included with vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus is called “vCenter Server for Essentials“. vCenter Server for Essentials is similar to Foundation in terms of its feature limitations. When bundled with vSphere Essentials, vCenter Server for Essentials allows for management of up to three vSphere ESXi hosts, with up to two physical CPUs each. There is no support for vMotion or vSphere High Availability with vSphere Essentials. The creation of datacenters, clusters, etc. are available but migrations to other hosts would require a “cold migration” or powered off VM prior to migrating.

What about vSphere Essentials Plus? When vSphere Essentials Plus is purchased it also comes with vCenter Server for Essentials which allows for business continuity features such as, vSphere High Availability (HA) and vMotion. vSphere Essentials Plus also unlocks cross switch vMotion, vSphere Replication, and optional access to VSAN.

 

The following chart is a visual representation of the different vCenter Server licensing options and their available features.

 

Summary

Each version of vCenter Server comes with a different set of features which may or may not be suitable for every environment. It’s important understand your environment’s current requirements but also its potential scale prior to making the purchase of a vCenter Server license. If a small environment with three or four vSphere ESXi hosts is all you will ever manage, then vCenter Server Foundation may be your best bet. If you know that your organization will scale larger than four vSphere ESXi hosts, consider vCenter Server Standard. Those using a vSphere Essentials Kit or Essentials Plus, should be aware of the same considerations since the different versions of Essentials affects the available feature set of the included vCenter Server. Also, your organization may purchase a mix different vCenter Server licenses to meet different requirements within different environments or security zones.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or comments by posting in the section below.

 

About the Author

Nigel Hickey

Nigel Hickey is a Technical Marketing Engineer and VCIX7-DTM working for VMware R&D in the Cloud Platform Business Unit. In this role, he serves as a Subject Matter Expert for vSphere Upgrades as well as a trusted advisor for VMware customers and partners. His responsibilities include delivering vSphere Upgrade workshops, generating content, evangelism, collecting product feedback, and presenting at events. Nigel can be found blogging on nigelhickey.com or on Twitter via @vCenterNerd.