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Is ESXi Free?

If we only answer this question with "yes", we haven't done anything. So, let me introduce you to VMware ESXi and how it is free.

VMware ESXi is a bare-metal hypervisor providing a virtualization layer that abstracts essential hardware resources (CPU, network, memory, and storage) and distributes them to resource consumers (Virtual Machines).

There are two free versions of ESXi: Evaluation and Free. The thing is that both have several limitations that make them unsuitable for production use. The first has a time limit of 60 days but provides all the features of the ESXi. On the other hand, the latter has no time limits but lacks the very cool features of a hypervisor.

With all that said, it becomes clear why you are buying from VMware at some point, even though you are potentially eligible to go with one of those free licenses. The good thing is that VMware is very loyal to ESXi licensing.

Well, you will not get a rich set of hypervisor features in the free version, of course. However, you do not have to pay for its deployment in your home lab. I think this post might be interesting for guys who have just started running their labs or are getting acquainted with VMware vSphere.

ESXi Free vs. Paid – Differences

The free version of ESXi is identical to the paid version, which means we get most of the features and functionality available, except for some of the limitations mentioned below.

All features are available for use for 60 days during the evaluation period; announce that some of the features will not be available for use and will require a license to restore non-functional features.

ESXi Free limitations and how to spot them

To check if there are any restrictions on VMware ESXi Free, you must first grant SSH access to the ESXi settings. Then, to view your license and list of available options, type or copy the following command:

vim-cmd vimsvc/license –show

And all the necessary data will appear on the screen.

ESXi Free (VMware Hypervisor) – Limitations

Here are the free limitations of ESXi:

  • There is no integration or clustering of vCenter
  • There are no backup copies of third-party backup solutions
  • Maximum 8 vCPUs for VMs running on free ESXi 6.7
  • Full of 2 processors in your physical ESXi host
  • Maximum RAM 12 TB
  • No VMware support

How do I download and install the free version of ESXi?

You can download the free version of VMware directly from the product page. It is an ISO image that you can burn to a CD and then boot to a physical server using the CD. After that, you need to configure a static IP address directly from the console, set a new password, and connect from another machine via the IP address using a web browser.

On the VMware official website, you will find a download link for the VMware vSphere Client, which is the Vmware ESXi hypervisor access software. Once you have the VMware vSphere client installed on a management station, you can access the hypervisor via the vSphere client, start creating your VM from scratch, or convert to P2V using a free tool.

Free ESXi use case

ESXi Free (VMware Hypervisor) is suitable for Home Lab and those who want to try out virtualization for the first time and do not want to invest too much in licenses.

Downloading Free ESXi

The ESXi free version can be downloaded directly from VMware, an ISO image similar to the paid version. The only difference is the license key is applied.

VMware ESXi Features

The VMware ESXi relies on VMkernel, the microkernel, to run the VMware virtualization platform's hardware, guest systems, and service layer.

VMkernel works with physical hardware and guest VMs, connects directly to CPU and memory and uses modules connected through another module to access network and storage components of the hardware.

Here are the most important features of VMware ESXi:

Small size

At just 150 MB, Vmware promotes ESXi as the world's most diminutive hypervisor. A tiny footprint usually indicates a reduced attack area from external threats, aside from more accessible sustainability. This also means that the ESXi does not need frequent repairs.

Secure design

The data in your VM is safe from prying eyes using built-in encryption. Add a role-based approach, plus extensive recording and auditing capabilities, and you'll get a secure virtual platform right from the start.

User-friendly administration tools

ESXi offers a built-in browser compatible with HTML5 for administrative use. Organizations looking for automated operations can also use the vSphere command-line interface for Remote Control and Representative State Transfer Application Programming (APIs) (REST).

Convenient installation

With the size so small, faster installation is possible, empowering you to set up your infrastructure as soon as possible. You can even boot the ESXi from a USB flash drive.

Scalable reliability

Whatever your application requirements, one ESXi hypervisor can be configured to run up to 128 virtual processors and 120 devices with 6 TB of memory.

Also, ESXi features a high-performance cluster file system, called the Virtual Machine File System (VMFS), which allows multiple storage resources to be distributed, even with limited physical storage. VMs can also use more than one processor at a time.

Extensive support and compatibility

The popularity of ESXi as a business platform means comprehensive support from hardware vendors and application partners and compatibility with a wide range of applications and guest operating systems.

Pros and Cons of VMware ESXi Free

The idea that the physical limitation of the VMware ESXi Free CPU is inconvenient and unusable is not entirely correct.

Here are the significant pros of ESXi:

  • The number of physical processors per ESXi (VMware vSphere Hypervisor) host can be endless. This feature is possible in new versions of the free ESXi license.
  • Unlimited physical memory enables you to deploy a powerful physical server containing six or more multi-core processors with massive RAM.
  • Unlimited cores per physical processor enable efficient use of hardware processor performance.
  • The free ESXi license allows you always to use this version; that is, you should not be afraid that this is just a trial version, and then you should pay. Once installed, you can start practicing VMware ESXi Free as much as you want.

Here are the significant cons of ESXi:

  • There is no official technical support for VMware. Of course, you can ask for aid in the VMware community, but you will not get as much qualified and detailed help as in the paid version.
  • The vStorage API feature is also not available. This version of ESXi does not enable applications to communicate with the ESXi server via the vStorage API. As a result, it is impossible to back up virtual machines to the available version of ESXi at the host level.
  • There is a limitation for virtual processors. The maximum number of virtual processors you are able to run on each machine is 8.
  • You can not centrally manage the VM using vCenter. Thus, clustering, migration, etc.

Conclusion

Based on this, ESXi Free still seems to be great for home labs regardless of its limitations. The evaluation, in turn, allows you to get acquainted with all the features of ESXi. I think 60 days is enough for you to like the hypervisor, and I hope this review will make you love the hypervisor as well.