How to Choose the Right VMware Infrastructure ESX Edition For You

by Daniel Petri - January 8, 2009

In our previous article, "VMware Versions Compared", we compared the various products in VMware's product line. For example, the difference between VMware Server, Workstation, and Server ESX. In this article, we will focus specifically on the VMware ESX product line and the VMware virtualization suite called VMware Infrastructure. With a variety of VMware Infrastructure suites and ESX Server product options, it is difficult to know which is right for you. Let's find out...

What is VMware Infrastructure?

As you probably already know, VMware ESX is an enterprise grade virtualization product by VMware. Unlike VMware Server, VMware ESX does not require an underlying operating system to be loaded first. What this means is that you get the highest virtualization performance that is possible when using VMware ESX Server.

So what is VMware Infrastructure (VI)? VI, is really just a product suite. Keep that in mind. There is really no application called "VMware Infrastructure". VI is a bundle of VMware products.

What capabilities or options are available for VMware ESX?

When you buy a VMware Infrastructure suite, you are really just buying VMware ESX Server, the VMFS file system, and some number of options. No matter which suite or bundle you buy, you MUST get VMware ESX as that is the core virtualization product you will need.

So what options are available for VMware ESX? (some of these were covered in our VMware Versions Compared article)

  • Virtual Center (VC) - VC provides a centralized management console for all VMware ESX servers. If you plan to grow your virtual data center into the ten’s and hundreds, over time, you should have Virtual Center in your plans. To use VMotion, VM HA, VM DRS, and VM consolidated backup, you must purchase Virtual Center.
  • VMotion - Like magic, VMotion can move a running virtual server to another physical server, without interrupting that server’s requests. This can be done for maintenance of hardware or to better balance workload. VMotion requires a SAN be used to store the virtual machines being moved.
  • Virtual SMP- virtual symmetric multi-processing(SMP) option is what allows virtual machines to act as if they have multiple processors, thus improving performance.
  • VMware HA - the high availability (HA) option for ESX server is what moves virtual guest machines from a failed server to a running server. VM HA uses VMotion to accomplish its task.
  • VMware DRS - dynamic resource scheduling (DRS) is a load balancing system. It can be tuned to move virtual machines, or groups of machines, from one server to another based on the CPU, memory, disk, and network demands being placed on those servers. By using VMotion, DRS can move virtual machines automatically, throughout each day, to best balance the server load, and provide optimum performance to users.
  • VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB)- VCB is an application, running on a separate server, that contacts virtual guests, on a schedule, and provides a pass-through to backup the virtual guest data to your third party backup application. VCB is not a backup application in itself but it has the ability to gain access to the VMFS proprietary file system and allow you to backup or restore individual files, inside the file system.

What different VMware Infrastructure Suites are available?

There are three VMware Infrastructure Suites available: Starter, Standard, and Enterprise. Here is how they compare:

  • VMware Infrastructure Starter Edition - only ESX Server & VMFS - no SAN storage, up to 4 CPU and 8GB of RAM per server, starting cost about $1000 per server
  • VMware Infrastructure Standard Edition - only ESX Server, VMFS, SAN storage, and Virtual SMP, starting cost about $3750 per server
  • VMware Infrastructure Enterprise Edition - includes ESX Server, VMFS, Virtual SMP, VM HA, VM DRS, and VCB, starting cost about $6000 per server

Also, keep in mind that no matter which option you choose if you want to use centralized management and/or you want to use features like VMotion, VM HA, or VM DRS, you must purchase Virtual Center separately, at a cost of approximately $5000.

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Which VMware ESX Server / Infrastructure Suite is right for me?

Now that you know what options are available for ESX Server and can see all the different VMware Infrastructure suites that are available, which do you choose? That question can be answered by finding out which options you require and matching that up with the right suite. The centralized management of Virtual Center is a huge benefit anytime you have more than just a couple of servers. You should know that you can purchase some of the options like VM HA, VM DRS, VCB, and SMP separately, if you just need one or two of these options.

In general, I would recommend the starter edition for those who just have a single server to virtualize. Beyond that, I would recommend just jumping to the enterprise edition if your company can justify the costs. VMware Infrastructure can do some truly amazing things when it has all the capabilities that are available.

Summary

In summary, choosing the right VMware ESX / Virtual Infrastructure suite can be difficult if you don't have all the information you need to make a comparison. In this article, you learned the VMware ESX Server options & capabilities that are available as well as the VMware Virtual Infrastructure Editions that you can choose from. After reading this article, you should be able to quickly tell which VMware Virtual Infrastructure Edition is right for your company.

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