What is VMware ESX Server 3i (or ESXi)?

Posted on January 8, 2009 by David Davis in VMware with 0 Comments

VMware ESX Server 3i is a full featured, very powerful, Enterprise virtualization platform. It has recently been renamed from “ESX 3i” to “ESXi”. It is NOT a scaled down version of ESX Server. (BOLD) While the “service console” has been removed from 3i vs the traditional ESX Server 3.x, this is actually a benefit to you (which I will cover below).

It is important to state again that 3i can perform all the same features as the latest and greatest ESX Server 3.x (as long as you have the licensing for those features). Those features include high availability, load balancing, the support for the new VMware Update Manager, and more. In fact, could 3i actually perform better than the regular ESX Server 3.x because it doesn’t have the extra overhead of the service console? It is possible but I haven’t noticed that or seen any report that that is true.

Why is not having a service console a benefit?

To some of you, it may seem like a negative that the service console was removed. After all, we are usually led to the belief that “more is better”. However, when you have “more” there is also “more” to maintain and support and exploit. In other words, because ESX Server 3.x had the service console and that service console was a form of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, that “linux system” also had to be patched frequently, it had to be administered just like any other Linux system, and it was possible that it could be “hacked” and exploited just like any other Linux server.

And, how often was the service console (SC) really used? I know that some admins use it all the time because they love Linux and love the CLI. Some admins run a Linux backup client in the SC. I think that is great. However, for (in my estimate) 98% of the admins out there, they don’t run a backup client and they don’t want to use the Linux CLI. In fact, most of them don’t want to use any CLI at all – just a nice GUI interface. Plus, I think that ALL the admins don’t want to have to apply any more patches than absolutely necessary.

If there are command line tools & scripts that need to be run, the new VMware Remote CLI (RCLI) is offered for 3i. For more information on management of 3i, see VMware’s 3i Management PDF.

Thus, if you take all that into account, there is very good justification for you to look at using 3i over 3.x.

How do I get VMware ESX Server 3i?

VMware ESX Server 3i comes in 2 flavors. They are:

1. You receive it embedded in your new server – that’s right! You don’t even have to download or install 3i. When you buy a new server it can come embedded in the server. That is different from having it “pre-installed”. With embedding, ESX Server 3i is actually in a flash chip inside the server (not just installed on the hard drive).

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2. You download the “installable version” – contrary to most software that is all “installable”, there is specific version of 3i called “installable”. Unlike the 565MB ESX Server ISO, the 3i Server ISO is only 200MB. Once you have 3i, you can install it on any server that is supported in the VMware ESX Server 3i HCL (hardware compatibility list). And keep in mind that because 3i support SATA disk, it can be installed on much wider variety of servers than ESX 3.x can.

How much does VMware ESX Server 3i cost?

UPDATED: VMware ESXi is now FREE!

VMware ESXi Server has recently been made available for free. Keep in mind that that is without any support agreement from VMware. “Free” is a very attractive price point for anyone moving to Virtualization!

But let’s not forget all of those “enterprise” grade features I talked about such as HA, DRS, VCB, and Virtual Center agent support. To get those features, you still need to buy a VMware ESX Server Enterprise level license.

How do you install ESX Server 3i?

To learn how to install ESX Server 3i, please see my new article on How to Install VMware ESX Server 3i

What does the ESX Server 3i Administrative Interface look like?

Here are some screenshots of the ESX Server 3i (3.5) administrative interface. As you’ll notice, it looks almost identical to ESX Server 3.x:

New Getting Started Tab

New Summary tab showing “3i”

In Summary

In my mind, 3i is really the next progression in virtualization options. It is thinner, it installs quicker, and boots faster than ESX 3.x. In theory, it should be more efficient and put less load on the server. Still, it can perform all the same enterprise features that ESX 3.x can. Additionally, you can get it installed on a new server or you can install it on an existing server. And, I still have trouble believing that you can get all of this for free. Sure, ESX 3i and ESX 3.x are still “young” products in the grand scheme of things but they are much more mature and reliable than the competitor’s products.

Download VMware ESX Server 3i today!

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