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How to Run Your vSphere Infrastructure for Free

All three of the most popular virtualization hypervisors are available in free editions: Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, VMware vSphere Hypervisor and Citrix XenServer. I applaud these companies for releasing free versions of their hypervisors because, without them, there wouldn't be any enterprise-grade virtualization solutions available gratis.

In this time of a weak economy, downsizing and squeezed IT budgets, virtualization admins (like everyone else) are being pushed to do more with less. The cost of commercial enterprise virtualization products is high. For example, vSphere Enterprise Plus with the highest level of three-year support costs $5,700 per socket. Thus, for a four-CPU/socket (perhaps with two or four cores each), you could pay as much as $20,000 just for a single server. And then, you'd likely want add-on third-party applications like backup and performance monitoring. Those typically run in the $300 to $500 range per socket. All in all, you could save as much as $25,000 per server by using only free virtualization products.

So, my question is, how can you save all this money on commercial products?

Whether you have a free virtual infrastructure or a costly paid virtual infrastructure, it's very likely that you'll need free tools to do everything required. The two most common requirements for free tools are performance monitoring and backup.

Without vCenter, you'll be limited to seeing real-time performance on the VMware vSphere Hypervisor server. For this reason, you need a tool to help you with historical performance data. There are a number of options for free performance tools that will store some historical performance data, but most are limited to 24 hours.

When it comes to backup tools, you can still use your existing physical server and your agent-based backup tool along with your new virtual infrastructure to back up individual virtual machines (VMs). However, to get image-based backups, you need a tool that goes directly to the vSphere server and copies down the VMs. Trilead VM Explorer (aka VMX) is a great VM backup-and-restore tool that has a free version. The only feature it lacks is scheduled backup. The Pro edition includes a scheduler that can be purchased for $760, no matter how many sockets you have in your virtual infrastructure.

What Do You Lose by Using Only Free Tools?
If you did create a free virtual infrastructure with VMware vSphere Hypervisor and free third-party tools, what would you lose?

  • Centralized management (vCenter): Without centralized management, you'd have difficulty managing your virtual infrastructure as the number of servers grows. You'd also lose historical performance reporting.
  • Advanced vSphere features: vMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), VMware High Availability (VMHA), Storage vMotion and more.
  • Backup/VMware Data Recovery: The VMware backup and recovery tool is included with vSphere Essentials Plus, Advanced and Enterprise -- but not with vSphere Hypervisor.
  • Support: There's no support included, but you can open up per-incident support.

Given these limitations, is creating a free virtual infrastructure a viable option? The answer is, "it depends." It depends on the criticality of your apps, the number of physical servers and the money that's available for your project.

About the Author

David Davis is a well-known virtualization and cloud computing expert, author, speaker, and analyst. David’s library of popular video training courses can be found at To contact David about his speaking schedule and his latest project, go to


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