back to article Broadcom terminates VMware's free ESXi hypervisor

Broadcom has discontinued the free version of VMware's ESXi hypervisor. News of the change came in a Monday knowledge base article that revealed the tool was removed from VMware.com and offered the following explanation for the change: Along with the termination of perpetual licensing, Broadcom has also decided to …

  1. DougMac

    ESXi Free Version was too restricted

    Too limited and too restricted to do anything interesting, let alone not having vCenter pretty much made it a nonstarter for anything interesting.

    I don't think its a big loss, any of the competitors would be better suited for most people.

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      Re: ESXi Free Version was too restricted

      I've used if very successfully for:

      1) My home office, where I "play" with server deployments.

      2) Small businesses, where I've used it to virtualise a number of legacy systems onto a single box (saving time and energy cost).

      3) Virtual organisations with specialist needs, where a cloud ESXi host keeps the costs down).

    2. talk_is_cheap

      Re: ESXi Free Version was too restricted

      Hosting vendors like Scaleway use it to validate their hosted offerings, customer can then bring their own vSphere licenses when they rent the host(s) they need.

    3. hoola Silver badge

      Re: ESXi Free Version was too restricted

      Your comment suggests you have no understanding of the product what so ever.

      You do not need vCenter to use ESXi effectively.

      Standalone ESXi has a huge amount of functionality with the GUI and using PowerCLI.

  2. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Sliding doors...

    《One VMware consultant of The Register's acquaintance told us the change means some workloads now appear to be cheaper to run on bare metal than under vSphere.》

    I guess for DELL one door open while the VMWare door closes. :)

    The hardware vendor's marketing droids need a sexier term or euphemism for "bare metal" perhaps not "naked greed." :)

    As for hobbiests there are far more interesting options out there - Nutanix was mentioned, Proxmox and SmartOS are another two. I suspect from now a jobseeker in the VM area might safely ignore vmware and skill up on nutanix.

    1. 43300 Silver badge

      Re: Sliding doors...

      I wonder whether Dell might look at developing their own hypervisor? Their mid and higher end storage appliances already have fairly sophisticated Linux-based operating systems, so it's not out of the question.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Sliding doors...

        I don't know, server/cloud companies basing their business model on selling access to systems built on open-source software ? Sounds risky

        1. Mike007 Bronze badge

          Re: Sliding doors...

          Using an open source hypervisor vs rolling your own isn't something the customer gives a crap about - assuming you put in the huge amount of effort required to get something that has the same performance and functionally.

          A frontend that gives you access to all of the functionality you need in an easy to use interface with someone you can ask for help if you can't figure it out yourself... THAT is the reason people pay for proprietary solutions.

    2. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Sliding doors...

      Having setup a lab on Nutanix CE all I can say is that compared to ESXi it is utter rubbish.

      It is just a badly skinned version of KVM.

      To put context on this for training purposes I have:

      ESXi

      ESXi cluster with vCenter

      HyperV (standalone & cluster)

      Nutanix

      The one that constantly gives me issues is Nutanix, even HyperV is better.

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    One VMware consultant of The Register's acquaintance told us the change means some workloads now appear to be cheaper to run on bare metal than under vSphere

    Even before the Broadcom take over, VMware was not cheap(tm).

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      Except when you only needed ESXi ;-)

  4. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    VMWare User Group "advantage" licensing is next on the chopping block!!!!!

    1. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

      Soon to be renamed (at least unofficially in user circles) to "disadvantage."

  5. Jusme

    OpenStack

    I guess if the dealer is getting out of the market there's no need for "first ones free" offers anymore. Like with early Windows, we could play at home for free and learn about all these great new toys, then take them into the workplace and get our employers to pay big bux for them. Classic 1...2...profit!

    It'a a pity OpenStack never made it as a product. From 2020 (https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2020/10/22/openstack_at_10/):

    "Last time I looked, OpenStack was still a science project. You get a bag of bits (very nice bits, certainly), but putting them together to make a working virtualisation environment takes a lot of time/effort/knowledge. Compare with VMware, which "just works" (though they're trying their best to break it with every new release), and you can be spinning up VMs through a nice-ish GUI within minutes of installation. OpenStack needs to be a product, not a technology..."

    Don't think much has changed.

    1. localzuk Silver badge

      Re: OpenStack

      OpenStack is used by some extremely large users... So, it is very much a "product". NASA, UK GDS, CERN, China Mobile, not to mention a bunch of hosting companies running their own cloud products (eg OVH)...

      1. Jusme

        Re: OpenStack

        OpenStack is used by some extremely large users... So, it is very much a "product". NASA, UK GDS, CERN, China Mobile, not to mention a bunch of hosting companies running their own cloud products (eg OVH)...

        Exactly, those large users can afford to dedicate teams to configuration and deployment of OpenStack. For smaller organisations there is no click-and-play, as there is (was) with VMware. OpenStack is a huge learning curve when virtualisation technology isn't your core business.

        1. DanAU

          Re: OpenStack

          If you want click-and-play, Proxmox is pretty good. A bunch of hosting services use it - probably moreso than OpenStack.

  6. Richard 12 Silver badge

    So that's what, ten years while the current large customers stretch their existing assets, before there aren't any VMware installations left at all?

    It's only going to be five years at most before the competition are technically better in every way, while the people who have vSphere experience become impossible to hire.

    The hypervisor is probably the easiest thing to swap out as none of the actual applications can even see it.

    The bit I don't understand is why Broadcom bought them. The revenue left before it dies seems very unlikely to cover the costs.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      I assume the idea is to milk the revenue from big installations while cutting the costs of dealing with those installations which have not yet had the chance to become big. To cut those costs they'll be releasing a lot of sales staff onto the job market with their lists of potential long term big virtualisation customers. Short-termism at its finest.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        I'm not entirely sure how it works, but apparently you can take out a loan to buy a company, and then make said company liable to pay back that loan. eg

        1. tekverse

          Yes, that's a leveraged buyout.

  7. darrylramm

    Uh nope.

    Surprisingly I have no interest in licking the Broadcom ice lolly.

  8. RussV

    History repeats itself

    A very different product I know, but this all reminds me of how Netware went down the pan (and Vmware is in a better position!)

    1. 43300 Silver badge

      Re: History repeats itself

      And Symantec in the SMB backup market. They managed to make some massively stupid changes to product functionality at the same time as being very slow to see how virtualisation was taking over in this market. With the result that they went from being the major player to a footnote, with many customers jumping ship to new entrant Veeam.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ignore the SMB/homelabber at your peril...

    VMware (20+ years ago) cast their net out as far as possible. They embraced partners, channels, users big and small, experienced and beginner. That formed the foundation of a massive ecosystem of community knowledge around their products that made them attractive (in addition to the stability & ease of use). None of their rivals ever came close to this. That's part of the reason they have such a massive market share (80% of VM workloads not running in the cloud run on VMware).

    ESXi free was extremely limited, but it allowed users easy access to the hypervisor to deploy it in a home environment to see what the fuss is about. It gets beginners/novices interested in the product, and eventually the add-on products. From there it's an easy hop to VMUG licensing and additional products to get familiar with the rest of the VMware stack.

    Those novice users are usually employed at entry-level jobs at smaller companies, and they tend to stick with what they know or have learned, so ESXi free becomes an easy deployment for those businesses. From there it's an easy hop to adding additional licences as they realise they need a vCenter and more of the advanced features to stay on top of everything (and the beauty of ESXi is that it's just a licence key change to unlock all of the features, no reinstall of a full version over the top of the free one).

    Those novice users gain experience, some move on to larger companies in more senior positions, and that knowledge, experience and product inertia continue to snowball into more VMware deployments, more add-on products used (maybe some of the vRealize/Aria stuff, or NSX, or vSAN) and you have a full ecosystem of end-users who are advocates for the solutions used.

    That was certainly my journey - I deployed ESXi free about 15 years ago onto a single host in my network lab to see what the fuss was about. It ended up sparking an interest and knowledge in a field that culminated in me eventually being employed by VMware and working with their biggest customers and partners globally.

    You can ignore those SMBs and home users and still make money, but don't be surprised if in 5+ years time you have a massively reduced market share further up the tree with large commercial/enterprise customers. With Broadcoms pricing changes I'd suspect it'll be even sooner than that...

    1. Rockets

      Re: Ignore the SMB/homelabber at your peril...

      A lot of the hobbyists & home lab type users I come across seem to be enamoured with Proxmox now. And I see numerous people talking about how playing around with Proxmox has lead to them installing it at work and moving production workloads to it there. The home labers that are using VMware now is because they have it work and want to learn it.

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Ignore the SMB/homelabber at your peril...

        I think the issues around this depend on what you are trying to achieve.

        If you are using the hypervisor to run a home lab then the actual platform is largely irrelevant, we will all use what is most convenient & free. As an aside, the one with the lowest overhead. If you need half you resources to do nothing but run the hypervisor and management interfaces then it starts to become an struggle. If you are lucky to have a cheap DL380 or equivalent then fine but they take space, power & make a noise!

        The Microserver Gen8 is still an incredibly piece of equipment when you add the 1265L cpu & a Smart Array,

        1. Jrx1216

          Re: Ignore the SMB/homelabber at your peril...

          > If you are using the hypervisor to run a home lab then the actual platform is largely irrelevant,

          I'd disagree. I'm much more likely to suggest deploying a platform I'm already familiar with at work than a competing platform, and I'd imagine there are many in the same boat as me. I cancelled my VMUG advantage membership and switched off of VMWare a week or so after the broadcom announcement, and I'm very glad I did... I just wish I'd given some of the non-proxmox options more of a chance before switching to it entirely for my lab :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ignore the SMB/homelabber at your peril...

        Problem with ProxMox is it’s not as “click and play” especially when it comes to virtual networking. As soon as I start to need to edit config files and so on, the ESXi benefits are clear.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Broadcom are milking the cash cow

    As well as ending perpetual licensing, which a lot of education organisations like Universities have, they are also removing educational discount, with the net effect of cost rises above 300% and a shift to subscription. The next infrastructure refresh I do won't be using VMWare for sure.

    1. Sparkus

      Re: Broadcom are milking the cash cow

      Disagree

      I believe that Broadcom bought VMWare as a cheaper long-term alternative to either licensing the tech or developing it themselves.

      Once the tech and skill set transfers are complete from VM to Broadcom, VMWare will once again be sold off.

      The pricing changes and cash grab are to make the temporary acquisition cash-neutral or even profitable for the 5-6 years it will take to complete the buy-strip-selloff cycle.

      Examples? Look at what NVidia wanted to do with ARM. And what Daimler did do to Chrysler, BMW to Rover, and others.

    2. TReko

      Re: Broadcom are milking the cash cow

      I'd prefer a different animal analogy: They are killing the golden goose.

  11. BenDwire Silver badge
    Holmes

    Oh well

    I've had a server at home running EXSi for years now, and it has an assortment of VMs that I could spin up when the need arose. To be honest, I powered it down when I went to OZ for a few months after retiring, and I've not turned it on since. I've been wondering about reinstating it and migrating the workload from my lower-powered microserver, if only to improve the performance of my Plex server. Obviously now that won't involve EXSi, which also means that I won't be able to advise people on such systems when they ask me for help.

    Maybe nothing of value was lost - which might explain why Broadcom are taking this course of action.

    So now I've faced with the choice of another bare metal install, or invistigate the likes of Proxmox. Given that I no longer have any use for any Micros~1 products, I don't need to keep VMs for them either. The choice appears to be quite a simple one: Bare metal Debian or Devuan?

    1. abend0c4 Silver badge

      Re: Oh well

      For casual use, KVM works well enough and with the right hardware in the right circumstances you can get hardware-accelerated guest graphics on the main console which may be an advantage for some. For simple cases, the interactive Virtual Machine Manager mostly gets things right without too much need to poke around with settings .

      Proxmox is very solid, but there's quite a lot to learn so it might be overkill for "when the need arises" applications.

    2. DanAU

      Re: Oh well

      If your systems are Linux on Linux then often it's sufficient to rely on containerization rather than virtualization. Consider using Docker or Podman (optionally with a web UI like Portainer) or LXC.

  12. Steve Kerr

    Bye bye ESXi

    I was using ESXi on an intel NUC (slightly entertaining with multiple core types), was originally going to use Nutanix but requires 3 physical disks/ssds to install.

    When I heard about broadcom, I was thinking about changing it as I wasn't using it for too much as after much looking decided to go with Proxmox which I'm still learning about.

    Was a fairly straightforward install though I only thought about exporting the VMs and trying to import them after I had already blatted it!

    Still, for the moment, Proxmox suits my purposes apart from it moaning about the lack of a license every time you login even though there's a free version (for non-prod use).

    Shame really as after using VMWare for years actually quite liked it!

    Onto learning new stuff!

    1. Jim Willsher

      Re: Bye bye ESXi

      Me too. I have a NUC at home running ESXi Free and it has been great. When the time comes to buy a new NUC I will look at options, as I doubt my ESXi USB will cater for newer harware when I get it.

    2. tekverse

      Re: Bye bye ESXi

      It's easy to remove that nag screen. There are plugins, or a quick config file edit.

      Overall Proxmox is pretty nice to use, I've been enjoying it.

  13. Jawn77478

    Mark This Day

    ...as the day Broadcom started rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that is VMWare. Yes, the move away from VSphere, by all those prospective customers who wanted to familiarize themselves with it, but lacked the resources for even a modest commercial version, had already started years ago, with the abandonment of support for older hardware in ESXi v8.x. That older hardware is de rigueur in home and learning labs everywhere, not to mention less-well-heeled commercial operations, non-profits, etc. It may take years, but the future purchasing decision makers, who are now running their virtualization stacks with ProxMox and Hyper-V will be heavily influence by this. The Cloud Software Group similarly gave the finger to this market back in December, when they announced the end of open-source Xen Center.

  14. MikesInAK

    Good riddance

    VMware was the ultimate test of an incompetent IT department.

    Let’s double our infrastructure costs and gain all the features we already have, then dilute our skill sets so everyone’s floundering by them selves.

  15. Sparkus

    Dear VMWare user base...

    Told ya so.

    Respectfully

    Everyone

  16. irrelevant

    Oh great, but I guess this wasn't unexpected.

    I run a free ESXi install at home on a ten year old Dell rack server. It runs multiple VMs, running such diverse things as various Websites, Minecraft and other games servers and my main *nix development environment, to a couple of foreign language installs of Windows I use for testing one project. Several VMs run multiple docker based services, but not everything can run that way, and it's useful to keep some services isolated from each other.

    What I like(d) was how easy it is to set up a VM.. A simple "wizard" to lead me through the principal questions, the chance to amend things like number of cores, memory, etc., point the cd drive at an iso of the relevant boot/install disc, away we go.

    I tired Proxmox a couple of years ago on another box, and whilst it installed fine, never managed to get as far as getting one VM up and running. It just seemed overly complex and very non-intuitive. Whilst I could appreciate the potential, I simply didn't have the time to overcome the learning curve. I don't have a lot of time for what is these days just a hobby, and I'd rather spend it on constructive stuff than learning a new backend that I only need to touch maybe twice a year and will consequently forget how to use even quicker..

    Do any of the free alternatives come with as user-friendly a GUI as ESXi's Web interface?

    1. NickHolland

      Give Proxmox another chance -- it looks like it has made some interesting progress in the last few years. The UI ain't bad, really...though I'm still having trouble figuring out what it is doing under the covers (ok, I just created a VM. I have no idea what physical disk it landed on. But I'm very new with it...).

      I'll admit, installation didn't go well on the one machine I was really hoping to use, it went further than ESXi did -- ESXi refused to recognize the SAS interfaces the disks were on. Entertainingly, the box was actually etired Nutanix hardware.

      What I'm liking about Proxmox is that it IS a set of applications on a full Linux install, whereas ESXi was definitely based on Linux, but so many tools were yanked out or highly restricted from a standard Linux install, it was annoying to know what I wanted to accomplish, but not sure how to accomplish it in THIS environment.

  17. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    'Broadcom has pledged to increase VMware's profits substantially and quickly'

    Difficult to read this as anything other than 'we're going to screw our locked in customers'

    I lost some enthusiasm for VMWare a couple of years in, when they moved from trying to improve their core virtualisation technology to concentrating on management tools.

    I used to use ESXi to host a limited number of Windows Server VMs, when work had an owner that spent far too long provisioning systems and arguing about cost. Now everything is for the most part properly hosted, I suspect on Hyper-V, one different large ESX based cloud was recently removed due to cost.

    It was abundantly obvious even years ago, that VMWare didn't really want you to use ESXi. The management tools without vCenter are limited, and the hardware compatibility list quickly moved to remove older less capable servers.

    Nevertheless ESXi had the advantage that it was acceptable in a corporate environment, in a way that Xen might not get away with, and KVM certainly would not. If I was still in the same situation no doubt Hyper-V would be the preferred option instead.

    I see the commercial Xenserver appears to have dropped their free tier (trial is available, but not for production work loads), so for free offerings things like XCP-NG or Proxmox are the way to go.

    I'm currently trying to use bhyve on FreeBSD, and boy but is it a technology in its early stages. considerably below the functionality of using Xen from scratch on top of Linux five years ago.

    1. ldo

      Re: KVM certainly would not

      Except KVM is a standard feature of the Linux kernel, so unless these corporates were building their own kernels to exclude that capability, it would certainly be present in their Linux deployments.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: KVM certainly would not

        My point is that Linux is not always allowed in corporates, and VMware is its own recognised thing[1]. It also depends what you're doing to it. I had another go with KVM last night and whilst the base technology through virt-manager is really easy and impressive to get going, if you need passthrough (which I grant is a bit specialist) it can require an awful lot of fiddling. That's one thing ESXi did extremely well, if you can cope with its limitations.

        [1] Yes, technically VMware is 'Linux', but its customised distribution and driver model are different enough that it's best seen as its own separate thing.

        1. ldo

          Re: Linux is not always allowed in corporates

          They are the ones moving to the cloud in huge numbers. Given that the cloud is mostly Linux, then those corporates have to be using Linux in large numbers, whether they realize it or not.

          1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: Linux is not always allowed in corporates

            That's irrelevant. What I'm talking about here is what software is acceptable in some corporates to get you out of a hole. In some cases ESXi was acceptable whilst 'Linux' was not.

            They're different skill sets. For the most part you can administer ESXi only knowing about ESXi, whilst for Linux you need to know about Linux. As mentioned ESXi is only nominally Linux, there are noticeable changes in both the distribution and driver model.

            Also as I mentioned, probably a moot point now Hyper-V is more mature, but it was a factor a number of years back.

            1. ldo

              Re: what software ... to get you out of a hole

              The obvious answer is, don’t get into the hole in the first place. Don’t entrust mission-critical business functions to unsupported proprietary products, even if they are freeware. Stick to something well-known and open-source, where you have a large and skilled community to hire from for support.

  18. pnunn

    XCP-NG to the rescue

    If you want a great alternative that's both open source and supported you really can't go past XCP-NG and XenOrchestra. They are SO much better.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: XCP-NG to the rescue

      Having just had a play around with XCP-NG I would question that. Usable, yes, but not to a level of polish of even the free version of ESXi.

      If you want to use it 'completely free' it's also necessary to patch in the community orchestrator VM rather than the default which needs an account that's pushing you towards commercial offerings.

      It has more than a bit of a whiff of management tools thrown together on top of a solid base (Xen). The Xen command line tools are great. XOA less so - missing functionality, doesn't refresh automatically, opaque error messages.

  19. ldo

    KVM-Based Solutions

    KVM is the core Linux building block for virtualization. I suspect a lot of other products get built with KVM as their foundation.

    Sometimes, you don’t need full-on virtualization; a container-based technology can be useful for many workloads, and is lighter weight. Linux does not actually have the concept of a “container” as a built-in primitive: instead, these are built out of lower-level pieces, namely namespaces and cgroups. Examples of these container technologies are LXC, systemd-nspawn, and of course Docker.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Broadcom, where software goes to die

    Who the hell wants to be a Broadcom customer?

    1. collinsl Bronze badge

      Re: Broadcom, where software goes to die

      Hardware manufacturers who need their chips. That's it.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There WILL be a drop off curve

    A huge government department was croaking about the cost of VM being so high - they were saving nothing - just some flexibility and able to wave a 'green' flag. That was 5 years or more ago. Since then the license complications and confusions, as will as increases on other software for cores etc on third party software as well. And now cloud vendors pulled the pricing rug on all the 'Hotel California' suckers.

    Yes there WILL be more inhousing and bare metal conversions. CONTRARY to popular opinion, businesses do know they are being fleeced, know that they are not saving and seeing double digit price increases every year. We now have to get a BROKER to push down cloud prices, as the .gov panel price is higher than other places. Moving low change static to Germany is not out the question, as vendors are real quiet about legal software resale and 2nd hand market there . Plus cloud prices are seeking lockin - not month to month. Not stated is the original VM founders wrote sound code. Some are informed the VM codemonkeys today have ruined VM's quality. Dell SHOULD get involved and only support a modern cpu setup -say 8th gen i7 and up only. The higher they raise the bar, the simpler it gets. I suppose they are waiting for Intel to fix more CPU security bugs before they make that move.

  22. Vincero

    This is kinda like the final nail in the coffin for the home enthusiast / new user learning familiarisation process... Sigh...

    Not sure killing off potential routes to adoption is a great idea with so much other (free) competition...

    So long VMWare ESX(i).... It's been real... Or virtual...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    moving to ProxMox

    I have worked with VMWare for years, primarily setting up new High Availability clusters with iSCSI attached storage and some with DAS storage (Dell servers and hardware) in a managed hosting environment for customers. My previous job after I left from working at the data center was at a primarily Linux based company who was in the process of migration from an old VMWare 5 VSphere cluster to a ProxMox cluster using the OVF converter tool from VMWare to migrate the VMs into the ProxMox cluster.

    My current Network Admin job is at a company that has a VMWare VSphere 7 environment with three hosts, which uses VEEAM to do backups for everything and offline VM replication to a dedicated stand alone host at our other location for DR recovery purposes.

    I had already been talking to my boss about the benefits of using ProxMox compared to VMWare and these licensing changes are making this switch more and more appealing to him. We are looking forward to having to spend a lot of money next year when it is time to redo everything with Broadcom for support, licensing, etc.

  24. atariguy

    The Gartner guy is clueless. For smaller companies with only 2 or 3 hosts, the free version of ESXi was all you needed to get started. VCenter is a luxury at that scale. But then eventually Essentials would come into play (which is now also discontinued).

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