Small business software myth: VMware costs way too much

Many IT pros think using VMware products as small business software is expensive. So our VMware expert reveals how the product could suit your small to medium-sized business.

A stubborn, and popular, urban myth that surrounds VMware vSphere is that it represents some kind of “race horse”...

of virtualisation and that the vendor’s product is more expensive when compared to alternatives from its competitors. A consequence of this myth is that it makes vSphere sound like an “enterprise-only” product, which isn’t a good fit for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Despite what VMware’s competition says, nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s true that in the early days of VMware vCenter and ESX, the product packaging wasn’t especially SMB “friendly”. At that time, VMware used flat pricing for vCenter and vCenter agents, and the ESX hosts were licensed by the number of completed CPU sockets in a physical server.

Since it released VMware Infrastructure 3, the company has targeted a whole host of new SKUs specifically at the SMB market. In fact, customers now can be overwhelmed with the various ways to consume VMware’s core product. If you are unsure about what version of vSphere is right for you, try working through VMware’s Purchase Advisor, which will guide you to the right package selection for your environment and budget.

VMware’s Essentials and Advanced Acceleration packages are aimed at giving customers more than just the basics in terms of features. Many SMB customers are using the recently updated Essentials Plus Kit. VMware added the highly useful vMotion feature in vSphere 4.1, which allows customers to move virtual machines (VMs) from ESX hosts to another, without the need for downtime.

As the company’s competitors slowly catch up in terms of features, they will put pressure on VMware to offer more value for the money. When the next version of vSphere is released, I wouldn’t be surprised if VMware pushed more features into the Essentials package, along with a limited offer for upgrading to a new version at a special price. In my experience, customers are often rewarded with special incentives for purchasing “plus” or “added-value” versions.

What about larger businesses?
Of course these SMB offerings are not limited to small or medium-sized businesses; they could be used by an organisation of any size.

A common concern I hear in the larger corporate space is how IT decision makers are getting pressure from management about the cost of VMware. This generally rears its head when enterprises are virtualising branch offices and remote sites where there are a small number of users. I think enterprises have much to learn from the SMB space where costs are always a concern. Those cost-effective SMB SKUs could be used by larger organisations for virtualising their remote offices too.

The nice thing about the Essentials Plus SKU is that it now includes the VMware high-availability feature, so if uptime is a concern, that is a boon. Often, the worry about remote offices is the lack of skills present on-site to fix issues if something goes wrong. Having an availability and resilience feature such as HA is important to reduce the number of times a staff member has to take an unscheduled trip to a remote office to fix a problem.

How to choose the right SKU for your SMB
Finding information and comparing SKUs is not always easy. From an SMB perspective, the best information I’ve seen is in one matrix that shows all the SKUs.

Are there any “gotchas” with these SMB packages? Just be sure to read the small print and understand what you’re agreeing to when you buy any product. VMware’s Essentials Plus edition allows only one vCenter and three ESX hosts. At this time, there is no direct upgrade package should you wish to expand and add more hosts – except to the Advanced Acceleration SKUs. For some customers, this is an issue and triggers them to move into the “enterprise” SKUs.

The reason for this restriction is to prevent enterprise customers from buying vSphere “on the cheap” and then scaling up by buying more licenses. I can understand why a business would want to protect revenue, but this restriction is sometimes a missed opportunity to up-sell SMB customers into buying more vSphere licenses. That’s why VMware developed the Advanced Acceleration SKUs with SMB offerings. With these SKUs, an upgrade path allows expanding beyond the base offering. Of course, the licensing costs reflect this flexibility. 

Check out part two of this series from Mike Laverick. 

Mike Laverick is a professional instructor with 15 years of experience with Novell, Windows and Citrix technologies and has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. In addition to teaching, he is the owner and author of the virtualisation website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish user groups. He has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere 4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.


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