[VMware vSphere Quick Guide] Types of VMware Licenses

VMware offers flexible editions, licensing and pricing for its products, which can sometimes lead to confusion. This article will introduce you to 2 main types of VMware licenses based on ESXi host and vCenter Server.


By Crystal / Updated on March 8, 2023

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What is VMware vSphere

If you have worked with virtualization, it is hard to not notice VMware vSphere. VMware vSphere is a virtualization suite of VMware. It includes 2 core components, VMware ESXi and vCenter Server. ESXi is a type-1 hypervisor allowing you to create and run virtual machines. vCenter Server is a service that manages multiple ESXi hosts connected in a network and pool host resources.

Although VMware ESXi is a free tool, if you want to unlock more advanced tools, including vCenter Server, then you will need to subscribe licenses. So, what licenses do VMware have, and what license do you need? This article will provide you with a quick guide of general types of VMware licenses.

VMware vSphere

Types of VMware licenses

VMware vSphere provides a centralized license management system that you can use to manage licenses for its products. ESXi hosts, vCenter Server, vSAN clusters, and Supervisor Clusters are licensed differently.

To apply their licensing models correctly, you must understand how the associated assets consume the license capacity. In this part, I will present difference licensing for its core components, ESXi hosts and vCenter Server.

Licensing for ESXi hosts

ESXi hosts are licensed with vSphere licenses. and vSphere is licensed on a per-processor basis, without imposing any restrictions on the number of virtual machines, physical cores, or the amount of physical RAM. Each vSphere license has a certain capacity that you can use to license multiple physical CPUs on ESXi hosts. To install vSphere in a virtual environment, at least one license key should be assigned to each physical processor (CPU).

Starting with vSphere 7.0, one CPU license covers one CPU with up to 32 cores. If а CPU has more than 32 cores, you need additional CPU licenses.

Licensing for ESXi host

When you assign a vSphere license to a host, the amount of capacity consumed is determined by the number of physical CPUs on the host and the number of cores in each physical CPU.

To license an ESXi host, you must assign it a vSphere license that meets the following prerequisites:

  • The license must have sufficient capacity to license all physical CPUs on the host.
  • The license must support all the features that the host uses. For example, if the host is associated with a vSphere Distributed Switch, the license that you assign must support the vSphere Distributed Switch feature.

If you attempt to assign a license that has insufficient capacity or does not support the features that the host uses, the license assignment fails.

Licensing for vCenter Server

vCenter Server systems are licensed with vCenter Server licenses that have per-instance capacity. To license a vCenter Server system, you need a vCenter Server license that has the capacity for at least one instance.

There are three different vCenter Server license categories; Standard, Foundation, and Essentials. Compare VMware essentials plus and standard, vCenter Server Essentials licensing is included with a vSphere Essentials Kit, while vCenter Server licenses for Standard or Foundation are sold separately from vSphere licensing.

Licensing for vCenter Server

▶ vCenter Server Foundation

vCenter Server Foundation is sold as a separate license and only supports managing up to 4 vSphere ESXi hosts. It is best suited for environments where there will be no more than 4 vSphere ESXi hosts to manage and no requirement of some of the business continuity features.

Although it still provides the basic management necessary for smaller vSphere environments, this version of vCenter Server is limited in some features when compared to other versions.

For example, vCenter Server Foundation does not come with vRealize Orchestrator, vCenter Server High Availability (VCHA), vCenter Server File-Based Backup and Restore, and does not support Enhanced Linked Mode (ELM).

▶ vCenter Server Essentials

The vCenter Server version included with vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus is called “vCenter Server for Essentials”. vCenter Server for Essentials is similar to Foundation in terms of its feature limitations.

When bundled with vSphere Essentials, vCenter Server for Essentials allows for management of up to 3 vSphere ESXi hosts, with up to 2 physical CPUs each. There is no support for vMotion or vSphere High Availability with vSphere Essentials. The creation of datacenters, clusters, etc. are available, but migrations to other hosts would require a “cold migration” or powered off VM prior to migrating.

However, the vCenter Server for Essentials that comes with vSphere Essentials Plus, allows for business continuity features such as, vSphere High Availability (HA) and vMotion. vSphere Essentials Plus also unlocks cross switch vMotion, vSphere Replication, and optional access to VSAN.

▶ vCenter Server Standard

vCenter Server Standard is also sold separately from vSphere licensing. It is the version containing all available vCenter Server features. Differs from Foundation, it can manage up to 2000 vSphere ESXi hosts.

This version of vCenter Server also brings the ability to leverage vRealize Orchestrator for automating key tasks, allows for Enhanced Linked Mode (ELM), vCenter Server High Availability (VCHA), vCenter Server File-Based Backup and Restore, as well as the vCenter Server Migration Tool (included on the ISO for all vCenter Server versions).

vCenter Server Standard is best suited for vSphere environments that have many vSphere hosts to manage or those looking to scale out their virtual infrastructure or take full advantage a rich feature set that streamlines monitoring, orchestration, and provisioning of virtual machines.

Protect VM data by backing up VMs on VMware ESXi

Compare VMware essentials plus and standard, the key difference is how many ESXi hosts it support. Using vCenter Server you can centrally manage multiple virtual machines, automate ESXi host configuration, manage patches, etc.

However, neither do free ESXi host nor vCenter Server provide the feature of virtual machine backup. Using a dedicated backup tool is the most commonly accepted way to protect VM data, and is by far the most convenient.

Here I introduce you to a free VMware backup software -- AOMEI Cyber Backup. It offers you the following benefits.

Agentless Backup: create complete and independent image-level backup for VMware ESXi and Hyper-V VMs.
Support Free ESXi: support both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi.
Multiple Storage Destinations: backup to local or network share destinations.
Automated Execution: create backup schedules to automate virtual machine protection.
Role Assignment: allows one administrator to create sub-accounts with limited privileges.

AOMEI Cyber Backup supports VMware ESXi 6.0 and later versions. And simplifies the process of backing up VMs into 3 simple steps. You can click the following button to download and use AOMEI Cyber Backup Free Edition with no time limit.

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

*You can choose to install this VM backup software on either Windows or Linux system.

AOMEI Cyber Backup


To give IT organizations flexible deployment and licensing options, VMware has been adjusting its licenses, editions and features over the years. This article covers 2 core types of VMware licenses, licensing of ESXi hosts, and licensing of vCenter Server.

After acquiring licenses on demand, you can create and run virtual machines on ESXi. But please always remember to backup VMware ESXi VMs to ensure the data security. This way you can use VMs for all kinds of operations without worry, even if it's risky.

Crystal · Editor
Crystal is an editor from AOMEI Technology. She mainly writes articles about virtual machine. She is a positive young lady likes to share articles with peolpe. Off work she loves travelling and cooking which is wonderful for life.