By Crystal / Last Updated September 29, 2022

Is VMware ESXi free? How?

Excitingly, the answer is yes. VMware offers a great option for ESXi hypervisors to download a free version of ESXi, and the process is quite flexible.

When you install ESXi, the default activation is the VMware Evaluation license, which allows you to free use all ESXi features of Enterprise Plus for 60 days. But in case all your business stops after that time limit, you still need to get and apply a license.

If you are looking for a completely free version of ESXi, then the VMware Free license would be the best answer here. It is a 100% free Hypervisor provided by VMware with no expiration date, and is great for home or light usage.

However, this free version of ESXi also has some limitations on features, which can be found in the next part. You can decide for yourself whether the free version is suitable for your needs and environment.

vmware-esxi-free

What are the limitations of free ESXi

Taking the latest vSphere 7.0 as example, VMware has also released a free version of ESXi, which changes hardware support and the disk layout of the ESXi drive, and the rest remains unchanged.

This free version of ESXi provided some convenience such as not limiting physical memory and the number of cores per CPU. But it also has many limitations. Let's talk about it.

1. You cannot manage virtual machines through vCenter Server.

Besides VMware vSphere Hypervisor, vCenter Server is the main management component which adds a range of advanced features such as vMotion, DRS, Software-defined storage (vSAN), High-Availability, cluster ESXi servers, upgrade Manager, etc. Unfortunately, there's no free version of vCenter. Therefore, an enterprise user may probably not consider the free version of VMware ESXi.

If you need to perform VMware vSphere H.A Cluster, vCenter Server is necessary to achieve high availability of virtual machines in cluster.

VMware vCenter Server

2. vStorage API is not accessible.

VMware doesn't provide vSphere Storage APIs for the free version of ESXi, so it doesn't allow third-party backup tools to interact with the hypervisor, which leads to impossibility of automatic and multiple backups using third-party software for enterprise backup needs. You have to manually back up individual virtual machine in VMware.

For Enterprise users, manual backup is inconvenient and time-wasting. So, vStorage API is crucial to ensure your business safety by interacting with a professional software such as AOMEI Cyber Backup which helps to back up your unlimited virtual machines through central console.

3. Up to 8 vCPUs per VM, any other VM with more than 8 vCPUs will not be started.

VMware ESXi free limitations

4. No VMware official support.

With the free version, if you confront problems, you will not be able to contact VMware support office, but you can browse the VMware community to find the solution.

*5. Up to 2 physical CPUs and 16 TB memory

The impact of these two points is not very significant in practice, and the restriction has been lifted in the free ESXi of vSphere 7.0.

To help you understand better, here's a comparison chart of VMware ESXi free and paid editions.

- Comparison between free ESXi vs paid ESXi -

  VMware ESXi Free VMware ESXi Paid
Expiration No Limit Not Applied
Community Support VMTN Forums VMTN Forums
Maximum vCPUs per VM 8 vCPUs 256 vCPUs
Official Support No Yes
vCenter Server No Yes
Storage API (VADP) No Yes
High Availability No Yes
vMotion No Yes
DRS No Yes

Considering these VMware ESXi free limitations, you may be able to decide whether you need the free version or paid version of ESXi. If you are new to vSphere ESXi or want to use ESXi in a home lab environment, I recommend you to try the free version that can meet some of your basic requirements.

In the next part, I will introduce how to download and install the VMware ESXi free version.

How to download and license free VMware ESXi

1. Download VMware ESXi from the VMware website. Pay attention to the compatibility of the free version.

2. Create an account and log in to your Customer Connect. Then you will get a license key and make a note of it.

donwload ESXi free

3. Select Manually Download to start installing free version of ESXi.

4. Log in to the ESX/ESXi host and go to assign a license to ESXi host. Click Manage >> Licensing >> Assign License.

5. Enter the license key in the text box. Then click Check license.

6. Review the license keys and click Finish.

In this way, you can simply get your ESXi host a free license and start using it. The next thing to consider is how to manage your virtual environment in a healthy and long-lasting way.

As we know, virtual machines, whether used in production or test environments, are likely to suffer data loss, corruption or even system crashes for various reasons. In order not to cause more serious consequences, we usually use some backup solutions to keep the VMware virtual machines under protection.

But due to the above mentioned limitations, you may not use the same backup solution on the free version of VMware ESXi. Next I will further elaborate on the issue.

VMware ESXi free backup solutions

The free version of ESXi does not support vStoage API and hence no native backup supported. Or rather, you need an agent-based backup solution.

If you are using Windows VM, you can actually use the built-in backup apps, such as Backup and Restore or Windows Server Backup. But if you want to avoid the hassle of executing backup & restore on each VM separately, you can consider using the agent-based centralized backup solution - AOMEI Centralized Backupper.

You can install it on your host computer as the central console, and then install the Agent on each VM you want to protect. Thus, you can back them up centrally just as physical machines, and the backup options include File Backup, Partition Backup, System Backup, Disk Backup, SQL Server Backup, Real-Time Sync, etc.

Here's a 30-day free trial for you to experience its features (with the upper-limit of 5 machines):

Download Free TrialVMware & Hyper-V
Secure Download

To use this backup solution, you should install ACB on the central machine, assign different IP for each VM and install Agent on them. Thus, you can request control over all of them, and create backup task centrally.

request control

Then you can create any task you want from the Tasks tab.

Centralized Backup Task

And select multiple controlled computers (VMs) to backup.

Add Computers

You can find more useful options such as backup schedule (daily/weekly/monthly), backup retention policy (auto delete older backups), backup compression, encryption, email notifications, etc.

More detailed description can be found in the Help Guides.

Agentless and free backup solution for VMware ESXi paid versions

If you finally decide to license your ESXi host with paid version, then you can unlock those advanced features to manage virtual machines better. One of the changes is that because the Storage API is supported, you can use the centralized management to back up the VMs in batch. That is, you can perform agentless backup without deploying agent packages on each VM.

AOMEI Cyber Backup is a free VMware backup software that can protect your virtual machines in ESXi paid versions agentlessly. It allows you to schedule the flexible backup strategies to run multiple backup automatically.

Automatic VMware Backup: Auto backup virtual machines on regular basis to protect VMware workloads continuously.
Instant Disaster Recovery: Once the VMware crashes, quickly restore VMware to normal state and reduce business-critical downtime.
Agentless Backup: Backup virtual machines at host level without installing agent on each VM, reducing O&M costs.

Procedures to back up multiple VMs in a flash

1. Install AOMEI Cyber Backup on the host and bind your devices. Then click Backup Task >> Create New Task.

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

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

2. In the task wizard, enter a name and select the virtual machines for backup.

select virtual machines

3. Target: specify the backup destination.

select backup destination

4. Schedule: set up the backup task with flexible strategies such as full/incremental/differential backup and time period as daily/weekly/monthly.

schedule backup

5. Start Backup: Create and execute the task now, or create a scheduled task only.

Start Backup

6. Click Restore that can restore the entire VM from any recorded backup version quickly and easily.

restore VM

✎ While the Free Edition has covered most of the VM backup needs, you can also upgrade to enjoy:
Backup cleanup: Set up a retention policy to delete old backup files automatically, thus save your storage space.
Restore to new location: Create an identical VM in the same or another datastore/host directly from the backup.

A reliable third-party backup tool is a powerful assistant for enterprise data security. It’s efficient for multiple virtual machine backup and simplifies the VM management.

Summary

After reading this article, I believe you have been familiar with the VMware ESXi Free limitations. If you are in a home labs environment or in the initial stages of learning ESXi, the free VMware version of ESXi is worth a try.

However, if you are in a production environment and need to run workloads with advanced features, the limitations of VMware ESXi free version will impact your work badly. So it requires a paid license for VMware ESXi.