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.
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.
2. vStorage API is not accessible.
VMware doesn't provide vSphere Storage APIs for the free version of ESXi, which makes it difficult for many third-party software to perform automatic and multiple backups for VMs on free VMware ESXi. Native features such as Export& Import to manually back up virtual machines one by one are widely applied to protect the VM data.
However, manual backup is inconvenient and time-wasting. If you use free VMware ESXi and want an efficient VMware backup solution, you can try AOMEI Cyber Backup, an agentless backup software that supports both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi.
3. Up to 8 vCPUs per VM, any other VM with more than 8 vCPUs will not be started.
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|
|Storage API (VADP)||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.
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.
However, the limitation of not supporting vStorage APIs may cause you not to be able to use the same backup solution for VMware free ESXi as for the paid versions.
AOMEI Cyber Backup can free you from this issue, as it supports backups of VMs both on the paid and free versions of ESXi. Next I will further elaborate on the issue.
Agentless backup solution for VMware ESXi paid and free versions
Due to the limitation of not supporting vStorage APIs, the free VMware ESXi has a fewer selection of backup solutions than the paid versions. You are limited to the free built-in backup solutions such as VM files download and Export&Import, and backup software that supports free VMware ESXi.
If you have many VMs, manually downloading or exporting VMs one by one can be laborious. If you want a more efficient way, you can try AOMEI Cyber Backup, an agentless backup solution for both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi.
AOMEI Cyber Backup is a free VMware backup software that allows you to schedule flexible backup strategies to run multiple backups automatically, monitors the status and sends email notifications if there's an error.
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 and add vCenter or Standalone ESXi host as the source device. It supports both paid and free versions of VMware ESXi.
Then click Backup Task >> Create New Task.
*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 (up to 10 VMs in one task on Free Edition).
3. Target: specify the 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.
5. Start Backup: Create and execute the task now, or create a scheduled task only.
6. Click Restore that can restore the entire VM from any recorded backup version quickly and easily.
✎ While the Free Edition has covered most of the VM backup needs, you can also upgrade to enjoy:
Batch VM Backup: batch backup large numbers of VMs managed by vCenter Server or on standalone ESXi hosts.
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.
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.