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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 and offered the following explanation for the change:

The free cut of ESXi was only able to run on limited number of cores, addressed a modest quantity of memory, and lacked many management niceties. So while it was able to be used in production it was more suited to testing, tinkering, and hobbyists. But when used in those roles it often led to production deployments, or improved the skills of IT pros who later became champions of the vStack.

Ending availability of the free version won't mean it's no longer possible to use the hypervisor without paying full freight: the VMWare User Group "advantage" licensing persists, as do trialware versions of the product.

Gartner research vice president Michael Warrilow told The Register the change may therefore not be significant.

"Given all the disruption facing VMware customers right now, many will misinterpret this move. Unless VMware no longer offers a trial edition, there's not a lot of impact," he told us. Warrilow added: "Microsoft no longer offers a free edition of Hyper-V Server, so if you want a free alternative there's several good open source options to explore."

Those alternatives include Nutanix's Community Edition, introduced in 2015 to tempt the curious.

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Justin Warren, the principal analyst of consultancy Pivot Nine, told The Register the demise of free vSphere means "Broadcom has pretty clearly signaled that it is no longer interested in smaller VMware customers.

"Unless you can justify a commitment to at least vSphere Foundation, Broadcom is happy to ignore you."

Warren rated the change "another gift to competitors like Nutanix, Scale Computing, Microsoft with Hyper-V/Azure Stack, or Red Hat OpenShift Virtualization (via KubeVirt). Their salespeople must be shopping for new boats. Or there are good, free options like Proxmox."

Warren added his opinion that this change is bad for VMware's longer-term prospects.

"This will impact the pipeline to new adoption for VMware, he predicted. "The free version was a way for people to become familiar with VMware, especially early in their career. A lot of now-CIOs, CTOs, etc. got their start that way. New people are likely to adopt something else now, and Broadcom must know that. A drop-off in new adoption may have already happened, so this could be a reaction by Broadcom rather than an instigation. The outcome is the same, though."

The demise of free vSphere comes after Broadcom recently made the operation of 3,500 cores running VMware Cloud Foundation the minimum requirement for inclusion in its cloud partner program.

Pre-acquisition VMware proudly touted the 4,000-plus small clouds that ran its stack, and applauded their ability to offer services that hyperscalers could not – especially providing sovereign clouds that lacked the complex legal entanglements that see multinational hyperscalers sometimes beholden to laws of their home jurisdictions. It is unclear how many of VMware's old cloud partners run enough cores to continue as Broadcom partners.

Meanwhile, the implications of Broadcom's decision to end perpetual licenses for VMware products continue to be analyzed by users. The change means software changes from per-VM licensing to a per-core subscription.

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.

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


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