VMware vSphere 5.5 licensing recommendations for branch offices

I don’t normally post my IT consulting stuff on my blog but this may help others round the world. I was recently asked to design a 3 x ESXi host VMware vSphere 5.5 implementation for a large Chinese banks local branch offices.

The client had questions on which licensing to purchase, with each VMware license costing in the thousands, its worth spending some time to know which licenses can meet your requirements and which features are essential and which are desirables.

With the topic of what VMware vSphere licensing is required for a small branch office 3 ESXi host deployment.

I have highlighted in Red the essential features we need for this deployment, and highlighted in blue are the non-essential but would be good to have and make the virtual platform more adaptable and use the full features of VMware. The items I have left un-highlighted are only advantageous to large enterprise sized customers.

vsphere 5.5 licensing
vsphere 5.5 licensing

I’ll explain some of these features to help better decide:

Fault Tolerance This is an instant failover protection for any VM, it can replace things like Microsoft clustering for instant failover if a ESXi host fails. If a ESXi host fails, the VM continues running on another ESXi host in the cluster instantly, zero outage. There is a limitation since it was introduced, it can only be used on VM’s with 1vCPU. The trade off with Fault Tolerance (FT) is it uses a ‘shadow VM’ on another host all the time so when FT is enabled it uses double the resources of CPU & RAM in the cluster. Fault Tolerance is usually only used in larger organisations for low CPU usage but extremely important systems. Remember vSphere HA (High Availability) recovers VM’s from a failed ESXi host in around 3 minutes in my experience, so vSphere HA is great for all normal VM’s and should always be turned on.

Storage vMotion vMotion is moving a powered on VM from 1 ESXi host to another with no interruption/outage. Storage vMotion is different, it allows you to move the VM’s storage (their virtual disks) from one LUN/volume to another with no interruption/outage, it can even move it to another SAN if it’s in the same fibre channel SAN fabric all with no outage.

Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and Distributed Power Management (DPM) DRS is the automatic load-balancing feature which depending on the load on the VM’s moves them around the 3 different ESXi hosts. DPM is simular and works with DRS to look at if you do not need all 3 ESXi hosts powered on to run the currently deployed VM’s, it will calculate this and shut the host down to a standby state to save electricity, less heat, noise e.t.c. If the VM’s start doing more work or more VM’s are deployed to the cluster then, DPM automatically powers on the host that was in standby and DRS automatically load balances the infrastructure again.

Storage API’s for Array Integration, Multipathing This only works with supported storage arrays, to simplify, it allows ESXi to talk to the SAN storage array on a direct API level and enables a lot of advanced features which can speed up storage access and large copying procedures greatly. I have checked the VMware compatibility guide for storage and unfortunately  the EMC VNX5200 chosen in this deployment isn’t supported, the first one supported is the next model up, the EMC VNX5400, in hind-sight the VNX5400 should have been selected for this deployment to enable these features.

Distributed switch There are 2 types of most popular VMware vSphere virtual switch’s. The standard switch which comes with all versions of ESXi, this means a separate virtual switch is setup and configured on each ESXi host and they have to be configured all in the same configuration on each ESXi host. The VMware Distributed switch is 1 switch spanned across all ESXi hosts in the cluster. This has 3 advantages, 1) you only need to setup 1 virtual switch for the entire vSphere cluster, 2) you only need to make configurations changes to 1 virtual switch for any changes in the environment, 3) the VMware Distributed switch supports more advanced networking features than the vSphere standard switch. Here is a detailed breakdown of the differences:

vSphere 5.5 VSS versus VDS
vSphere 5.5 VSS versus VDS

Host Profiles these are like Windows group policy but for vSphere ESXi. Instead of configuring each ESXi host individually during build time, you can create a host profile and assign it to all the hosts in your cluster for quick and standardised configuration. Host profiles are mostly a benefit to save you time when you are building more than a few ESXi hosts, say more than 10.

Please consider my above feature explanations and my recommendations:

The basic required would be the vSphere Essentials Kit Plus

For a recommended kit I would say the vSphere Acceleration Kit Enterprise*

If budget is no issue and they want a fully featured VMware platform with all the features, then go for the vSphere Acceleration Kit Enterprise Plus*

* This also includes vSphere Data Protection Advanced which includes Microsoft SQL, Exchange and SharePoint Server agents for granular recovery from those products.

It is worth noting that the Acceleration kits (not the essentials kits) include licensing for vCenter Operations Manager (VCOPS)for advanced health monitoring and performance analytics, capacity management and forecasting, and operations dashboards and root cause analysis. VCOPS is the application that the large enterprises use to monitor their virtual infrastructures. You can read about vCenter Operations Manager (VCOPS) further here. In my opinion this level of monitoring from VCOPS isn’t required for a small 3 ESXi host deployment like this engagement unless the customer specially asks for it. It can be installed and configured but would take an extra few days of time.

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