It’s a sad truth that once a company reaches a certain level of success they tend to stop listening to their users/customers, since by that point they have enough validation to continue down whatever path suits them. It’s a double edged sword for the company as whilst they now have much more freedom to experiment since they don’t have to fight for every customer they also have enough rope to hang themselves should they be too ambitious. This happens more in traditional business rather than say Web 2.0 companies since the latter’s bread and butter is their users and the community that surrounds them, leaving them a lot less wiggle room when it comes to going against the grain of their wishes.
I recently blogged about VMware’s upcoming release of vSphere 5 which whilst technologically awesome did have the rather unfortunate aspect of screwing over the small to medium size enterprises that had heavily invested in the platform. At the time I didn’t believe that VMware would change their mind on the issue, mostly because their largest customers would most likely be unaffected by it (especially the cloud providers) but just under three weeks later VMware has announced that they are changing the licensing model, and boy is it generous:
We are a company built on customer goodwill and we take customer feedback to heart. Our primary objective is to do right by our customers, and we are announcing three changes to the vSphere 5 licensing model that address the three most recurring areas of customer feedback:
We’ve increased vRAM entitlements for all vSphere editions, including the doubling of the entitlements for vSphere Enterprise and Enterprise Plus.
We’ve capped the amount of vRAM we count in any given VM, so that no VM, not even the “monster” 1TB vRAM VM, would cost more than one vSphere Enterprise Plus license.
We adjusted our model to be much more flexible around transient workloads, and short-term spikes that are typical in test & dev environments for example.
The first 2 points are the ones that will matter to most people with the bottom end licenses getting a 33% boost to 32GB of vRAM allocation and every other licensing level getting their allocations doubled. Now for the lower end that doesn’t mean a whole bunch but the standard configuration just gained another 16GB of vRAM which is nothing to sneeze at. At the higher end however these massive increases start to really pile on, especially for a typical configuration that has 4 physical CPUs which now sports a healthy 384GB vRAM allocation with default licensing. The additional caveat of virtual machines not using more than 96GB of vRAM means that licensing costs won’t get out of hand for mega VMs but in all honesty if you’re running virtual machines that large I’d have to question your use of virtualization in the first place. Additionally the change from a monthly average to a 12 month average for the licensing check does go some way to alleviating the pain that some users will feel, even though they could’ve worked around it by asking VMware nicely for one of those unlimited evaluation licenses.
What these changes do is make vSphere 5 a lot more feasible for users who have already invested heavily in VMware’s platform. Whilst it’s no where near the current 2 processors + gobs of RAM deal that many have been used to it does now make the smaller end of the scale much more palatable, even if the cheapest option will leave you with a meagre 64GB of RAM to allocate. That’s still enough for many environments to get decent consolidation ratios of say 8 to 1 with 8GB VMs, even if that’s slightly below the desired industry average of 10 to 1. The higher end, whilst being a lot more feasible for a small number of ridiculously large VMs, still suffers somewhat as higher end servers will still need additional licenses to fully utilize their capacity. Of course not many places will need 4 processor, 512GB beasts in their environments but it’s still going to be a factor to count against VMware.
The licensing changes from VMware are very welcome and will go a long way for people like me who are trying to sell vSphere 5 to their higher ups. Whilst licensing was never an issue for me I do know that it was a big factor for the majority and these improvements will allow them to stay on the VMware platform without having to struggle with licensing concerns. I have to then give some major kudos to VMware for listening to their community and making these changes that will ultimately benefit both them and their customers as this kind of interaction is becoming increasingly rare as time goes on.
I make no secret of the fact that I’ve pretty much built my career around a single line of products, specifically those from VMware. Initially I simply used their workstation line of products to help me through university projects that required Linux to complete but after one of my bosses caught wind of my “experience” with VMware’s products I was put on the fast line to become an expert in their technology. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as virtualization then became a staple of every IT department I’ve had the pleasure of working with and my experience with VMware ensured that my resume always floated around near the top when it came time to find a new position.
In this time I’ve had a fair bit of experience with their flagship product now called vSphere. In essence it’s an operating system you can install on a server that lets you run multiple, distinct operating system instances on top of it. Since IT departments always bought servers with more capacity than they needed systems like vSphere meant they could use that excess capacity to run other, not so power hungry systems along side them. It really was a game changer and from then on servers were usually bought with virtualization being the key purpose in mind rather than them being for a specific system. VMware is still the leader in this sector holding an estimated 80% of the market and has arguably the most feature rich product suite available.
Yesterday saw the announcement of their latest product offering vSphere 5. From a technological standpoint it’s very interesting with many innovations that will put VMware even further ahead of their competition, at least technologically. Amongst the usual fanfare of bigger and better virtual machines and improvements to their current technologies vSphere 5 brings with it a whole bunch of new features aimed squarely at making vSphere the cloud platform for the future. Primarily these innovations are centred around automating certain tasks within the data centre, such as provisioning new servers and managing server loads including down to the disk level which wasn’t available previously. Considering that I believe the future of cloud computing (at least for government organisations and large scale in house IT departments) is a hybrid public/private model these improvements are a welcome change , even if I won’t be using them immediately.
The one place that VMware falls down and is (rightly) heavily criticized for is the price. With the most basic licenses costing around $1000 per core it’s not a cheap solution by any stretch of the imagination, especially if you want to take advantage of any of the advanced features. Still since the licencing was per processor it meant that you could buy a dual processor server (each with say, 6 cores) with oodles of RAM and still come out ahead of other virtualization solutions. However with vSphere 5 they’ve changed the way they do pricing significantly, to the point of destroying such a strategy (and those potential savings) along with it.
Licensing is still charged on a per-processor basis but instead of having an upper limit on the amount of memory (256GB for most licenses, Enterprise Plus gives you unlimited) you are now given a vRAM allocation per licence purchased. Depending on your licensing level you’ll get 24GB, 32GB or 48GB worth of vRAM which you’re allowed to allocate to virtual machines. Now for typical smaller servers this won’t pose much of a problem as a dual proc, 48GB RAM server (which is very typical) would be covered easily by the cheapest licensing. However should you exceed even 96GB of RAM, which is very easy to do, that same server will then require additional licenses to be purchased in order to be able to full utilize the hardware. For smaller environments this has the potential to make VMware’s virtualization solution untenable, especially when you put it beside the almost free competitor of Hyper-V from Microsoft.
The VMware user community has, of course, not reacted positively to this announcement. Whilst for many larger environments the problems won’t be so bad as the vRAM allocation is done at the data center level and not the server level (allowing over-allocated smaller servers to help out their beefier brethren) it does have the potential to hurt smaller environments especially those who heavily invested in RAM heavy, processor poor servers. It’s also compounded by the fact that you’ll only have a short time to choose to upgrade for free, thus risking having to buy more licenses, or abstain and then later have to pay an upgrade fee. It’s enough for some to start looking into moving to the competition which could cut into VMware’s market share drastically.
The reasoning behind these changes is simple: such pricing is much more favourable to a ubiquitous cloud environment than it is to the current industry norm for VMware deployments. VMware might be slightly ahead of the curve on this one however as most customers are not ready to deploy their own internal clouds with the vast majority of current cloud users being hosted solutions. Additionally many common enterprise applications aren’t compatible with VMware’s cloud and thus lock end users out of realising the benefits of a private cloud. VMware might be choosing to bite the bullet now rather than later in the hopes it will spur movement onto their cloud platform at a later stage. Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen, but current industry trends are pushing very hard towards a cloud based future.
I’m definitely looking forward to working with vSphere 5 and there are several features that will definitely provide an immense amount of value to my current environment. The licensing issue, whilst I feel won’t be much of an issue, is cause for concern and whilst I don’t believe VMware will budge on it any time soon I do know that the VMware community is an innovative lot and it won’t be long before they work out how to make the best of this licensing situation. Still it’s definitely an in for the competition and whilst they might not have the technological edge they’re more than suitable for many environments.