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What are the pros and cons of using the VMware free hypervisor?

Expert Brien Posey explains why VMware's free hypervisor can be beneficial to test and development environments, but because it's missing storage features, it's difficult to use for much else.

What are the benefits and drawbacks to using VMware's free hypervisor?

You download the VMware free hypervisor just like the paid version -- except you do not enter a product key as part of the installation process. This trial version gives you all the same features and capabilities as the paid version for 60 days. Once the trial version expires, the paid features are locked out and the software reverts to the free version.

VMware isn't exactly known for being a low-cost virtualization platform, so using a free version of the software is a definite plus -- but it is not suitable for every situation.

The free version is probably best suited to development or test environments where admins and developers can deploy virtual machines (VMs) on an as-needed basis without having to worry about incurring the cost of hypervisor licenses. This goes a long way toward making virtual lab environments more affordable.

But when it comes to production environments, administrators should think twice before using the free VMware hypervisor. It might be a good fit for very small IT shops with an extremely limited budget, but it probably won't be a good fit for larger organizations.

The main reason for this is that the free version does not support high availability. In a physical data center, if a server were to fail, typically only one server workload is affected. In a virtual data center, the failure of a physical server means that all the virtualized workloads running on the failed server will also fail. This typically results in a major outage unless high-availability storage is in place that can shift those workloads to a physical server that is still functional. Unfortunately, this capability simply does not exist within VMware's free software.

Another major limitation is that the free version supports only single-server management. It can only be managed using the corresponding management client, which only allows for the management of a single server. If you want to use vCenter to manage your VMware deployment, you will have to upgrade to the paid version.

The free version also does not support host-level backups because the necessary application programming interface has been locked out. If you are using a backup application from a vendor such as Symantec or Veeam, you will still be able to back up individual VMs by doing guest-level backups, but you won't be able to make backups at the host level.

Other limitations to the free version exist, but the ones noted above are some of the most significant.

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