Certifications / Cloud

VMware ESXi Free vs Paid: A Look at License Limitations

by Graham Barker
VMware ESXi Free vs Paid: A Look at License Limitations picture: A
Follow us
Updated on April 11, 2024

VMware's ESXi is the world's leading virtualization hypervisor. Many IT professionals view ESXi as the go-to hypervisor for running virtual machines. VMware offers various paid versions of ESXi and used to offer a free version, which was discontinued in 2024. 

This article will explore VMware ESXi, detailing the uses and limitations of its free version. Additionally, we'll discuss why it's worth opting for the paid version.

What is VMware ESXi?

ESXi is a world-leading bare-metal hypervisor created and provided by VMware. A hypervisor is an operating system that lets you run many servers, known as virtual machines, on one physical server. 

We use the term bare-metal because ESXi is installed directly onto physical hardware, rather than an application on top of an existing operating system.

VMware ESXi is one component of many in the VMware vSphere suite, which contains other software such as vCenter Server for managing multiple ESXi servers. VMware ESXi is also known as the vSphere Hypervisor, highlighting that it's part of the vSphere suite of products.

Free ESXi (Discontinued) vs. Paid ESXi: A Detailed Comparison

VMware ESXi used to have two versions: free and paid. The free version used the same installation method, meaning you got the enterprise solution with certain features locked out. However, the free version was discontinued in 2024. 

Here's a comparison of the feature differences between the old free version and the paid version. 

Free vSphere Hypervisor (discontinued) 

Paid vSphere Hypervisor


No time limits on free version

Not applicable

Evaluation time

60-day trial of Enterprise Plus features

Not applicable

Community Support

VMTN Forums

VMTN Forums

Maximum physical CPUs


768 (logical)

Maximum physical memory



Maximum vCPUs per VM

8 vCPUs

256 vCPUs

Maximum vRAM per VM



Official Support


Various SLAs available

Central Management (vCenter)



High Availability (HA)



Storage/Backup API usage (VADP)



Live migration of VMs (vMotion)



Load balancing of VMs (DRS)



What the Free ESXi Version Didn't Offer

Looking at the chart above, the free version was missing two key features: support and central management.

  1. Support: Support was the biggest difference between the free and paid versions. What's not shown on this chart are the levels of support. VMware provides various tiers of service-level agreements, from the budget-conscious to the luxurious.

  2. Central Management: The free version of ESXi was perfect for developing and testing small sets of applications for development purposes. However, it doesn't allow central management. Within the paid version, that service is called vCenter Server—it makes day-to-day administration, monitoring, and patching easier.

Due to its limitations from a support and management perspective, the free version was not recommended for use in production environments. However, the free ESXi had some good use cases, including: 

Test Driving VMware Products

The free VMware ESXi was perfect for testing VMware products such as vSAN, NSX, and vRealize Suite. They have an ESXi Evaluation license for this very reason. In fact, if you have the right hardware, you can install ESXi on top of ESXi as a virtual machine to test different versions of ESXi in your lab environment before using them in production.

Professional Development with VMware

Another great use case for the free version was for professional development and training. The free version was used to learn the ESXi installation and configuration procedure and to run virtual machines

Running Disaster Recovery on Free ESXi Hosts

Finally, the free version was also used in disaster recovery for virtual machines. Remember that the free tier had no support or central management, though. If you are running a small business on a tight budget, some backup was better than no safety net.

The Benefits of Using the Paid Version

The free ESXi had several use cases. However, it had many limitations, and, more importantly, it's no longer offered. Let's cover the benefits of the paid version.  

Handle More VMs 

If you need a central management view of all your ESXi servers, then you will want to purchase a license for your ESXi hosts and for vCenter Server. You can purchase a bundle that includes all the necessary licenses.

Higher Availability

If you need to backup your virtual machines without installing agents on the VMs, you will need a paid version of ESXi. Any edition will do, but without this, the APIs required for hypervisor-level backups will not work.

When your number of ESXi hosts grows, you might want to introduce some form of failover for your virtual machines, should one of the ESXi hosts fail. Upon upgrading your ESXi license and purchasing a vCenter Server license, you will be entitled to vSphere High Availability. 

vSphere High Availability, or HA, works by rebooting your virtual machines on other ESXi hosts within a cluster should one of your ESXi hosts fail. However, other technical requirements exist, such as shared storage, for this to work.

Better Patch Management 

An increasing number of ESXi hosts also means patch management becomes problematic. With vCenter server and paid ESXi licenses, you can patch your hosts from a central user interface without manual intervention. VMware calls this technology Update Manager, and it's included in your vCenter Server license.

If you are considering the paid version, VMware offers bundles, or kits, details of which can be found here.

Final Thoughts

While the free version of ESXi did have some use cases, it was discontinued in 2024 as part of VMware's move to a SaaS model over perpetual licenses. 

Overall, the free version was too limited to work for many users. It could only run on a limited number of cores, for starters. It also had an extremely limited memory and lacked many of the features that make ESXi worthwhile. 

Want to learn more about VMware products? Check out CBTNuggets VMware certification training. 


By submitting this form you agree to receive marketing emails from CBT Nuggets and that you have read, understood and are able to consent to our privacy policy.

Don't miss out!Get great content
delivered to your inbox.

By submitting this form you agree to receive marketing emails from CBT Nuggets and that you have read, understood and are able to consent to our privacy policy.

Recommended Articles

Get CBT Nuggets IT training news and resources

I have read and understood the privacy policy and am able to consent to it.

© 2024 CBT Nuggets. All rights reserved.Terms | Privacy Policy | Accessibility | Sitemap | 2850 Crescent Avenue, Eugene, OR 97408 | 541-284-5522