Is VMware free or paid?

VMware offers both free and paid versions of their industry-leading virtual infrastructure products. Limited functionality VMware hypervisors can be downloaded for free while full-fledged enterprise capabilities require paid licensing. Evaluating specific product edition and deployment needs is key to determine if free VMware solutions suffice or paid upgrade is warranted.

Is VMware free or paid?

Overview of Free VMware Products

VMware offers these core products available for free:

  • VMware vSphere Hypervisor – Provides free bare-metal Type-1 hypervisor for basic virtualization.
  • VMware vCenter Server – Entry-level vCenter edition for managing few hosts.
  • VMware vSphere Client – Manages ESXi host and VMs. Replaces old thick client.
  • VMware Workstation Player – Enables running pre-built VMs on a desktop/laptop.
  • VMware Fusion Player – Same as Workstation Player but for Mac users.

However, the free versions come with limited capabilities and cannot be used commercially.

Key Limitations of Free VMware Products

While useful for personal learning and testing, the free VMware products have restrictions:

  • No official support from VMware on community forums only.
  • Cannot be used for commercial environments and production workloads.
  • Lack advanced features like distributed switch, storage DRS, fault tolerance etc.
  • No access to latest features and updates without license.
  • Strict resource limitations on number of hosts, VMs per host etc. based on edition.
  • Mandatory watermark displayed on screen.
  • No high availability, vMotion, backup tools. Only basic vSphere.
  • Cumbersome manual VM management and orchestration.

So the free version gives only a basic flavor and quickly hits scalability and performance ceilings.

Paid VMware Editions and Licensing

VMware offers full-featured enterprise capabilities through various paid license editions:

vSphere Hypervisor

  • Standard – Mid-range capabilities like centralized management, snapshots etc.
  • Enterprise Plus – Advanced features like live migration, DRS clustering etc.

vCenter Server

  • Standard – Manage up to 10 hosts and 1000 VMs.
  • Enterprise Plus – Manage up to 2000 hosts and 25000 VMs.

VMware Workstation Pro

  • For Windows and Linux workstations.

VMware Fusion Pro

  • For Mac workstations.

VMware Player

  • Free alternative to Workstation/Fusion if not needing Pro features.

Paid versions deliver significantly more control, scale, availability and support.

Permitted Commercial Uses of Paid VMware Editions

Paid VMware licenses allow:

  • Production deployment – Running business applications and workloads.
  • Commercial usage – Utilizing within enterprise environment for revenue-generating activities.
  • Builds and testing – Using for development, quality assurance, staging operations.
  • Training and demonstrations – Using VMware suite for conducting training or presentations commercially.
  • Reselling services – Building solutions upon VMware technologies and reselling services.

So in essence, paid licenses enable commercial usage scenarios applied to end-customer environments.

VMware Licensing Models

VMware uses following licensing models:

  • Per processor – License cost based on number of physical CPU cores on servers.
  • Per user – Certain products like Horizon licensed per named user.
  • Per VM – Some cloud management offerings charged based on VMs managed.
  • Concurrent connections – Solutions like VeloCloud priced based on peak concurrent usage.
  • Storage capacity – vSAN licensing determined by allocated storage capacity.

Different metrics used for suites catering to various infrastructure areas. Per processor licensing most common for core vSphere infrastructure stack.

How VMware Per Processor Licensing Model Works

The per processor licensing model works as follows:

  • The number of physical CPU sockets on the server determines per-processor cost.
  • Each CPU socket needs to be licensed for VMware usage irrespective of cores.
  • Minimum licensing is for 2 processor sockets on a server.
  • The edition determines available features – Standard, Enterprise, Enterprise Plus etc.
  • Higher edition provides more advanced capabilities.
  • Enterprise Plus unlocks the full vSphere stack.

So in summary, the processor socket count and chosen edition determine the VMware license cost.

What is vSphere Licensing in VMware?

vSphere is the core virtualization platform from VMware encompassing the hypervisor, management and related capabilities. vSphere licensing has two models:

Per Processor

  • Each CPU socket on server requires license for vSphere usage.
  • Covers vSphere Hypervisor, vCenter, vMotion, HA, vStorage APIs etc.
  • Per-socket costs vary based on Standard, Enterprise, Enterprise Plus feature tiers.

Per Physical Core

  • Total license cost is per-core instead of per-socket.
  • Applicable for servers with upto 32 physical cores.
  • Provides better value for high core count CPUs.

So vSphere capabilities can be licensed either per-socket or per-core depending on specific environment.

How is VMware Horizon Licensing Structured?

VMware Horizon provides virtual desktop infrastructure and app delivery capabilities. It has following licensing structure:

  • Per named user – License assigned to individual end user for accessing virtual desktops.
  • Per concurrent connection – Licenses based on peak simultaneous usage across users.
  • Per named device – Licenses for endpoint devices like thin clients instead of end users.
  • Available suite combinations – Basic, Standard, Advanced, Enterprise.

So unlike vSphere, concurrent usage metrics determine costs for VDI solutions like Horizon catering to a user base.

##VMware vSAN Licensing Cost Structure

vSAN provides software-defined storage infrastructure. Its license pricing is determined by:

  • Capacity tiers – Raw storage capacity allocated to the vSAN datastore.
  • Number of hosts – Total hosts contributing storage to shared vSAN datastore.
  • Tiers based on usage – all-flash vs hybrid vs ROBO deployments.

So hosts contributing storage and total allocated capacity are the cost drivers for vSAN which provides the shared data plane for VMs.

Key Takeaways on VMware Licensing

  • Free editions of VMware are available but limited trial use. Production use requires paid licenses.
  • Paid versions remove restrictions and provide full-fledged enterprise capabilities.
  • Different products use suitable licensing models – processor, concurrent user etc. based on technology.
  • Per processor licensing common for core infrastructure stack of vSphere and ESXi hypervisor.
  • Multiple paid license tiers enable matching capability and costs to precise needs.


While VMware offers free entry-level versions of its industry-leading virtualization solutions, extensive commercial deployments for production environments require investing in paid licenses to benefit from full capabilities. The pricing for comprehensive enterprise-grade VMware stacks with high availability, scalability, flexibility and support is based on fair consumption models depending on factors like physical cores, Horizon named users and vSAN allocated capacity. Paid licenses open access to continually evolving features, critical for long-term platform sustenance. For keeping pace with the demands and opportunities in virtual infrastructure, paid VMware software with appropriate tiering and smart budget allocation delivers the best value.


  1. Is there a free version of VMware?
    Yes, VMware provides free but functionally limited versions of some products like ESXi bare-metal hypervisor, vCenter Server and Workstation Player for personal non-commercial use.
  2. What paid VMware license should I buy for home lab?
    For home lab practice, personal licenses for VMware Workstation Pro desktop virtualization software allow creating multiple VMs with good features without needing paid vSphere datacenter licenses.
  3. Does VMware offer a community license?
    No, currently VMware does not offer any community license. Only free vSphere Hypervisor can be used non-commercially for learning and testing purposes without paid license.
  4. Is there any VMware software for Mac free?
    Yes, VMware Fusion Player for Mac is available free just like Workstation Player on Windows. But ability to create new VMs requires paid Fusion Pro license.
  5. What features are not available in free ESXi?
    Free ESXi lacks features like vMotion, High Availability, vCenter management, distributed virtual switches, backup tools, vShield endpoint protection etc. only basic server consolidation.
  6. What is cheaper – VMware or Hyper-V?
    Hyper-V may work out cheaper as it is free when bundled with Windows licenses. VMware has high licensing costs for full enterprise capabilities and requires additional expense for Windows Server VMs.
  7. Does VMware offer perpetual license?
    Yes, in addition to subscription licenses VMware still offers perpetual licenses as one-time upfront purchase for on-premises deployments. But they lack upgrade rights of term licenses.
  8. Is VMware free for students?
    VMware provides free NFR (Not for Resale) licenses and discounted academic subscriptions for their software suites to students for learning and non-commercial usage.
  9. Does VMware offer a trial version?
    Yes, VMware offers 60-day trial versions for most of their data center and end-user computing solutions that provide full product functionality for the trial period.
  10. What does VMware Academic license allow?
    VMware Academic licenses permit students and faculty to access VMware software like vSphere suites at heavily discounted rates for learning and research but prohibit usage for commercial activities.
  11. Does VMware Fusion support Windows 11?
    Yes, the latest VMware Fusion versions fully support installing Windows 11 virtual machines and configuring Windows 11 as guest operating system inside Mac environment.
  12. Can I upgrade free ESXi to paid version?
    Yes, free ESXi license can be upgraded to full paid license online through VMware portal by logging in using vSphere account details and applying proper license keys for required features.
  13. Is VMware GRID free?
    No, VMware Horizon virtual desktop solutions like GRID require paid licenses and do not have free tiers. Only trial versions are available for short-term evaluation.
  14. Does VMware offer lifetime license?
    No, VMware does not currently offer lifetime licensing option. Only 1 to 5 year subscription terms or perpetual licenses valid for a fixed product version are available for VMware suites.
  15. Can I use free ESXi in production?
    No, free ESXi license expressly prohibits its use in commercial environments and production systems. Paid license upgrade is mandatory for enterprise utilization.
  16. Does VMware offer non-profit pricing?
    Yes, VMware makes select products available at discount via its TechSoup program to registered non-profits for needs like infrastructure modernization and improving service delivery.
  17. What’s better for personal use – VMware Workstation or Player?
    Workstation Pro is better for personal use as it allows creating and customizing multiple VMs. Player only supports running pre-configured VMs exported from a 3rd party source.
  18. Can I use free vCenter for commercial use?
    No, the free license of vCenter edition for managing up to 3 ESXi hosts is not permitted to be used for commercial environments and production workloads.
  19. Does VMware provide a certification exam simulator?
    Yes, VMware provides a free 2-day trial of their HOL/Simulator offering hands-on experience with their software as well as access to practice exams for certifications.
  20. Where can I get cheap VMware licenses legally?
    You can explore options like VMware academic subscriptions, VMUG user group membership, vExpert community program, NFR trials etc. for legally obtaining low-cost or free licenses based on eligibility.

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