What is VMware license?

VMware offers various licensing models to meet the needs of customers. At a high level, VMware license keys enable access to VMware products and capabilities. Understanding VMware licenses is important for managing costs and ensuring compliance.

What is VMware license?

Types of VMware Licenses

VMware separates licenses into two primary categories:

  • Per CPU/core licenses – These licenses are assigned to each physical CPU/core in a host server that will run VMware software. Common per CPU licenses include vSphere, vSAN, and NSX.
  • Per VM licenses – These licenses are assigned to each virtual machine (VM) running on a host. Examples include VMware Horizon and VMware Cloud Foundation.

In addition to per CPU and per VM licensing, VMware offers specialized licenses like VMware Cloud on AWS and subscription-based SaaS products.

Key Components of VMware Licenses

VMware license keys consist of a few key attributes:

  • Edition – The product edition determines available features and capabilities. For example, vSphere licenses come in Standard, Enterprise Plus, and more.
  • Processor – The number of physical CPU sockets on hosts that can access the license key.
  • Term – Subscription term for SaaS/temporary licenses or perpetual term for on-prem licenses.

Additional license details like support level, cloud credits, and product version may apply as well.

Why VMware Licenses Matter

Careful management of VMware licenses provides several software asset management (SAM) benefits:

  • Optimize license costs based on current hardware and VM needs
  • Ensure license compliance to avoid vendor audits
  • Enable effective decision-making for license purchases/renewals
  • Simplify license management using tools like vSphere License Service

Understanding license consumption and availability is especially helpful for maximizing utilization of on-prem hardware and preventing purchasing excess perpetual licenses.

Options for Managing Licenses

VMware provides the following license management options:

vCenter Server

  • The default platform for managing VMware environments
  • Licenses managed per host using vSphere License Service
  • Visibility into license usage, availability, and alerts

vRealize Suite

  • Advanced SAM and cloud management platform
  • Automated license optimization, cataloging, and reporting
  • Role-based access control and APIs for integrations

VMware Cloud

  • Manage SaaS licenses and credits through the VMware Cloud portal
  • Access VMware Cloud Services like Horizon DaaS
  • Consume credits based on usage

Key Takeaways

  • VMware licenses enable access to VMware products and capabilities
  • Key license attributes include edition, processors/cores, and contract term
  • Managing VMware licenses helps optimize costs and maintain compliance
  • Tools like vSphere License Service simplify allocation and visibility
  • Cloud services use allocated credits instead of traditional key-based licenses


Effectively managing VMware licenses provides visibility into consumption while enabling access to critical software and features. Given VMware’s dominance in enterprise data centers and hybrid/multi-cloud environments, understanding licenses facilitates everything from demonstrating value to forecasting budgets. Relying on both VMware and third-party tools gives the greatest flexibility for aligning with organizational software asset management policies and use cases.

Frequently Asked Questions 

  1. How are VMware licenses structured?
    VMware licenses typically include the product edition, number of physical CPU cores/sockets, and contract term (for on-prem). SaaS products use a credit system. 
  2. How are VMware host licenses assigned?
    Licenses are assigned per CPU socket on ESXi hosts. Some licenses enable a maximum number of CPU cores per license.
  3. Can I move a VMware license to another host?
    Yes, licenses can be deassigned from one host and assigned to another through vCenter Server to optimize usage. 
  4. Is there a limit to how many VMs I can run per host license?
    No, most VMware licenses have unlimited VMs per host. Horizon per-concurrent-user licensing is an exception with VDI/DaaS workloads.
  5. Do I need NSX licenses for network virtualization features?
    The advanced networking and security capabilities in NSX require standalone NSX licenses. vSphere includes basic virtual networking.
  6. What VMware license is best for SMB/ROBO environments?
    vSphere Essentials Kits include the key components for smaller environments while minimizing costs. vSAN licenses can also extend capabilities.
  7. How do I track VMware license usage?
    vSphere License Service provides VMware license visibility including usage trends. Other options include native public cloud tools and SAM monitoring tools. 
  8. Can I combine on-prem VMware licenses with VMC cloud credits?
    Yes, hybrid licensing via credits purchased with VMC enables seamless hosting of workloads across environments.
  9. How do I know if my VMware licenses are compliant?
    Track allocated vs consumed licenses in vSphere License Service or via SAM auditing tools. Understand license reassignment best practices as well. 
  10. Are VMware licenses the same for on-prem vs public cloud?
    The capabilities enabled by licenses are technically the same, but on-prem uses perpetual/subscription license keys while clouds utilize credit systems.
  11. Can I convert my perpetual VMware licenses to subscriptions?
    Yes via the ELM program, certain legacy perpetual licenses can be exchanged for active subscription licenses. Trade-ins may apply for newer license versions.
  12. How do I downgrade my VMware license edition or scale down licenses?
    Contact your VMware sales representative regarding formal downgrade rights processes defined in license agreements to minimize service disruptions.
  13. Are VIO (VMware Integrated OpenStack licenses) the same as other VMware licenses?
    No, VIO includes special Linux-based multi-tenant licensing optimized for OpenStack cloud infrastructure.
  14. How many VMware licenses do I need in a high availability (HA) cluster configuration?
    Enable HA and vMotion with a license applied to each CPU socket participating in the cluster (one for each physical host server node). 
  15. Can I reassign expired VMware licenses to new hosts/servers?
    No, expired licenses cannot be reassigned. Renew maintenance/support before expiration to maintain usage rights.
  16. Can I license multiple single CPU servers together?
    Under certain programs like Enterprise Licensing Agreements, VMware offers options to aggregate single socket servers for simplified licensing.
  17. How long do VMware licenses last? Do they expire?
    On-prem/perpetual licenses don’t technically expire but require renewal of active support/maintenance after 1-5 years depending on contract. SaaS products expire if credits run out.
  18. What happens if my VMware licenses expire?
    If support/maintenance expires, new version updates and technical support access get disabled until license renewals re-activate coverage and restore version upgrade rights.
  19. Where do I enter my license key when installing VMware software?
    The VMware vSphere Client and other management tools provide intuitive UIs to enter license keys during product deployment and configuration.
  20. Can I run production workloads on VMware licenses meant for non-production?
    No – licenses like VMware’s Product Evaluation program have technical restrictions prohibiting use for any systems considered production workloads.

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