What Is the VMware ESXi Server and Its Role in the VMware Suite?

VMware ESXi is the bare-metal hypervisor in the VMware vSphere virtualization platform. As a bare-metal, or type-1, hypervisor for creating and running virtual machines (VMs), VMware ESXi runs on top and accesses the hardware directly without the need to install an operating system. This direct access to hardware allows it to perform better run faster, and be more scalable than other types of hypervisors. This makes VMware ESXi ideal for use in a large-scale virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), in conjunction with the other components in the VMware vSphere platform.

VMware ESXi Features

VMware ESXi relies on the VMkernel, which is a microkernel, to run the hardware, guest systems, and service layer making up the VMware virtualization platform. The VMkernel runs the physical hardware and guest VMs, connects directly to the CPU and memory, and uses modules linked via another module to access the hardware’s networking and storage components.

Notable features of VMware ESXi include:

Due to its small footprint, ESXi can run on a host machine with as little as two CPU cores, a single 64-bit x86 processor released after September 2006, 4 GB of RAM, a gigabit network adapter, and a 4GB drive. However, for better performance, it is recommended that the host have four or more CPU cores and at least 8 GB of RAM, as well as dual gigabit or faster Ethernet adapters and redundant drives.

If your organization is running 64-bit VMs, you must enable hardware virtualization for the x64 CPUs in the ESXi server. In addition, the no-execute/execute-disable (NX/XD) bits in these CPUs must be enabled in the BIOS. NX stands for Never eXecute and is available in AMD CPUs; eXecute Disable is Intel’s version of the bit. The NX/XD bit reserves memory in the hardware’s data storage areas to prevent them from being hijacked during malicious attacks. Thus, it provides an extra layer of security to an ESXi server.

Other requirements include a Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) disk or a local and non-network, logical-unit-number configured (LUN-configured) Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) with unpartitioned space for hosting the VMs. Serial ATA (SATA) disks are also supported.

ESXi hosts support booting from the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on hard drives, CD-ROM drives or USB media. Network booting and provisioning of ESXi hosts with UEFI are also supported. For compatible hardware, ESXi can also boot from disks that are 2 TB or more in size.

To start using ESXi for your virtualization requirements, install it directly on the host machine’s hard disk. Installation is straightforward as well—start the installer and go through the wizard. Post-installation, you can change the host options from the console and launch VMs using the HTML5-based vSphere Client.

VMware ESXi Licensing Model and Cost

VMware ESXi is provided as part of the free vSphere Hypervisor edition. Thus, the tool itself is free to use. However, for easier manageability, you might want to use the vSphere Server, vSphere management tools and other VMware features with ESXi. This means paying licensing fees on a per-CPU basis, with a license valid for use in up to 32 physical cores. For CPUs with more than 32 physical cores, you need more licenses.

There are also a wide range of vSphere Editions with varying configurations. The costs of these editions vary as well, with the least expensive costing $510 for three servers and two processors per server, and the most expensive costing $6,545. You need to pay separate fees for Basic Support and Production Support.

ESXi Server Versus Hyper-V

Microsoft Hyper-V is another type-1 hypervisor in the mold of an ESXi Server. Hyper-V was first released as a component of Windows Server 2008. It is a free and standard component in later Windows Server versions as well as 64-bit versions of the Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education editions.

ESXi and Hyper-V have their own set of pros and cons. Some features common to the two systems are:

Pricing: VMware used to charge per processor, but it has shifted to the Microsoft model of charging based on the number of cores on the host machine.

Parallels RAS and VMware-Based Hypervisors

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) supports both VMware ESXi Server and VMware vCenter as a VDI host. With Parallels RAS having any of these two as a VDI host, you can use them to manage VMs, create guest clones, and publish desktops and applications from guests. After setting up and configuring the host, you can set up an agent on the guest VMs, together with guest pools and templates, all from a single pane of glass.

Parallels RAS also supports various other hypervisors, including Hyper-V, Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, Scale Computing HC3, and Nutanix Acropolis.

With Parallels RAS, you can quickly create a VDI with centralized management capabilities and better security overall. Start setting up your VDI by downloading the Parallels RAS trial.


References:

Wikipedia

ESX Virtualization

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