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Is VMware's new vRAM licensing private cloud poison?

It’s now clear that VMware did the math on their customers and the new vRAM+socket licensing scheme. But did they unintentionally screw themselves on a booming trend among their own customers?

Survey data from TechTarget’s Data Center Decisions questionnaire, which may be the industry’s largest impartial and sponsorship-free annual survey, with more than 1,000 IT professionals responding, both confirms VMware’s rationale behind the move, and points to a new trend that may indicate a future stumble on its part. The survey data will be published later this week.

VMware CTO Steve Herrod told us in an interview last week that VMware knew the changes would be deleterious to some customers but that VMware’s internal accounting showed that it wouldn’t be more than 10-20% of customers, and it was worth it to simplify licensing for the other 80%. We have some very strong circumstantial evidence that Herrod was right on the money, but historical data shows there’s a twist.

The survey says that 11% of new server buys are going to ship with 128GB RAM and another 11% with more than 128GB RAM. Depending on how many sockets, that’s at least 11% and potentially more server buyers that are going to feel the “OMFG VMware licensing” kick in. So Herrod was right on.

BUT, here’s the kicker: the number of people buying the high RAM density servers in both categories doubled(!) over last year, from 5.75% and 5.29% in 2010. 99% growth is a trend that’s hard to ignore.

Coupled with data about efforts and intentions to build private cloud environments, it’s pretty clear that a lot of IT shops are fully intending to build out cloud-style environments that can show a consolidated economy of scale. But the new licensing means that if you don’t have enough CPU sockets to go with your ocean of RAM, you’re going to get bit hard.

I am taking it as axiomatic here that pretty much all new server buys with a ridiculous amount of RAM per box are intended for virtualization; that VMware’s 85% market share ensures that those buyers are VMware users and not the outliers on Xen or whatever; and that the trend towards trying to consolidate into bigger and bigger boxes will continue to skyrocket.

VMware has posted a fairly silly ‘clarification’ about the new licensing where it attempts to convince the public that users are confused over whether the licensing is about the amount of physical RAM or the amount of vRAM. Nobody is confused about that- that’s why there’s a “v” on there.

It’s the tying of the licenses to CPU sockets that’s causing the heartburn and the outrage from a vocal minority, since so many(twice as many as last year-will it double again this year?) are buying servers with socket/RAM configs that fall outside the licensing norms. Forward thinking users, appreciative of commodity server power and the examples of massively consolidated, massively virtualized cloud computing environments are being told, in a word, they will be penalized for trying to achieve as much efficiency as technology will allow them.

And in case anyone is wondering, VMware cloud providers under the VMware Service Provider Program(VSPP) have been bound by vRAM licensing for some time now. But they’re not limited by socket, like enterprise users are.

Chew on that one for a while as you think about building out a private cloud on vSphere, enterprise IT guys and gals.

In the meantime, here is an incomplete roundup of blogs, back-of-envelope calculations, license calculators and reactions to the vRAM+socket scheme

VMware vSphere 5 licensing aka #vTax : the opinions and math

VMware is not evil – my opinion on their new licensing model’t-that-bad-at-all/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=vsphere5licensing

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