A bombshell news item came across my feed in the last couple of days. According to a source that gave information to CRN, VMware will being doing away with the vRAM entitlement licensing structure. To say that the outcry of support for this rumored licensing change was uproarious would be the understatement of the year. Ever since the changes in vSphere 5.0 last year, virtualization admins the world over have chafed at the prospect of having the amount of RAM installed in their systems artificially limited via a licensing structure.
On the surface, this made lots of sense. VMware has always been licensed on a per-socket processor license. Back in the old days, this made a lot of sense. If you needed a larger, more powerful system you naturally bought more processors. With a lot more processors, VMware made a lot more money. Then, Intel went and started cramming more and more cores onto a processor die. This was a great boon for the end user. Now you could have two, four, or even eight processors in one socket. Who cares if I have more than two sockets? Once the floodgates opened on the multi-core race, it became a huge competition to increase core density to keep up with Moore’s Law. For companies like VMware, the multi-core arms race was a disaster. If the most you are ever going to make from a server is two processor licenses no matter how many virtual machines get crammed into it then you are royally screwed. I’m sure the scurrying around VMware to find a new revenue source kicked into high gear once companies like Cisco started producing servers with lots of processor cores and more than enough horsepower to run a whole VM cluster. That’s when VMware hit on a winner. If processor cores are the big engine that drives the virtualization monster truck, then RAM is the gas in the gas tank. Cisco and others loaded down those monster two-socket boxes with enough RAM to sink an aircraft carrier. They had to in order to keep those processors humming along. VMware stepped in and said, “We missed the boat on processor cores. Let’s limit the amount of RAM to specific licenses.” Their first attempt at vRAM was a huge headache. The RAM entitlements were half of what they are now. Only after much name calling and pleading on the part of the customer base did VMware double it all to the levels that we see today.
According to VMware, the vRAM entitlements didn’t affect the majority of their customers. The ones that needed the additional RAM were already running the Enterprise or Enterprise Plus licenses. However, what it did limit is growth. Now, if customer has been running an Enterprise Plus license for their two-socket machine and the time for an upgrade comes along, they won’t get to order all that extra RAM like Cisco or HP would want them to do. Why bother ordering more than 192GB of RAM if I have to buy extra licenses just to use it? The idea that I can just have those processor licenses floating around for use with other machines is just as silly in my mind. If I bought one server with 256GB of RAM and needed 3 licenses to use it all, I’m likely going to buy the same server again. Then I have 6 license for 4 processors. Sure, I could buy another server if I wanted, but I’d have to load it with something like 80GB of RAM, unless I wanted to buy yet another license. I’m left with lots of leftover licenses that I’m not going to utilize. That makes the accounting department unhappy. Telling the bean counters that you bought something but you can’t utilize it all because of an aritificial limitation makes them angry. Overall, you have a decision that makes engineering and management unhappy.
If the rumor from CRN is true, this is a great thing for us all. It means we can concentrate more on solutions and less on ensuring we have counted the number of processors, real or imagined. In addition, the idea that VMware might being bundling other software, such as vCloud Director is equally appealing. Trying to convince my bean counters that I want to try this extra cool thing that doesn’t have any immediate impact but might save money down the road is a bit of a stretch. Telling them it’s a part of the bundle we have to buy is easy. Cisco has done this to great effect with Unified Workspace Licensing and Jabber for Everyone. If it’s already a part of the bundle, I can use it and not have to worry about justifying it. If VMware does the same thing for vCloud Director and other software, it should open doors to a lot more penetration of interesting software. Given that VMware hasn’t outright said that this isn’t true, I’m willing to be that the announcement will be met with even more fanfare from the regular trade press. Besides, after the uproar of support for this decision, it’s going to be hard for VMware to back out now. These kinds of things aren’t really “leaked” anymore. I’d wager that this was done with the express permission of the VMware PR department as a way to get a reaction before VMworld. If the community wasn’t so hot about it, the announcement would have been buried at the end of the show. As it is, they could announce only this change at the keynote and the audience would give a standing ovation.
I hate vRAM. I think it’s a very backwards idea designed to try and put the genie back in the bottle after VMware missed the boat on licensing processor cores instead of sockets. After spending more than a year listening to the constant complaining about this licensing structure, VMware is doing the right thing by reversing course and giving us back our RAM. Solution bundles are the way to go with a platform like the one that VMware is building. By giving us access to software we won’t otherwise get to run, we can now build bigger and better virtualized clusters. When we’re dependent on all this technology working in concert, that’s when VMware wins. When we have support contracts and recurring revenue pouring into their coffers because we can’t live without vCloud Director of vFabric Manager. Making us pay a tax on hardware is a screwball idea. But giving us a bit of advanced software for nothing with a bundle we’re going to buy anyway so we are forced to start relying on it? That’s a pretty brilliant move.