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VMware ESXi users must decide: Should I stay or should I go?

With many VMware ESXi servers reaching end of life, users must decide to extend existing support agreements, upgrade to version 7 or -- an unlikely scenario -- switch vendors.

With thousands of VMware ESXi servers having reached the end of general support Oct. 15, users must decide whether to buy extended support contracts or upgrade to the latest version of vSphere.

The end of general support affects vSphere 6.5 and 6.7. The end of support also means the end of general support for Windows-based vCenter Server instances and the flash-based vSphere Web Client.

Lansweeper, a Belgium-based asset management software company, collected information from 6,000 of its own users and found that more than 57% -- some 45,000 ESXi servers -- will no longer receive software and security updates unless they purchase a separate extended support contract.

Lansweeper discovered that there were 79,000 ESXi servers installed. Of that number, 36.5% run version 6.7, and 21% run 6.5.

On top of the 57% now facing the elevated risks of security breaches, an additional 15.8% of organizations are running even older versions -- going all the way back to version 3.5, which reached end of life several years ago. Already this year, ESXi has been targeted by the likes of Black Basta, RedAlert, GwisinLocker, Hive and the Cheers ransomware gangs.

Lansweeper estimates that about 26% of ESXi servers are still supported and will continue to receive regular security updates through April 2, 2025.

VMware recommends users upgrade to vSphere 7, which requires upgrades to a number of other software components as well.

Gary Chen, research director, software defined compute, IDCGary Chen

One analyst believes many ESXi users will opt to purchase an extended support contract to buy themselves time to evaluate their options.

"Some users will choose to extend the life of an older version [of ESXi] and not be forced to upgrade right away," said Gary Chen, IDC research director. "They can also continue getting upgrades and support for up to 24 months."

Users thinking of switching vendors must consider the costs associated with potentially upgrading their existing hardware and software, as well as changing to a different licensing model.

When everyone talks about changing [hypervisors], they don't think through all the hidden costs. Making a move from VMware to, say, Nutanix is not free.
Jack GoldPrincipal analyst, J.Gold Associates

"When everyone talks about changing, they don't think through all the hidden costs," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates. "Making a move from VMware to, say, Nutanix is not free. The decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis, because your particular issues are not the same as those of someone else."

Besides Nutanix, other alternatives to ESXi include archrival Microsoft's Hyper-V, which comes closest to matching ESXi's feature set and scalability; Oracle VM; or the Citrix Hypervisor. Popular open source alternatives include KVM, which works with x86-based servers, and OpenVZ, a container-based virtualization offering for Linux that can accommodate multiple isolated containers.

Another factor that could weigh on the minds of undecided users is the specter of Broadcom's proposed acquisition of VMware, which is expected to be finalized by October 2023, pending the approval of the U.S. and Chinese governments.

Analysts don't believe Broadcom will sell off such a vital part of VMware's virtualization strategy or limit investment in the bare-metal hypervisor. But it could influence VMware to continue gravitating toward subscription licensing and away from perpetual licensing, which they fear could result in higher pricing.

"There is a concern with VMware changing licensing models, like they have with vSphere," Chen said. "Some people are used to the old licensing model and don't want to have to redo their capacity planning and purchasing plans. It can be disruptive to their business."

What underscores the skepticism among users about changing to subscription licensing is that some vendors use it as a way to obfuscate the increases because it is difficult to directly compare subscription models to perpetual models, Chen noted.

VMware could not be reached for comment.

As Editor at Large with TechTarget's News Group, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals.

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