Minimum Spend for a 5 server ESXi cluster

We are in the process of designing an entry level ESXi platform and need assistance with licensing costs.

From my initial understanding ESXi was free, however that was a little naive on my behalf, not realising that was only for a single host, not clustered. And after spending some time trying to get a handle on what I would need to spend (minimum) I found a number of alternatives, none really clear to me.

What we are aiming for is a 5 server ESXi cluster, with redundancy, all storage on a iSCSI SAN. I'm not sure whether HA is the same as redundancy and/or whether v-motion takes part as well (or is outside of scope).

So, do we need virtual center for the above? Will foundation ( cover the above core requirements? Is there another approach (e.g. using MS clustering)?

Apologies for such a rambling question.
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Here's what you should be looking at:

1) To get the HA and DRS (dynamic load balancing), you should look at the VMware Midsize Acceleration kit.  It has three 2-CPU licenses of ESX (not ESXi), with HA, DRS, and vMotion.  You can add the other 4 procs later if you decide you need them.  Right now, they have a sale until the end of the year for about $15K.

2) SAN -  I'm not sure what your storage requirements are, but I just got a client a 4.5TB Dell MD300i for $11,500.  You can spend a lot more in this area depending on your storage requirements.  You need to think about what types of servers that you will be virtualizing, your speed requirements, and the volume of storage you will need.

3) NICs - Get yourself an additional 4-port NIC for each of those boxes to give yourself some network flexibility and redundancy.  Those are right about $500 apiece.

4) RAM - Get those hosts up to 32GB of RAM or more each to get the most bang for your buck.

5) CPUs - Make sure to get quad-cores.  VMware is licensed by the physical processor, so a license for a single-core costs the same as for a quad core.  Obviously you get 4X the performance out of a quad-core, so that's the route to take, for sure.

Overall, I'd probably say to get three good dual quad-core hosts with plenty of RAM, perform your P2V conversions, and then evaluate your environment to decide if you want to add the additional two hosts.


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What is your budget for this project? This will determine what type of solution would be right for you. While azjeep's recommendations are great for an SMB solution, a little more about your project (without disclosing too much) will allow us to narrow down a solution for you.

What are the specs for these servers? Do you have them already or are they part of the budget?
How about switches, cables, UPS devices, racks for servers, switches, and SAN, cable management?

Vendor choice - Dell, HP, IBM, etc

Server size - tower, 1U, 2U, 4U, etc

Number of CPUs (2-, 4-, 8-way, etc)

RAM is can be based on how many VMs you need to get online (limited by hardware - 32, 64, 128GB)

NICs - more the better = 4-port NIC in addition to onboard NICs (typically 2-port on Mobo)

iSCSI HBAs - 2 for each server (10 total), 1-port (or 2-port) HBA, type based on iSCSI SAN and VMware HCL, typically Qlogic, make sure HBAs, Servers, and SAN support Jumbo frames (or can use 10GE) for more throughput, VMware only supports end-to-end Jumbo frames for VMs and must be enabled on iSCSI HBAs, vSwitches on ESX servers, in the VMs, and ESX server NICs.

Dedicated switch or existing switch with VLAN support - 5 servers, 6 NICs each, 2 HBAs each = 40 patch cables, 40 ports + at least 8 ports from iSCSI SAN = 48 ports needed on switch

Below is an example of additional requirements for your Virtual Infrastructure environment:

5 ESXi Servers
CPU = 1, 2, 4 or 8 Quadcore per server (Intel just released the Core i7, which is a true Quadcore - not Intel Core 2's 2 dualcore CPUs on 1 die)
RAM = Depends on VM requirements, 8, 16, 32, 64, or 128GB per server
NIC = See below for requirements
VLAN2 (Network VLAN) - 4 NICs (at least) per server x 5 servers = 20
VLAN50 (SAN VLAN) - 2 iSCSI HBAs per server x 5 servers = 10 ports
VLAN51 (VMKernel VLAN) - 2 NICs per server x 5 servers = 10 ports

iSCSI SAN (Redundant Controllers using Active/Active)
VLAN2 - 2 NICs per Storage Controller x 2 controllers = 4
VLAN50 - 2 HBAs per  Storage Controller x 2 controllers = 4

2 Gigabit Switches (At least 24 ports each, 48 ports recommended for scalability)
VLAN2 - ports 1-10 per switch
VLAN50 - ports 11-15 per switch
VLAN51 - ports 15-20 per switch
Uplink - Ports 21-24 (trunked) per switch going to a core or distribution switch
Example: Use Cisco Catalyst 3560

Ethernet Cables
CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a = 44
SAN VLAN (Yellow) = 14
VMKernel (Green) = 10
Network (Blue) = 24

Power - 5 servers with dual PSUs = 10 connections
iSCSI SAN - 2 controllers with 2 or 3 PSUs + dual PSUs per enclosure = 5 connections or more
Switch - 1 PSU per switch = 2 connections
Total = 17+ connections split across 2 or more UPS devices (e.g. APC 3000 or higher)

Microsoft Licensing
Windows Server (2000/2003/2008) Datacenter Edition - based on how many CPUs (not cores) on server, unlimited VMs per license
Windows Server Enterprise Edition - based on CPU on server, maximum of 4 VMs per license


Windows 20xx Datacenter
5 ESX servers, 1 CPU each = 5 licenses, Unlimited VMs
5 ESX servers, 2 CPU each = 10 licenses, Unlimited VMs

Windows 20xx Enterprise
5 ESX servers, 1 CPU each = 5 licenses, 20 VMs Max
5 ESX servers, 2 CPU each = 10 licenses, 40 VMs Max

VMware licensing - Same as Windows


5 ESX servers, 1 CPU each = 5 licenses + SnS support (Platinum/Gold)
5 ESX servers, 2 CPU each = 10 licenses + SnS support (Platinum/Gold)

VirtualCenter server = 1 license per site (Main site, DR site) running on a Windows server

Licensing types: Foundation, Standard, Enterprise

For HA = Foundation
For HA, DRS = Standard
For HA, DRS, VMotion (and Storage VMotion) = Enterprise

For pricing see:

For additional pricing see:

Let me know if you need additional information for this deployment.
torpsAuthor Commented:
thanks for your comments, very thorough and informative
You're welcome, torps.

Good luck with your virtualization project.  
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