Running out of evaluation time - before I switch to "free"...

A little over a month ago I installed VMware ESXi 5.0 evaluation version to set up a single machine home lab for 7-8 VM's. I can't afford to pay for a full license and with only one host and local SATA disk I can't use many of the features anyway.

As a rookie of ESXi, I'm not sure what I will lose - other than vCenter - that's valuable in my situation and what I need to make sure I do before the evaluation license expires to get the most out of it and to make sure I don't lose all the hard work I've put in so far.

A few things I do hope (and would like confirmation) I don't lose is the ability to create/modify VM's, take snapshots, do PCI passthrough, and reserve memory, which I've found is needed for PCI passthrough of some devices.

Also, before doing this - as well as on a regular basis - I want to make sure I've backed everything up. I've found tools to do guest machine backups but how - or what files on disk - do I backup to save my ESXi config files in case I need to go back? I boot off USB thumb drive and will certainly back that up, but what other related files on my storage array need to be backed up - and can I just copy them back if I want to revert to a previous install/config? Or, better yet, is there a free or cheap tool to that for me?
johnnyt29Asked:
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)Connect With a Mentor VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
You will still be able to do all those functions on free.

vCenter requires a license. A Basic vSphere Essentials License is $500, which includes 3 hosts licenses with 2 CPUs per host, and vCenter Server.

You can apply your free license on Day 59, before it expires.

You will still be able to create/modify VM's, take snapshots, do PCI passthrough, and reserve memory with the free version, the free version is limited to 32GB per server.

Did not know, EE also has VMware Articles? Checkout my EE Articles to help you.

Checkout my Bavkup Guide, you can use GhettoVCB for Free to Backup your VMs.
VMware ESX/ESXi Backup Guide

Checkout this Guide, to Backup your USB flash drive and configuration.
How to Backup an ESXi installation on an USB Flash Drive or SD card, for security or redundancy.

This shows how to copy and backup VMs.
HOW TO: Clone or Copy a virtual machine in VMware vSphere Hypervisor ESX/ESXi 4.x or ESXi 5.0

HOW TO: Add and Connect a USB Device to a Virtual Machine, hosted on VMware vSphere Hypervisor ESX 4.1 ESXi 4.1, ESXi 5.0

One of the biggest issues with free, is the lack of access to Licensed Storage API, which stops most Backup products from working, but if you have no money to purchase Veeam Backup, you can use my article, plenty of software e.g. Veeam FastSCP, Datastore Browser, GhettoVCB

You need all the files in the virtual machine folder, especially the *.vmdk files, and *.vmx.

Yes, you can just copy the VM folder files, and copy them back as a restore.

As for Backup of ESXi configuration, you can use the vCLI command
Download here
http://www.vmware.com/support/developer/vcli/

to backup the host you would run the command.

vicfg-cfgbackup.pl --server <server_name> -s <backup_file_name>

To restore your backup configuration to your host you would run. This will cause the host to reboot once the process is complete.

vicfg-cfgbackup.pl --server <server_name> -l <backup_file_name>

but this will not function on Free version, because ESXi is read only.
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johnnyt29Author Commented:
some good info. thanks. will definitely check out some of your articles.

so free version can't be restored? No point in backing it up then - or am I missing something?

What else will "read only" prevent me from doing? does it mean I can't add advanced configuration parameters to VM's using vSphere client?

In addition to $500 license fee I would have to pay ~$70 annually for support, even though I would not be able to actually get any support since I'm using mostly non supported hardware. (see http://tinkertry.com/vzilla)
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
you cannot use the vCLI to Restore configuration, but nothing stops you using my article to Backup the entire flash drive.

You cannot set SNMP configurations, or use Backup software that uses the Licensed API.

It has no impact on VMs.

As for support, Support often refer to the HCL, if hardware is not on the HCL, it would be difficult for support to advise!
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