VMWare is a company that produces a software suite called vSphere, which is a virtualization platform. It allows us to run multiple software servers on a single piece of hardware, saving energy and hardware costs and creating a more flexible server environment.

VMWare recently released vSphere 4.1, which is the last build of vSphere that will follow the current model and naming scheme. The current model has two version of software, a “paid for” version and a free version. Currently, the “paid for” version is called “ESX”, and comes with all of the advanced features. The free version is called “ESXi”, with several restrictions in place. The management software is called “vCenter”, and is included with ESX. The entire suite is called “vSphere”, which encompasses ESX, ESXi, and vCenter as a whole.

VMWare has been working to make their software lighter, more functional, and more robust. During the development process, they started with ESXi, the free version, and built in all of the features from scratch again to create a better version of the software than the original. As such, ESXi is now the new primary version of vSphere. In the next version of vSphere, the “paid for” hypervisor will be called ESXi. This is an actual software change, requiring an upgrade. It becomes lighter, faster, and strips away a lot of fluff. The free hypervisor will be called “vSphere Hypervisor”, and will still be ESXi at its core, just without any bells/whistles. The management software is still called vCenter and the entire suite is still called vSphere
Some of the benefits of moving to ESXi include upgrading between licensing levels without a reinstall, and the ability to update portions of the software without requiring a reboot. It provides better performance, better logging (including hardware monitoring), and a more robust set of features. The main downside is that to upgrade to the new ESXi software, it will require a reinstall. However, once this process is completed, future VMWare updates won’t require restarts or downtime to perform.
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