How-To: License the Free VMware vSphere Hypervisor

One of the things that some of the Microsoft Hyper-V users tout is that Hyper-V is free. Sometimes, like in smaller offices or branch locations, it may even make sense to use Hyper-V where there are four or less VMs on a host. The Windows 2008 Server Enterprise Edition license will allow for the base Hyper-V installation and up to four Windows 2008 Server VMs on the hardware. But there are many valid reasons to run VMware’s vSphere Hypervisor, the free version of ESXi in your datacenter.

Why use vSphere Hypervisor

The vSphere Hypervisor is the same ESXi bare-metal hypervisor as what comes with all of the other editions. Using the free version will shut off some of the features available in the paid versions, but the vSphere Hypervisor still has many features not offered by Microsoft Hyper-V. Unless you are already using Microsoft System Center and Virtual Machine Manager, you may want to take a second look at ESXi.

Features of vSphere Hypervisor

  • Even the free version of ESXi offers a higher consolidation ratio than Hyper-V because the CPU scheduler and memory technologies, like Transparent Page Sharing are enabled in all versions of ESXi.
  • The ESXi hypervisor has a much smaller footprint (144MB) than Hyper-V (3GB), even in the free core mode. A larger footprint means a larger attack area.
  • ESXi uses a rigorously tested driver set. Hyper-V uses generic Windows drivers, that are sometimes difficult to set up using the Hyper-V Core Mode interface. These drivers are usually the most common reason for the BSOD.
  • ESXi actually supports more versions of Windows than Hyper-V supports. It also supports more versions of Linux as well as OS-X Server, FreeBSD and Solaris.
  • ESXi allows for thin provisioning of VM disks.
  • ESXi allows you to use shared storage (single path only!). Hyper-V requires an Enterprise Edition license.
  • ESXi can be easily upgraded to unlock the features of any paid version by simply entering a new license key.

What’s Missing in vSphere Hypervisor

  • No advanced or enterprise features, such as vMotion, DRS, DPM, VM Templates, Autodeploy, etc.
  • Can only be managed using the vSphere Client connected directly to the ESXi host. No management via vCenter server.
  • Using PowerCLI or vCLI only allows for read-only functionality. You can’t use those cool scripts.
  • Physical RAM capped at 32GB per host.
  • Virtual CPUs capped at 8 per VM.
  • No vSphere Distributed Switch.
  • No storage multipathing.
  • No vADP features means limited backup capabilities. But you can use backup agents inside the guest OS.

Licensing vSphere Hypervisor

If you download an ESXi image, all of the features are turned on by default. VMware gives you a 60-day evaluation license so that you can try all of the features before you decide which ones you want. I suggest that you try all of the features for a while before you make the final decision to use the free version. Whether you already have ESXi running or just want to get a copy, use the following instructions to get the free key.

Register and Download vSphere Hypervisor and the License Key

Start out by visiting


Step 1:

vSphere Hypervisor Page

If you don’t already have an account, click on the “Create an Account” tab and enter your information. If you already have an account, use the “I have an Account” tab and log in.

 Step 2:

vSphere Hypervisor reg pg

If you are registering for the first time, enter your contact information. Then enter the number of hosts you plan to use and accept the EULA. Click on the “Register” button.

Step 2a:


If you already have an account, enter the number of hosts you plan to use and accept the EULA. Click on the “Register” button.

Step 3:

vSphere Hypervisor Key & DwnldScroll down on the new page and you will see your license key and links to download ESXi and the vSphere Client. I would suggest you download the image created by your hardware manufacturer if available. This will typically include all of the required hardware drivers as well as any customized CIM providers needed to display extended hardware health information.

Install ESXi on your server hardware

Either burn a CD from the ISO image you downloaded or use the remote console such as iLo to directly mount the image. The actual steps for installing ESXi on your hardware is not in scope of this document.

You will also need to install the vSphere Client on a Windows system if you have not already done so.

Applying the License Key to ESXi

Log into the ESXi host by connecting the vSphere Client directly and follow the steps below to add the vSphere Hypervisor key.

Step 1:

ESXi License Config

Click on the Configuration tab. Under Software, click on the Licensed Features link. Notice that all of the Product Features are enabled in Evaluation Mode. Click on the Edit link.

Step 2:

Assign License

In the Assign License dialog, click on the Enter Key button.

Step 3:

Add Key

Enter the new license key and click OK.

Step 4:

Entered Key

Confirm the license key appears with the proper features. Click OK.

Step 5:

Confirm License

Confirm that the free features are enabled and that the key never expires.


That is it. You have successfully applied the free license to the vSphere Hypervisor.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Info very useful, my way its clear to improve a virtualize a servers in my work, i have many questions from the licensing but its gone. Thanks a lot from Venezuela

  2. Hey you do realise that you’ve written a guide that contains no information on how to setup the vsphere client (licensing/install) so they cant actually follow your guide.

  3. Gosh, I think developers have hired some guy to create to the most complicated way how to apply licence.
    Thanks for the instruction to the author.

  4. Hello,

    I just bought a DELL POWEREDGE T100 – 1 x DUAL CORE 3.0Ghz, 4GB, 2 x 160GB SATA DRIVES and want to use it to load the Esxi. I need to virtualise a NGFW/IPS for an exam. I am new to server. Can you help and I also need to know if I need an underlying Server OS before installing the Esxi. I am a network person and now we have to deal with virtualisation now. I also need a free License

    Please help.

  5. Thank you, do you think this dell box is beefy enough for the Esxi ?

    • It may be a little light. You will need some CPU and about 2GB for the hypervisor. That leaves you with about 2GB to play with. As an example, my MacBook Pro has a quad core and 16GB of RAM. Performance on that is spotty at times.

  6. Thanks, this is for a small home lab nothing for production and to practise some firewall virtualisation on it…

  7. Many Thanks, working on it..

  8. Hi, please help, I downloaded VMware-VMvisor-Installer-5.5.0-1331820.x86_64 and burn into disk and insert the disk on my Dell Poweredge server and it would not boot. Do I need a server OS before loading the VMWare esxi ?

    • Hi Tony,

      For HP servers, there are customized version of ESXi. MAY BE dell also do have customized version of ESXi. Please do some research on this

    • That is correct Dell should have a customized version of the installer ISO for their servers available on their support site. I don’t see one available on the VMware downloads site.

      Also, make sure you use a utility capable of creating a bootable CD from an ISO image.

  9. thank you guys, I am Network and security experts, let me know if you have any queries…thank you my server is booting up correctly now 🙂

  10. Hi,
    I tried loading a free license that I downloaded from my vmware account but after a minute or so the evaluation mode just kicks in again!(and the expiration clock keeps ticking…) any ideas???

  11. Thank you! It worked perfectly!

  12. The most confusing part, is I keep reading how VSphere only supports 1 CPU per license. Yet I later read VSphere Hypervisor supports more than 1 CPU per license (appears to be 2 different products when adding the word HyperVisor). Do we have to add a license for every CPU socket on the motherboard for VSphere HyperVisor or does VSphere HyperVisor actually support more than one CPU socket per motherboard (host) with just their free version?

    Am I correct that VSphere is different from VSphere HyperVisor?

    Love your article, you made some very important points. Typically I get a blank stare from techs when I ask them why do they prefer MS Hyper-V or VMware HyperVisor

    • First off, keep in mind that this post is from January 2012, so things may have changed in the process since then. I guess I need to make an update to see if anything has changed!

      It is a little weird that they ask how many servers you will be using rather than how many sockets, but I think that is just a survey type of question. You apply the license via the client and the key will cover all of the sockets in the host. Like I mentioned in the post, the actual hypervisor is the same in all editions. The application of the license key activates features within the hypervisor. The term “vSphere Hypervisor” vs. “vSphere ESXi” indicates the systems are using the free license key.

  13. thanks very helpful 😛

  14. Hi! I followed the steps correctly and gave me a license in which only allows servers to 32 GB of RAM. My server has 64 GB of RAM, so it does not accept this License. I read that they can give me a license that has no limits of RAM, which is acquired from the same website. This license is intended for system administrators who have a test server, which is my case. But try it anyway and I can not get it. Could you please help me?

  15. Setting up ESXi 6.0 on a 2012 Mac Mini Server | Der Flounder - pingback on March 24, 2015 at 11:23 am
  16. Upgrading an ESXi server from 5.5 to 6.0 | Der Flounder - pingback on March 25, 2015 at 8:32 am
  17. Hello,

    I need a price for Vmware Esxi 5.5.0 license.

    How can I get it?

    Lateefat Akorede Oladoyin
    Impedance Systems Company

  18. Your instructions were perfect. Easy to follow and actually worked. Thank you. -Zed.

  19. Type-1 Hypervisor | - pingback on February 4, 2016 at 9:30 am
  20. Finally, thanks to you I’ve managed to find where to input the license key.

    Why on earth don’t they just place it on the help button like many others usually do.

  21. I haven’t read the license agreement during installation of ESXi, so I have one question:
    – Can I use free ESXi hypervisor for commercial purposes? Or is it just for testing or home use?

  22. Thanks, Dave,

    For your clarification of VMware vsphere hypervisor license.

    and I have one query, for one windows license how many VM’s can we install.
    Note; ESXi hypervisor loaded in the base machine.

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code class="" title="" data-url=""> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <pre class="" title="" data-url=""> <span class="" title="" data-url="">

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: