VMware Licensing

Hopefully most people will have their 4.x -> 5.1, or 5.0 -> 5.1 upgrade behind them, or they’re comfortable with the RAM limitations on 5.0. If not, check out at least the Resolution below to save yourself some headaches.


My company runs a three node vSphere cluster. One of the divisions in the company has been running into memory limits on their system, and are in the process of growing. They had optimized their code as much as they could but it was past time to throw some more RAM their way. As I understood our licensing agreement from when we purchased VMware, a little of a year ago now, I recalled mention of a cap on the amount of memory that we could attach to our physical nodes. So, instead of researching for the answer on VMware’s KB site, or scouring DDG for random thoughts, I decided to make use of our support contract and just ask the “experts”.

The Confusion Begins

I called up the VMware Licensing Team and told them what we were doing and what we’d need to purchase to get beyond the RAM cap. The rep asked for our build number and I dutifully read that back from the location dictated by the rep. The response from the rep delighted me to no end, though I was still a bit skeptical. She noted that we were on 5.0 Update 1, which she saw as having no RAM limitations. She even went as far as to send along a KB article describing the change from 5.0 to 5.0 U1 with respect to RAM licensing. It called out vRAM, which I had heard changed, but I that change was before we even purchased the license. I still recalled a hard limit, not a vRAM limit. I pushed her some more but she was quite adamant.

At this point, I send a long the purchase proposal to the powers that be; they approved. Before I made the purchase, though, I called up Licensing one more time for a second option. I again walked through the issue and what I understood the limitations to be; that there was a hard limit with our license. Again, they rep pointed me to a KB article. All looked good. I went ahead and executed one of the quotes I had and the RAM was in my hand by week’s end, just enough time for me to through it in a server at the end of the day before I went on a three-day weekend.

I moved all the VMs around and took one of the nodes offline, popped the RAM in it and powered it back up. Sure enough, there was my 288G in the vSphere Client summary. I thought to my self, “excellent!”. I arranged time to allocate some more vRAM to one of the VMs, power the VM back up, and [un]shockingly I get an error about not enough vRAM capacity. It was the end of the day, so I bumped the vRAM on this VM back a bit, powered it up and handed it off to the team. I called VMware to open a ticket.

The Hassle Ensues

I’m told by the “receptionist” who takes the call that we have “Basic” support, which means I don’t get to talk to someone right away, but instead I’ll get a call back or email within 8 business hours. That was a little annoying, but that’s the decision we made when purchasing the support contract, so I was OK with it. This wasn’t a critical emergency so I figured we’d just get it all sorted out.

I never heard back from my assigned tech. I received one email the next day saying “I’m on the phone and will reach out to you later”, or something to that effect. There were no other follow up messages from that day. Come Monday, I reply to the email asking what I needed to do to answer any questions he may have. No response. I called him up, but he was on the other line. I left a voicemail. No reply.

I opened another ticket for the same issue the next day explaining the situation of not hearing back from the first tech. This new ticket got a new tech, who, to his credit, did reply with some follow up question, questions which were answered in the notes of the ticket when it was opened, but I digress.

The support tech said this was a licensing issue. I agreed and followed his advice to contact Licensing again. I did and asked that they look at the notes the Support tech. Their response? This is a support issue. ARG!!!!! I called in again and became a little bit more persistent. One of the shift managers recommended that the three of us have a conference call the next day. Long story slightly shorter: I finally got on the call with a tech who was able to explain the situation, and a License Team member who knew their product and model.


The issue? Well, our nodes were all able to use unlimited RAM, but vCenter, the piece that orchestrates them, wasn’t. VMware Essentials Plus is limited to 32G of RAM per CPU. For our 6xQuadcore servers, we had a limit of 196G of total RAM we could use. Never was I asked what version of vCenter was I using in my first calls, and I doubt anyone looked at my account to see. So frustrating. The end result was upgrading vCenter from 5.0 to 5.1. I did that and have now bumped up the RAM on a few systems. All is fine now.