Note: The limitations for the VCSA 5.5 are lifted: The integrated vPostgress database will support 100 vSphere hosts and 3.000 virtual machines. For the Oracle database 1000 hosts and 10.000 virtual machines are supported.
The VMware vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) is a linux based virtual appliance, containing VMware’s vCenter Management Server. The vCenter Server Appliance has slightly changed and is improved with the launch of VMware vSphere 5.1.
This article compares the VCSA 5.1 with the “normal” Windows based vCenter Server 5.1. In the table below possibilities and limitations of both versions are summarized. The article will also discuss if the vCenter Server Appliance is the right choice and end up linking to some other interesting articles about the VCSA available on other blogs.
So, let’s start with a comparison between Windows vCenter and the VCSA:
|Feature||Windows vCenter Server 5.1||VCSA 5.1|
|OS||Windows 2003 (SP2/R2) Windows 2008 (SP1, R2, R2 SP1) Most up-to-date info here.||Pre configured virtual appliance running Suse Enterprise Linux 11|
|Platform||Physical server or virtual machine||Only virtual appliance|
|Database||IBM DB2 9.5/9.7 SQL Server 2005 SP4 32/64 (Srd,Ent) SQL Server 2008 R2/SP2 32/64 (Express, Std, Ent) Oracle 10g, 11g, Complete details here.MS SQL Express, integrated: Max 5 hosts/50 VMs||vPostgres (built-in) Oracle 10g, 11gvPostgres, built-in: max 5 hosts/50 VMs|
|Minimum System Requirements||2 (v)CPU’s/cores 4 GB RAM +/- 6 GB Disk (+ required storage for Windows installation) 1 Gbit NetworkSystem requirements may increase depending the number of ESXi hosts/virtual machines.||2 (v)CPU’s/cores 4 GB RAM +/- 7 GB Disk 1 Gbit NetworkSystem requirements may increase depending the number of ESXi hosts/virtual machines.|
|Installation methodology||Needs a pre-installed Windows OS, Windows installation ISO and package are available.||Deployment of a OVF or OVA template.|
|Auto Deploy||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server||Pre-installed|
|Syslog Collector||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server||Pre-installed, but not registered as plugin in vCenter Server. You can view the log files by opening an ssh connection to the VCSA|
|ESXi Dump Collector||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server||Pre-installed, but not registered as plugin in vCenter Server. You can view the log files by opening an ssh connection to the VCSA|
|vSphere Web Client||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server or another seperate server.||Pre-installed|
|Single Sign On (SSO)||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server or another seperate server.||Pre-installed|
|vCenter Update Manager||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server or a seperate Windows host||Seperate installation to be installed on a seperate Windows host|
|vSphere vCLI||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server or a seperate host||Cannot be installed on the vCenter Server Appliance|
|PowerCLI||Seperate installation to be installed on the vCenter Server or a seperate host||Cannot be installed on the vCenter Server Appliance|
|Network||IPv4 and IPv6 supported||IPv4 supported|
|Linked Mode||Supported||Not supported|
|SRM||Compatible with SRM, SRM can be installed on the vCenter Server or a seperate Windows host.||Compatible with SRM, SRM has to be installed on a seperate Windows host.|
|vCenter Heartbeat||Compatible||Not Compatible|
The VMware interoperability matrix is you source regarding the interoperability of the various VMware products. Unfortunately VMware remains a bit vague regarding the interoperability of the vCenter Server Appliance and other VMware solutions. Sometimes VMware explicitly mentions a solution is compatible with the VCSA, sometimes VMware explicitly mentions a solution is not compatible with the VCSA…but most of the time VMware is not telling you anything. From my personal experience I can confirm vCloud Director, vShield Manager and vCenter Operations work flawlessly with the vCenter Server Appliance.
vCenter Server Appliance: Yes or No?
Now the question is, would you prefer the VCSA or the Windows vCenter Server? The question in this case is….”it depends”. At this moment I prefer the Windows vCenter Server, the most important reason is the database compatibility and the need to have a Windows host anyway for the Update Manager. If it’s possible to combine vCenter and Update Manager on one Windows host/vm you won’t have any licensing advantage. In case you’re using Windows Datacenter licensing, the number of Windows VM’s is not really an issue from a licensing perspective.
Regarding the database compatiblity; the VCSA has a built-in database which is suitable for environements with a maximum of 50 vms and 5 ESXi hosts. If you want to grow bigger, you have to use Oracle DBMS which is not always available (MS SQL Server is not an option in this case). If you are planning to run the VCSA and you know you will be running more than 50 VMs/5 ESXi hosts, start using the Oracle DB from the beginning…it will save you a database migration.
The VCSA is of course the right choice if you have to deploy a vSphere environment very fast, e.g. for demo or testing purposes. Especially when the size of the environment is not too big, VCSA is the right option. Always keep an eye which solutions are (not) compatible with vCenter Server Appliance.
Some other good sources
Do you want to learn more about the vCenter Server Appliance, be sure to check William Lam’s blog. William has some good articles available on the VCSA. On top on this, check the VMware Knowledge for the following articles:
- Service bundled with vCenter Server Appliance
- Minimum requirements for the VMware vCenter Server 5.x Appliance
- Troubleshooting vCenter Server Appliance configuration with an external vCenter Single Sign On server
And some good articles by other bloggers:
- VCSA 5.1, Deployment and Upgrade (Juanma)
- What about the VMware vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) version 5.1? (Yvo Beerens)
- vCenter Appliance (Duncan Epping)
A big advantage of VCSA is that you don’t have to pay for a Microsoft Licence. It’s very interisting in SMB environnement which is i think the target of Vcsa.
Interesting article anyway.
True, but if you want to run Update Manager as well you will need a MS license anyway. Run vCenter and Update Manager on the same host and away is your license advantage…right? 🙂
Thanks for your comment!
I run 4 different vSphere 5.1 suite using VCSA, one of the suite has 4 hosts 300 vm’s using the embedded vPostgres database and I never had problem (nothing major) with it. I like it due to ease of patching, just like applying firmware type experience. Compared to the Windows variant that multiple admin can potentially mess with it whether intentionally or accidentally. It could get messed up due to GPO changes by other admins, dba admin changes and also normal windows or database security patches.
Sound good! Don’t you have any (support?) issues that this situation is officially not supported? How are you dealing with VUM?
VUM, I can install it on separate Windows server but I personally download the zip and patch it manually through ssh console. I have my reasons why I dont use VUM, I just cant see enough reason to use it. I wish VUM is an appliance.
Maarten van Dijk
Nice article Viktor!
I just read the blog from Duncan about “VMware has lifted the vCenter appliance (VCSA) limitations from 5 hosts to 500 hosts and from 50 to 5000 virtual machines in the new vSphere 5.5 edition!
Funny to read actually is a comment on the blog from Ivo Beerens on a limitations post of the current version.
“If anything like version 5, 5 hosts and 50 VM’s aren’t a real limit. I ran 3 times that amount before upgrading to Oracle. You made need to run some Postgress command to increase tablespaces etc.”
This is interesting and makes me think that this might be longer possible but becomes now official available.
Last but nu least is the limited support from VMware on VCAP.
Especially in case of an fallback scenario you need the guaranteed support.
Hi Maarten! Thanks for your comment. I think I have to update some of my articles, vSphere/vCloud 5.5 brings some good new addtions/enhancements which will certainly influence your decisions.
With regards to the VCSA, increasing the maximum number of VMs / hosts is certainly a good thing and will be sufficient for a lot of customers (which makes VCSA a very good option), although you will still need a separate Windows host for Update Manager….
Maarten van Dijk
Hi Viktor, Funny detail to know is that once (long time ago) you trained me to become a VCP :). Back to the old days of XTG…
Checked you on LinkedIn and remember the face 🙂 Nice to hear from you again here!
Hey i want to know “Windows vCenter Server 5.5 versus vCenter Server Appliance 5.5″ right now i am using vCenter server 5.1 on windows 2008 R2 with external oracle Database..is it supported to migrate existing Database to appliance?
please help me…
No it’s not supported to migrate an existing database to the appliance.
Besides this remember that not all pluggins you use in the vCenter are supported to run in vCenter on the appliance. Take casre about that. Another important thing is that the VUM is not supported as wel through the appliance.
The actual numbers for the vCSA end being:
embedded vPostgress: 100 hosts and 3,000VMs
External Oracle DB: 1,000 hosts and 10,000 VMs.
I have quoted these from the maximum guide in my article at: http://www.virtualizationteam.com/server-virtualization/vcenter-server-appliance-5-5-limitations.html
Ok thanks, I have updated the article.
I’m planning to migrate from WIndows VCenter Server 5.1 with SQL Server into the virtual appliance VCSA 5.1 and I wonder if there is anything different or caveats when using this VCSA VM ?
The migration process is a manual process, as far as I know there’s no tooling for the migration. There something about a fling here: https://flingcontest.vmware.com/posts/the-winner-of-the-2013-vmware-fling-contest-is-dot-dot-dot, but I think this fling is not available yet. If you’re using distributed virtual switches you have to export/import these switches, before you’re moving your ESXi hosts from the old VCS to the new VCSA.
You will still need a Windows based update manager as explained in this article, same counts for e.g. SRM.