Proxmox vs ESXi

Proxmox vs ESXi: Choosing the Right Virtualization Platform

Virtualization technologies allow one physical host to run multiple virtual machines, making it popular for server consolidation. VMware leads the market, but its maintenance costs are climbing every year. Management realizes licensing costs are climbing practically every year. Is it still worth it?

Proxmox, a free and open-source solution, runs on Linux and offers a user-friendly web interface. Both hypervisors come with bare-metal installers and essential management tools.

In this article, I’ll help you understand the differences between Proxmox and ESXi so that you can decide which is best for your needs.

What Is a Hypervisor?

A hypervisor is a software that creates and manages virtual machines. Imagine wanting to run multiple operating systems, like Windows and Linux, simultaneously on one computer.

A hypervisor makes this possible by acting as a middle layer between the computer’s hardware and the virtual machines. Each virtual machine operates independently, with its operating system and applications, as if a separate physical computer.

The two main types of hypervisors are:

  • Type 1 hypervisors (bare-metal) operate directly on the computer’s hardware without an intermediary operating system. Due to their superior performance and efficiency, they are commonly found in data centers and servers. Examples include VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V Server.
  • Type 2 hypervisors (hosted): These function on top of an existing operating system, such as Windows or macOS, and are more prevalent on personal computers due to user-friendliness. Examples include VMware Workstation and VirtualBox.

Hypervisors offer several benefits, including:

  • Efficient Resource Utilization: They allow multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical computer, maximizing usage.
  • Cost Reduction: Instead of procuring multiple physical servers, organizations can use a hypervisor to create virtual servers on a single physical server.
  • Enhanced Flexibility: Virtual machines can be effortlessly created, deleted, and moved, resulting in a more agile IT infrastructure.
  • Isolation: Each virtual machine is isolated, preventing a crash in one from impacting others.

Hypervisors are essential for cloud computing as they empower providers to offer diverse services on shared infrastructure.

What is VMware ESXi?

ESXi provides a hypervisor for server virtualization. ESXi runs on bare metal (type 1) without running an operating system. It contains its Linux-based operating system. The primary purpose of ESXi is to provide a hardware abstraction layer between the guest operating systems and the underlying hardware. All guests are managed through a single interface, making administration more manageable.

In addition, ESXi supports multiple platforms such as Intel processors X86 and X64, ARMv7, PowerPC, IA32e, SPARC, etc.

VMware Vcenter Server is a web-based management interface that provides a centralized management point for all your single hosts or ESXi servers.

VMware Vsphere is a set of tools that includes vCenter Server, vMotion, Storage vMotion, Fault Tolerance, High Availability, and much more. Vcenter Server makes it easy to manage all the tools, hosts, and virtual servers from a central location. 

Vsphere offers everything you need for a perfect virtualization infrastructure. It’s available in three editions: Essential, Standard, and Enterprise. 

Features found with ESXi 8.0. Some features are only available in the Enterprise edition.

  • High Availability (HA): In case of a host failure, VMs on other available hosts are automatically restarted, minimizing downtime.
  • Online migration feature: Storage vMotion allows for the live migration of VM disk files across storage arrays without downtime.
  • vMotion for processor: This feature enables the live migration of running VMs from one physical server to another without impacting operations.
  • Backup and Restore: Native features and third-party integrations that provide data protection and recovery options for VMs.
  • VM encryption: Protects data and ensures privacy by encrypting VM files.
  • Instant Clone: Creates copies of existing VMs quickly for testing, development, or scaling out applications.
  • Distributed Switch: Provides centralized network settings management across multiple hosts for consistency and ease of administration.
  • Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS): Dynamically allocates resources among VMs based on predefined rules and current demands.
  • Storage DRS: Automatically balances storage capacity and I/O load within a storage cluster for optimal performance.
  • Network I/O Control: Manages network bandwidth allocation among VMs on a network switch to ensure network performance.
  • Storage I/O Control: Prioritizes access to storage resources during periods of contention, ensuring performance consistency.
  • Fault Tolerance (FT): Provides continuous replication of VMs to ensure zero downtime and no data loss in case of server failures.
  • vSphere Update Manager: Assists with the patching and version management of ESXi hosts, VMs, and virtual appliances.
  • vSphere Trust Authority: Establishes a trusted platform by ensuring that ESXi hosts and VMs are running on trusted hardware.
  • vSphere Lifecycle Manager: Manages the lifecycle of vSphere components, including software deployment, update, and configuration.
  • vSphere Security: Advanced security features for ESXi and VMs, including TPM 2.0 support, secure boot, and encryption for secure operations.

The current version is ESXi 8.0, always the latest version and build you find here

What is Proxmox VE?

Proxmox Cluster
Proxmox Web Interface Cluster

Proxmox VE (Virtual Environment) is an open-source server management platform for enterprise virtualization. It combines KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) for virtual machines and LXC (Linux Containers) for containerization, offering a comprehensive virtualization solution. Proxmox VE features a user-friendly web interface, enabling easy virtual machines, containers, storage, and networking management. It supports high-availability clusters, live migration, and backup solutions, making it a powerful and flexible choice for managing virtualized environments.

Several advanced features make it a viable alternative to VMware ESXi.

Here are some features:

  • Open-source, Debian-based virtualization platform
  • Uses the KVM hypervisor instead of proprietary solutions
  • Quick deployment in under 10 minutes
  • Intuitive web-based centralized management interface
  • Supports both virtual machines (VMs) and Linux Containers (LXC)
  • Highly customizable and flexible architecture
  • Integrated high-availability (HA) manager for cluster-wide monitoring and failover
  • Live migration of VMs between cluster nodes without downtime
  • Bridged networking
  • Lots of storage options like ceph, ZFS, NFS, CIFs, iSCSI, and much more
  • Command-line interface (CLI)
  • Free and open-source virtualization platform under the GPL license
  • Suitable for small to large-scale virtualization deployments
  • Developed by Proxmox Server Solutions in Austria
  • Backup and replication: A backup solution with features like scheduled backups, compression, and deduplication.
  • Task automation: Provides a way to automate tasks using the REST API or CLI scripts.
  • Distributed Firewall
  • IPv4 and IPv6 support
  • Storage replication: Proxmox offers built-in storage replication for disaster recovery purposes.
  • more features here

The current version is 8.2.

Proxmox vs ESXi - Backup Server
Backup Server

A table with the comparison of the key features

What are Proxmox VE advantages vs. ESXi?

Why choose Proxmox VE instead of Vmware ESXi?

You may wonder about their differences if you’re already familiar with VMware. Here are some key differences between Proxmox and VMware ESXi.

  • Open Source—Proxmox VE is open-source software, meaning anyone can download the latest version and modify it however they see fit. Third-party companies even offer commercial services. VMware requires annual subscription fees depending on the size of your environment.
  • Security – Proxmox uses Linux-based operating systems, so it’s much more secure than traditional hypervisors such as ESXi. As a bonus, since all VMs run within containers, any malicious code running inside one VM will not be able to affect others.
  • Availability – Proxmox VE offers built-in High Availability features while ESXi doesn’t (additional cost). Also, unlike ESXi, Proxmox VE lets administrators configure multiple nodes simultaneously. So if one goes offline, another automatically steps in.
  • Support—The community behind Proxmox has been around for years, so you’ll have plenty of resources at hand should you ever encounter problems.
  • Customization—One of Proxmox’s most significant advantages is that it gives admins complete control over the entire system. They can customize almost every aspect, including hardware, OS, networking, storage, etc. These options make it easier for Software development to build exactly what you need rather than shoehorn something into a prebuilt image.

A perfect barebone ESXi host

Are you looking for an inexpensive ESXi host for a small environment or homelab? You need to look no further than the Supermicro barebone E300-9D. It’s a beautiful small computer that offers all the features you need for an ESXi host. It runs ESXi 8.0 right out of the box.

License options for Proxmox and VMware Vsphere

Proxmox VE is open-source software. Everyone can download and use the product for free. Purchasing support gives licensees access to the enterprise repository with automatic periodic updates and support. The highest licensing tier includes support tickets with a 2-hour response time. In addition, support includes technical assistance, installation help, troubleshooting, and training.

However, ESXi is only available in a free trial version, after which subscriptions are required. Standard and Enterprise Plus are the two paid licenses. There is another edition, Essential, with limited features available for up to three hosts. 

There are three different levels of support available from VMware. These include standard, professional, or advanced. Each tier comes with its benefits. Users get basic phone support, email responses, and online forums with standard support. Professional help adds live chat and ticketing capabilities. Advanced support allows customers 24/7 telephone support, remote desktop sessions, and video conferencing.

Proxmox Server Subscription

PlanPrice / per year and per CPU SocketBenefit
CommunityCHF 105
  • Access to Enterprise repository
  • Complete feature-set
  • Community support
BasicCHF 325
  • Access to Enterprise repository
  • Complete feature-set
  • Support via Customer Portal
  • 3 support tickets/year
  • Response time: 1 business day
StandardCHF 490
  • Access to Enterprise repository
  • Complete feature-set
  • Support via Customer Portal
  • Ten support tickets/per year
  • Response time: 4 hours*
    within a business day
  • Remote support (via SSH)
  • Offline subscription key activation
PremiumCHF 980
  • Access to Enterprise repository
  • Complete feature-set
  • Support via Customer Portal
  • Unlimited support tickets
  • Response time: 2 hours*
    within a business day
  • Remote support (via SSH)
  • Offline subscription key activation

A good articel about VMware Editions

My recommendations for a VMware or ESXi servers

Renewed Server Selections: Amazon’s Best

This table presents a curated selection of top renewed servers available on Amazon across the UK, USA, Canada, and Germany

BrandModelBuy in USBuy in UKKaufe in Deutschland
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My Thoughts on Proxmox

If you’re considering migrating to Proxmox VE, keep a few things in mind.

First, while Proxmox VE is easy to install, it requires some good knowledge of Linux administration, an understanding of LVM storage, and the ability to implement storage systems.

Second, while Proxmox VE offers many features and benefits, it may not be the best platform for every use case.

Third, when migrating from VMware to Proxmox VE, there will be a learning curve as you get accustomed to the new platform.

Proxmox is excellent and inexpensive, but don’t underestimate the technical aspects. When things go wrong, it can be challenging to fix.

In most cases, the cost of the software might not be a question, but instead, the cost of operation and the know-how available.

Also, consider the backup solutions available. Veeam offers great tools for VMware and has a proven record of reliability. Proxmox offers its backup server, which also requires learning. Veeam announced Proxmox support by the end of the year 2024

See my latest article on migrating a VM from VMware to Proxmox.

I would love to get some feedback from you. Was this article helpful? Please share your opinion with me in the comment section below. Or, if you prefer a more personal touch, feel free to email me directly at [email protected]. Your thoughts and insights are always appreciated. Additionally, you can connect with me on Reddit at Navigatetech.

Want to build VMware ESXi homelab?

Q&A section

Is Proxmox better than VMware?

Regarding virtualization, Proxmox and VMware offer different features and benefits. Proxmox is open source, whereas VMware products are proprietary. Proxmox also has much simpler hardware requirements, which makes it more accessible for many organizations. Additionally, it has a lower learning curve due to its use of the standard Debian Linux. On the other hand, VMware has more features than Proxmox, though Proxmox’s features are often more helpful. Whether Proxmox or VMware is better depends on an organization’s needs, financial resources, and experience.

What is the best hypervisor for a homelab in 2023

Proxmox also markets strongly in this sub, so the best answer will likely be that. As long as you don’t care about learning an enterprise hypervisor and it’s primarily used for home labs, it’s okay.

How to Get Started with Proxmox

To make the transition to Proxmox (and KVM in general) more effortless, it is advisable, to begin with Linux basics and learn LVM (a thorough understanding of LVM is vital). The web UI is generally intuitive and easy to use.

What is a type 1 hypervisor?

Directly on the host hardware. The operating system allows bare metal servers (hosts or nodes) to be managed individually with one or more virtual machines.

What are the limitations of free ESXi

The free version of ESXi has several limitations that should be considered when deciding whether to use it. The most current version of ESXi (8.0) has no hardware limitations other than a maximum of two physical CPUs and eight vCPUs per VM. The free version cannot access vCenter Server for managing virtual machines, vStorage API for backups from third-party solutions, or clustering capabilities.

Before you go …

After delving into the intricacies of Proxmox vs ESXi, you might be considering setting up your own home lab. A logical next step is to explore what hardware will best support your virtualization needs.

I recommend checking out Best Server for Home Lab for insights into selecting the right server that balances performance, energy efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. This guide will help you navigate through the myriad of options available, ensuring you make an informed decision that aligns with your specific requirements.

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