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Homelab Considerations: Software Licensing for Your Homelab

Part 1: Homelab Considerations: Software Licensing for Your Homelab
Part 2: Homelab Considerations: Storage Simulators for Your Homelab

So I’ve been digging into how to license enterprise software for my homelab, and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve found. Some people choose to go the route of getting below-board licensing for enterprise software, but I’m not one of those people. For those of us who want a legitimate software footprint on their network, this post is for you. We are not going to cover how to build your homelab, or what storage you should use. We are going to cover how to license your  homelab at little or no cost to you, including your choices for legally licensing products from VMware, Microsoft, Veeam and more.

VMware Licensing

Let’s start the conversation by talking about VMware, since virtualization is the main focus of this blog. While VMware does offer their ESXi hypervisor for free, that doesn’t include some of the enterprise features like access to APIs, and the rest of the vSphere suite. In terms of licensing, the cheapest way to get a production copy of VMware for an enterprise is vSphere Essentials, which costs $560 at the time of this writing. vSphere Essentials includes 6 CPU licenses of vSphere Essentials (for 3 servers with up to 2 processors each) and 1 license for vCenter Server Essentials. There are more expensive, more enterprise kits of vSphere Essentials. If you’d like to compare features, check out this document.

You’re thinking, “Great, that’s an option, but it doesn’t give me the full stack”. I hear you, and I have an answer! If you’re looking to mimic a production, enterprise VMware environment in all of its glory, look no further than VMUG Advantage. While VMUG Advantage is a subscription model that costs you $200/year, the benefits far outweigh the cost in my opinion. If you’re lucky, you can probably talk your employer into covering the cost for you to use in your lab or test environments. As of this writing, a VMUG Advantage membership gets you all of this:

  • EVALExperience
    • VMware vCenter Server v6.x Standard
    • VMware vSphere® ESXi Enterprise Plus with Operations Management™ (6 CPU licenses)
    • VMware NSX Enterprise Edition (6 CPU licenses)
    • VMware vRealize Network Insight
    • VMware vSAN™
    • VMware Site Recovery Manager
    • VMware vRealize Log Insight™
    • VMware vRealize Operations™
    • VMware vRealize Automation 7.3 Enterprise
    • VMware vRealize Orchestrator
    • VMware vCloud Suite® Standard
    • VMware Horizon® Advanced Edition
    • VMware vRealize Operations for Horizon®
    • VMware Fusion Pro 10
    • VMware Workstation Pro 14
  • 20% Discount on VMware Training Classes
  • 20% Discount on VMware Certification Exams
  • 35% Discount on VMware Certification Exam Prep Workshops (VCP-NV)
  • 35% Discount on VMware Lab Connect
  • $100 Discount on VMworld Attendance

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s worth the cost and then some. With EVALExperience, you can dig deep into VMware’s catalog and play with everything you would see in a fully-featured enterprise environment. VMware also does a great job making sure that their EVALExperience offering grows with the product line, and are adding products regularly.

Veeam Licensing

Another focus of this blog is data protection. One of my personal favorite ways to protect data is Veeam. Veeam is the most popular provider of virtual machine backup solutions in the market, and you’ll find their solutions in a lot of enterprise settings. In addition to being a leader in the virtual machine backup space, Veeam offers a free endpoint option that will back up different flavors (Windows and Linux) of clients and servers. The free endpoint backup options are the Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows and the Veeam Agent for Linux. Having the free Veeam Agent is a good start, but if you’re reading this blog it’s probably because your lab is virtualized. What solutions are available for backing up my whole virtual lab?

Enter Veeam Backup & Replication, which is a free way to back up VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V. Unfortuanately, Veeam Backup & Replication alone doesn’t give you a good representation of what you’d see in an enterprise environment and lacks some features (like scheduling). More importantly, enter the Veeam Availability Suite, which includes Veeam Backup & Replication. Now, you might have clicked that link and noticed that it’s not free. Don’t curse me and close your browser just yet. Veeam offers Not For Resale (NFR) licensing for the Veeam Availability Suite. All you need to do is fill out the Not For Resale form, and remember to get a new key each year. Remember, the Veeam Availability Suite does require API access to VMware and vCenter, so you’ll need to have a fully licensed ESXi lab for it to work as intended.

Vembu Licensing

Another backup solution that deserves mentioning is the Vembu BDR Suite. While I personally haven’t come across Vembu in an enterprise environment, it’s getting a lot of buzz about its functionality and simplicity that certainly appear to make it a contender. There are three editions of Vembu available today, and all are reasonably priced. The first edition we’ll talk about is free. That’s both what it’s called, and the cost. It includes everything you’ll probably need for a lab environment, but not quite everything you’ll want for an enterprise environment. Free Edition features include but are not limited to:

  • Supports backup of virtual machines running on VMware and Hyper-V, and physical machines with Windows, Linux, and Mac Operating Systems
  • Flexible backup configuration along with multiple recovery options makes it suitable for both physical and virtual environment
  • Vembu’s own filesystem, VembuHIVE brings in inbuilt compression, encryption, error correction and version control
  • You can continue running the backups even after the expiry of the trial period, without any license involved
  • Backup unlimited virtual and physical servers irrespective of testing or production environment

There are also two paid editions. The Standard Edition starts at $216/socket, and the Enterprise Edition starts at $360/socket and both offer some optional features (at minimal additional cost) for things like offsite or cloud disaster recovery. Here’s a version comparison if you’re interested in diving into the different features to see what fits your needs.

Nakivo Licensing

I also haven’t come across Nakivo Backup & Replication in an enterprise environment, but there are a lot of folks using the platform including Honda and Coca-Cola to name a few. Like Veeam above, Nakivo offers a Not For Resale (NFR) license. If you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with the platform, you can fill out the Not For Resale form, then check out their documentation and you’re off to the races.

Altaro Licensing

Another backup solution I haven’t yet come across in an enterprise environment is Altaro VM Backup. It works with both VMware and Hyper-V, and is designed for small and medium businesses with 1,000 employees or less. If you’re interested in trying it out, fill out their Not For Resale form.

Zerto Licensing

Another replication product that gets a ton of buzz is Zerto Virtual Replication. I’ve been pretty impressed with their offering for a while now. I’ve personally witnessed Zerto protect entire organizations from massive data loss, and even ransomware attacks and hackers. Zerto Virtual Replication allows you to rapidly and automatically recover data to-and-from Microsoft Azure. Some of the features include:

  • Continuous, bi-directional data protection utilizing Microsoft Azure.
  • Flexible, pay-as-you-go model that drives down IT costs
  • Securely test production workloads to evaluate their performance in the cloud.
  • Incrementally evaluate cloud by migrating individual applications as needed.
  • Support for VMs, VPGs, one-to-many replication, and journaling.

Zerto also offers free training and certification for their products through the Zerto University. If you’re looking to play with this enterprise product in your homelab, fill out the Not For Resale form, and complete some of their training.

Microsoft Licensing

If you’re a dinosaur like me, you’ll remember Microsoft Technet fondly. Technet was a subscription that gave administrators a world of Microsoft licensing at a reasonable cost. Sadly, Technet no longer exists, so what are our options?

First, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Action PackMicrosoft Action Pack is a less expensive Microsoft partnership that gives you access to a library of Microsoft software for production use. If you’re using the licenses in your homelab, it’s a pretty good option because you’ll get the latest and greatest software that Microsoft has to offer at a fraction of the cost of individual licenses. Microsoft Action Pack is subscription based, and renews annually starting at $475. You can also apply coupons to minimize your cost, if you’re lucky enough to find some. So what comes with Microsoft Action Pack?

  • $100/month Credit for Microsoft Azure
  • 3 Visual Studio Professional Subscriptions
  • 5 Microsoft Office 365 E3 Licenses
  • 5 Microsoft Intune Licenses
  • 5 Enterprise Mobility Suite Licenses
  • Licenses for Microsoft Software
    • 10 Windows 10 Professional or Windows 10 Enterprise Licenses
    • 10 Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Pro Licenses
    • 10 Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Enterprise Licenses
    • 10 Windows Embedded 8 Standard Licenses
    • 10 Windows Embedded 7 Standard Licenses
    • 10 Windows Embedded POS Ready 7 Licenses
    • 2 Microsoft SQL Server 2014 Standard Licenses
    • 2 Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Standard Licenses
    • 2 Windows Server 2016 Standard Licenses with 10 Standard CALs, and 10 RDS CALs
    • 1 Windows MultiPoint Server 2016 Premium License with 10 CALs
    • 1 Windows Server 2016 Essentials License
    • 1 Windows Server 2012 R2 Foundation License
    • 1 Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Standard License
    • 1 R Server for Hadoop on Red Hat License
    • 1 R Server for Red Hat Linux License
    • 1 R Server for SUSE Linux License
    • 1 R Server for Teradata DB License
  • On-premesis Licenses for Microsoft Productivity Software
    • 5 Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2016 Licenses
    • 1 Microsoft Project Professional 2016 License with 5 CALs
    • 1 Visio Professional 2016 License with 5 CALs
    • 1 Exchange Server 2016 Standard License with 5 CALs
    • 1 Skype for Business Server 2015 License with 5 CALs
    • 1 SharePoint Server 2013 License with Standard CALs

The only downside to Microsoft Action Pack is that you have to stay current with your software. This means your lab environment can’t use older software, which your enterprise will almost certainly have in play. So what is the other option?

Visual Studio Subscriptions is an annual subscription that offers you access to licenses for the entire Microsoft software library. It’s a rebranding of what was once MSDN Subscriptions, targeted at developers. Unlike the Microsoft Action Pack, all of the licenses that come with Visual Studio Subscriptions are development licenses and not meant for use in production deployments. As of this writing, there are two flavors of Visual Studio Subscriptions to choose from – Cloud and Standard. To see a feature comparison, click here.

Lets talk about the Cloud offering a little bit. Cloud is sold as a monthly, or annual subscription. The license keys you get with the Cloud subscription are only usable while your subscription is active, so it’s a good idea to commit to a plan before provisioning your lab environment. The Cloud Visual Studio Professional subscription starts at $45/month or $539/year. The Cloud Visual Studio Enterprise subscription starts at $250/month or $2,999/year, but it includes pretty much everything you could ever want. It even comes with old software, so you can build version specific replicas of your enterprise infrastructure. Here’s a comparison to give you a better idea of what’s offered in each version.

Now, Standard subscriptions come with everything the Cloud subscriptions do with one glaring exception. Standard subscriptions also include perpetual licenses. Because of that, they’re more expensive. The Standard subscriptions break down differently than Cloud. With Standard, that there is a version available for developers, and a version available for testers and IT professionals. The Visual Studio Professional subscription (targeted at developers) will run you $1,199 for the first year, and $799 for renewals, and the Visual Studio Enterprise subscription (also targeted at developers) will run you $5,999 for the first year, and $2,569 for renewals. The Visual Studio Test Professional subscription (targeted at testers and IT professionals) will run you $2,169 for the first year, and $899 for renewals. Here’s a comparision to give you a better idea of what’s offered in each version.

I’ll try to update this post as I find new programs, or get requests to add different enterprise software to this list. Hopefully, this helps someone!

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Scott Forehand

Scott Forehand is an accomplished systems architect, engineer, and administrator with over a decade of experience designing and managing virtual environments, networks, storage and server infrastructures and operations with a proven ability to create and automate solutions to improve productivity, reliability and performance. He has achieved multiple certifications in virtualization, networking, cloud, storage and other technologies, and is honored to be a VMware vExpert in 2018.

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