Heads-Up: VMware ESX Going Exclusively 64-Bit

There are several mentions of this out in the blogosphere, plus it was talked about openly at VMworld by VMware staff in presentations and labs. It’s worth mentioning again because people don’t seem to be catching on:

Future versions of VMware ESX/ESXi will only run on 64-bit-capable CPUs.

You will still be able to run 32-bit guest OSes, but the ESX console OS will only work on CPUs capable of Intel VT & EM64T. This is a big deal for two reasons:

1. Dell doesn’t let you enable VT on anything but the PowerEdge 6850, and all ninth-generation servers (x9xx) and beyond. There are a lot of Dell PowerEdge 1850/2850s out there that will still be in use over the next few years. I suspect equipment from other manufacturers, like HP, is similarly affected. This means a lot of people will be stuck at current ESX levels (ESX 3.5.x) for a while until they can get new hardware. That also means that if you want to use some of the new features, like Continuous Availability, you might have to budget for an upgrade.

2. It’s pretty common to recycle old hardware down into test environments, but now you might not be able to do that in the next replacement cycle. If you have, or will have, hardware capable of Intel VT in production make sure you’ve done something to make your VMware test environment VT-capable, too. Even just budgeting now for a VT-capable test server is a good proactive move, to be purchased once the software is actually released.

I have no idea when the next version of ESX will ship, but it’s worth thinking about this sort of stuff now so you can budget for it and have a plan[0]. Even if you decide that the plan is to do nothing and wait.

If you want to test your CPUs to see if they will support 64-bit OSes you can use the VMware CPU Identification Utility. It’s a bootable ISO image that will tell you what you need to know.

To reiterate: ESX console OS going 64-bit, you will still be able to run 32-bit guest OSes, you will need recent hardware to support the 64-bit console OS, and VMware has a tool to tell you where you stand.


[0] While you’re getting things added to your company’s budget have them add a trip to VMworld 2009 in San Francisco.

13 thoughts on “Heads-Up: VMware ESX Going Exclusively 64-Bit”

  1. It’s good to see you writing again.

    Like Hyper-V, Citrix Xenserver is also a native 64bit-only hypervisor. Although that’s not necessarily a surprise given the other likenesses they share.

    I don’t know about Hyper-V but Xenserver will run non-Windows guests on a 64bit processor without Intel-VT/AMD-V extensions. I suspect that ESX4 could be the same?

  2. I’ve been using Opterons for ESX more often than not since I’ve deployed it, so I’m hoping that’s enough to make ESX 4.0 compatible with my older HP DL585 G1 hosts. Guess I should join the beta to find out. Thanks for the info, Bob.

  3. “the ESX console OS will only work on CPUs capable of Intel VT & EM64T”

    ESX will also run on supported hardware platforms using AMD64 and AMD-V enabled processors. You’ll have to check the system compatibility list when it comes out, but all Opterons sold in the last 4-5 years (and all HP DL385 and DL585 servers) are AMD64 and AMD-V.

  4. Generally speaking the 3-digit DDR Opterons are plain AMD64 and 4-digit DDR2 Opterons are AMD64 with AMD-V, which makes them relatively easy to spot. There’s a pretty concise and useful list of the varieties on Wikipedia.

  5. @Dan C — thanks. Took some vacation, am back now, trying to write more.

    Also, AMD-V was the term I was looking for, for whatever reason I couldn’t find it.

    Thanks guys!

  6. i dont see this as an issue for HP anyway, All HP G5 servers(300 and 500 series models) allow you to enable intel VT support on the bios.

  7. Hi,

    With regards to point #1 – I’ve got a couple of PowerEdge T605’s that enable me to turn on/off the Virtualisation Technology on the chipset, so it should be able to run ESX4.

    Hyper-V requires it on the chipset, and as Dan C pointed out, XenServer 5 needs them for Windows guest VMs.

    Just make sure the bios is up to date!


  8. HP P-class BL-25P/45P G2/G3 are AMD-V and AMD64 capable as well as C-Class systems. I push AMD heavily for virtualization so I’m not as familiar with Intel based blades and rack servers.

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