VMware launches vSphere 6 - What's in ESXi 6.0 for free license and white box users?

The cat is out of the bag and it wears the number 6. VMware has announced its much anticipated new major version of their flagship product vSphere, and right now the virtualization blogosphere is humming with the news about vSphere 6.0.

Since this is an enterprise product most of the exciting new features are interesting for large installations using paid licenses and vCenter managed hosts: The long awaited ability ro use the Fault Tolerance (FT) feature with VMs that have more than one vCPU (SMP FT) is something that you can try out in your home lab if you have multiple hosts and use vCenter with an evaluation license, but the new support for virtual storage volumes (vVol) requires a modern SAN array with proper hardware support - nothing that you will find in the average home lab (at least not today). The ever increasing VM scalability now allows you to run VMs with 128 vCPUs and 4 TB RAM on physical hosts that can have up to 480 pCPUs and 12 TB RAM. Even in enterprise production environments it will be difficult to find setups that come even close to these numbers...

But what's in vSphere 6 that is useful for users of the free ESXi license and home labs?

Features for free license users

The first good news is that vSphere 6 still includes a version of the legacy vSphere Client. You can no longer use it to manage vCenter (this is really limited to the Web Client now), but you can use it to manage ESXi hosts directly. You will be able to use it for managing ESXi 6.0 hosts directly, but also to connect to vCenter 6.0. And you can edit VMs of all hardware versions up to 11 (ESXi 6.0) with it! However, all hardware features newer than v8 will be read-only or not available (e.g. SATA controllers, SR-IOV, GPU 3D, vFlash settings etc.). vCenter based features that where introduced with version 5.1 or later will also be only available in the Web Client. So, basically the legacy Client has the same feature set as the vSphere Client of version 5.5 Update 2, but extended to vSphere 6.0 and its new VM hardware version 11. (This section was updated on 2015-02-10 to reflect clarifications made in this VMware blog article.)

According to hardware support there is one feature that will become more and more important in the future: the NVMe driver that ESXi 6.0 includes out-of-the-box. NVMe (NVM Express) is a new standard for attaching SSD storage directly to the computer's PCIe bus (instead of through a SATA AHCI interface). This allows for new (much smaller) form factors and much improved performance for SSDs. Patrick Schulz over at vtricks.com has a nice detailed write-up about NVMe, and he also points out that an NVMe driver is already available for ESXi 5.5, but needs to be installed separately there.

If you are using NFS storage for VMs (either on a hardware NAS box or hosted on a VM) with your ESXi hosts then you might be interested in the new support for NFS version 4.1. Version 4.1 has superior new features (state management, improved locking, Kerberos authentication) and can be much more efficient and performant than 3.0 (which was exclusively supported with ESXi 5.x), but that depends very much on the client implementation. Time and the performance tests to come will tell how much you can gain from it with ESXi.

About driver compatibility and community supported drivers and tools

One thing that I tested very early during the vSphere 6 beta phase was ESXi driver compatibility with earlier versions. The good news is that you can still install and use device drivers from ESXi 5.x with ESXi 6.0! So the NIC drivers and driver map files (including sata-xahci) that are available in the V-Front Online Depot can still be used with ESXi 6.0. I have not yet tested all of the other packages that you can find there (e.g. ProFTPD), but will do that during the coming weeks and add appropriate information to the VIBSDepot Wiki.

The bad news is that - although the ESXi 5.x drivers are technically compatible - VMware has made it difficult to install some of them, namely the VMware supplied r8168, r8169 and sky2 drivers that were dropped in ESXi 5.5. However, I have already developed and tested a workaround for this ...

From a tools perspective nothing has changed in 6.0 when it comes to installing custom drivers or creating customized installation ISOs. So the methods described in the VIBSDepot HowTo still apply, and my ESXi-Customizer-PS script will continue to work. The legacy ESXi-Customizer may or may not work - please don't ask about it, because I won't update it anymore.

What's next?

As soon as the vSphere 6.0 bits are generally available for download I will post instructions on how to update your stand-alone host to 6.0 and how to build customized ESXi 6.0 installation ISOs for your white box hardware. This will include a workaround for the driver installation issue mentioned above. So stay tuned ;-)

This post first appeared on the VMware Front Experience Blog and was written by Andreas Peetz. Follow him on Twitter to keep up to date with what he posts.


  1. Regarding the r8168, r8169 and sky2 drivers, I suppose if I am upgrading an ESXi 5.5 where those drivers are already installed, there will be no problem. Have you already tested this scenario?

    1. Yes, and it does *not* work with the 6.0 RC. And I know exactly why and how to work around that. I just want to wait for the GA code to check if the workaround is still needed and effective then.

  2. So this means that we are stuck to the windows native client and no webaccess in free version? This was the only future I wanted in version 6. Like like esxi but I only got Mac computers and using the client with parallels is not the best option. Well I will look for alternative in my home.

    1. Yes, that's right. But for me this is not (yet) a reason to look for alternatives.

    2. I disagree. Every free virtualization product out there seems to have an html5 web gui. While I don't care about apple computers not being able to be used in a business environment, I do like the simplicity of a web gui versus having to run a program to have access to the server. Microsoft is offering their hyper-v free for server core. They do now support linux installations as well.

      While I understand vmware needs to make money, I can already see the writing on the wall. Microsoft has gained a lot of ground in the VM market. They will continue to do so if vmware takes away instead of gives away.

  3. $200 EVALExperience may help some folks soon, we hope:

  4. Thanks for this info

  5. Thank you for yet another great guide.. :)

  6. Hi, i was install v6 in virtualbox in my dell precision with intel 82579, i still get error for "no network adapters were detected...etc" even though i already create iso with latest ESXi-Customizer tool. How can i get rid of this?

  7. However, all hardware features newer than v8 will be read-only or not available (e.g. SATA controllers, SR-IOV, GPU 3D, vFlash settings etc.).

    What did you mean by the above? Can't fully understand, could you please elaborate? Does it mean if I get a free license (3 instances) I won't be having the same performance features or hardware levels 10 or 11 like commercial versions do?

    All power to germans! What a great blog I found, absolutely amazing articles (spent some time today reading some of yours fantastic articles, like one about SSD and TRIM which I need to do my own research as I'm going to use M.2 SSD soon as datastore, so v6.0 version is welcomed).


    1. Thanks Karol,

      the "read-only" remark relates to the capabilities of the legacy vSphere Client that you must use to manage an ESXi host directly. You cannot edit or change any settings that are based on post-v8 hardware features with the legacy client.

      But the free license does *not* restrict you from *using* the new features. It is just more complicated, because you must use PowerCLI to make related configuration changes.


  8. Thanks for the info, wasn't aware of the NVMe, an area I may look into deeper.

  9. ESXI 5.5 u2 + NVME Drivers + Win2012 + Updated NVME Drivers for 2012 from Intel + P3700 Firmware Update. Pass-through or datastore the 2012 VM can't surpass 860MB/s read or write.

    Any ideas? Is this is a 5.5 problem solved in 6.0 or what?

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      don't know. Have you tried installing Win2012 natively on this hardware? What speed do you get then?


  10. I realize you may not have used M.2 yet, but wow, testing is going well:

    I'm wondering if you have any ideas why I can't see my PCIe based SM951 from ESXi 6.0 U1? Windows 10 can see it just fine, from the same system, a SYS-5028D-TN4T with the Intel Xeon D-1540 chipset with 6 SATA3 ports and a separate (non-SATA) 7th drive in the M.2 slot:

    This is the AHCI M.2 variant, not NVMe:
    so it should "just work."

    Happy to help in any way that I can, including temporary, secure, isolated remote access.

    1. Hi Paul,

      you need to install my sata-xahci package. Or have you done this already?
      See this post: http://www.v-front.de/2013/11/how-to-make-your-unsupported-sata-ahci.html -or- just run

      esxcli network firewall ruleset set -e true -r httpClient
      esxcli software vib install -n sata-xahci -d https://vibsdepot.v-front.de


  11. Didn't thank that would be needed, since the 6 Intel SATA3 ports see SATA devices just fine, such as SSDs. Anyhow, adding AHCI support for this AHCI M.2 device seemed worth a try, using your commands. Unfortunately it's just hanging (pictured below), never completes the second command (been like that for >30 minutes, despite very fast internet speeds for everything else).

    Got another idea to try? Feel free to contact me over email:
    or Twitter DM to @paulbraren

    1. Probably this known problem: http://www.v-front.de/2014/01/annoying-ip-dual-stack-issue-with.html.

      Try to disable IPv6 on the ESXi host. I can't believe that this is still not fixed ...

  12. Ah, saw that response a little too late, but I'll try it on the other host and see how that goes, thank you!

    Also, more good news, here's what I did:

    I just downloaded the ahci vib manually:
    then moved it to /tmp (WinSCP is handy)
    then ran this:
    esxcli software vib install -v /tmp/sata-xahci-1.32-1.x86_64.vib
    and rebooted when prompted.

    And tada, M.2 (Samsung SM951 AHCI) is now working! Not only that, but NVMe (Intel 750 PCIe) is also now working too (that was automatic). See also screenshots below:

    I'll let you know how the 2nd host does, after disabling ipv6 ;-)

  13. I have recently purchased a Dell T110 II server. According to Dell's website it doesn't officially support ESXi 6. I am not using this for a production system but for a test lab. My question is twofold: will it run? and what issues will I most likely run into?

    1. Just try it. The worst thing that could happen is that the NIC or storage is not working because of missing drivers.

      I'd suggest that you use the Dell Customized image to install the machine, and then you should have a really good chance to get it working: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/Drivers/DriversDetails?driverId=VR5T0.



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