ESXi hosts are licensed with vSphere licenses. Each vSphere license has a certain capacity that you can use to license multiple physical CPUs on ESXi hosts.

There are three main licensing models for vSphere:
  • Per CPU licensing that covers one CPU with up to 32 cores.
  • Per virtual machine licensing.
  • Subscription based licensing.

To license an ESXi host, you must assign to it a vSphere license that meets the following prerequisites:

  • The license must have sufficient capacity depending on the licensing model.
  • The license must support all the features that the host uses. For example, if the host is associated with a vSphere Distributed Switch, the license that you assign must support the vSphere Distributed Switch feature.

If you attempt to assign a license that has insufficient capacity or does not support the features that the host uses, the license assignment fails.

Per CPU Licensing Model for vSphere

Starting with vSphere 7.0, one CPU license covers one CPU with up to 32 cores. If а CPU has more than 32 cores, you need additional CPU licenses.

Number of CPUs

Cores per CPU

Number of CPU Licenses













When you assign a vSphere license to a host, the amount of capacity consumed is determined by the number of physical CPUs on the host and the number of cores in each physical CPU.

If you use the licensing model with up to 32 cores, you can assign a vSphere license for 10 32-core CPUs to any of the following combinations of hosts:

  • Five 2-CPU hosts with 32 cores per CPU
  • Five 1-CPU hosts with 64 cores per CPU
  • Two 2-CPU hosts with 48 cores per CPU and two 1-CPU hosts with 20 cores per CPU

Dual-core and quad-core CPUs, such as Intel CPUs that combine two or four independent CPUs on a single chip, count as one CPU.

Per Virtual Machine Licensing Model for vSphere

Some VMware products are licensed on per virtual machine basis.

For example, vSphere Desktop which is intended for VDI environments such as Horizon View. The license use for vSphere Desktop equals the total number of powered on desktop virtual machines running on the hosts that are assigned a vSphere Desktop license.

Subscription Based Licensing Model for vSphere

By using the vSphere+ workload platform, you can shift from license based management of vSphere to a pay-as-you-expand subscription model. For more information, see vSphere+ and vSAN+ Subscriptions in the vCenter Server and Host Management documentation.

Evaluation Mode License for ESXi Hosts

After you install ESXi, it operates in evaluation mode for up to 60 consecutive days. An evaluation mode license provides all features of the highest vSphere product edition.

After you assign a license to an ESXi host, at any time before the evaluation period expires, you can set the host back to evaluation mode to explore the entire set of features available for the remaining evaluation period.

For example, if you use an ESXi host in evaluation mode for 20 days, then assign a vSphere Standard license to the host, and 5 days later set the host back to evaluation mode, you can explore the entire set of features available for the host for the remaining 35 days of the evaluation period.

License and Evaluation Period Expiry for ESXi Hosts

For ESXi hosts, license or evaluation period expiry leads to disconnection from vCenter Server. All powered on virtual machines continue to work, but you cannot power on virtual machines after they are powered off. You cannot change the current configuration of the features that are in use. You cannot use the features that remained unused before the license expiration.


When there are expiring licenses, a notification appears 90 days before the license expiration.

Licensing ESXi Hosts After an Upgrade

If you upgrade an ESXi host to a version that starts with the same number, you do not need to replace the existing license with a new one. For example, if you upgrade a host from ESXi 8.0 to 8.1, you can use the same license for the host.

If you upgrade an ESXi host to a major version that starts with a different number, the evaluation period restarts and you must assign a new license. For example, if you upgrade an ESXi host from 7.x to 8.x, you must license the host with a vSphere 8 license.