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Proxmox vs. VMware: Ultimate Comparison

  • June 6, 2024
  • 22 min read
StarWind Solutions Architect. Oleg has over 10 years of experience in the industry, supporting large enterprises, as well as designing data center solutions for a wide range of customers.
StarWind Solutions Architect. Oleg has over 10 years of experience in the industry, supporting large enterprises, as well as designing data center solutions for a wide range of customers.

The modern IT infrastructure cannot be imagined without server virtualization. Virtualization decreases costs for hardware and maintenance, improves security and flexibility, and makes IT management much easier. We are going to compare virtualization platforms, which include not only hypervisors but additional components for virtualized IT infrastructure, like software-defined storage, integrated backup, disaster recovery capabilities, and unified management.

Today, we are comparing the virtualization solution from VMware, the current leader in market share, with Proxmox VE, a popular open-source virtualization platform.

In terms of virtualization, VMware offers its customers a powerful virtualization suite, called vSphere, along with a “free for now” (hello, Broadcom!) hypervisor, ESXi. Proxmox, on the other hand, provides a single open-source solution: Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE).

What are VMware vSphere and VMware ESXi?

VMware offers two key products that are often compared with Proxmox VE: VMware vSphere and VMware ESXi (VMware Hypervisor).

VMware vSphere is a comprehensive virtualization platform that transforms data centers into aggregated computing infrastructures, encompassing CPU, storage, and networking resources. vSphere manages these infrastructures as a unified operating environment and provides tools for administering the data centers that participate in that environment. The two core components of vSphere are ESXi (the hypervisor) and vCenter Server (the management platform). vSphere also includes multiple modules, both paid and free, such as VMware vSAN, VMware NSX, and VMware SRM, to add more features. It is based on its own hypervisor and runs on the proprietary Photon OS as a base.

VMware ESXi was previously a free Type 1 hypervisor, but following Broadcom’s acquisition of VMware in November 2023, the free version of ESXi is no longer available. This change is part of Broadcom’s broader strategy to transition VMware products from perpetual licenses to subscription-based models. ESXi, now part of VMware’s commercial offerings, integrates fully with VMware’s suite of management tools and supports advanced features and clustering that were previously limited in the free version.

VMware products are found in various types of infrastructures, from home labs to large enterprises and governmental institutions. The variety of licenses and modules makes this virtualization platform very flexible. It is relatively easy to use in small environments but requires substantial knowledge and advanced skills to manage large deployments effectively

What is Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE)?

Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE) is a complete, open-source server management platform for enterprise virtualization. It integrates the KVM hypervisor, Linux Containers (LXC), software-defined storage (CEPH), and networking functionality, on a single platform. With the integrated web-based user interface, it is possible to manage VMs and containers, high availability for clusters, or the integrated disaster recovery tools with ease. The latest version of Proxmox is based on Debian and utilizes native Linux hypervisor – KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine).

Proxmox also offers Backup Server as a solution for backing up and restoring VMs and containers running on Proxmox VE. It supports incremental backups, deduplication, standard compression, and authenticated encryption.

Proxmox VE is completely free with community support and certainly, paid support is offered by developers.

Proxmox is often used by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), educational institutions, and homelabers mainly because it is open-source and has most of the features available in industry-standard enterprise-grade virtualization platforms. It doesn’t require deep Linux skills, and its deployment process is pretty straightforward.

Features comparison

Now, let’s quickly summarize the main features and capabilities of the VMware vSphere and Proxmox VE virtualization platforms.

VMware vSphere Key Features

Virtualization: Users may run multiple virtual machines supporting a variety of operating systems.

vSphere Integrated Containers: a container runtime for vSphere, which allows developers familiar with Docker to develop in containers and deploy them alongside traditional VM-based workloads on vSphere clusters. vSphere administrators can manage these workloads by using vSphere in a familiar way.

vCenter Server: A centralized management platform that allows administrators to manage multiple ESXi hosts and virtual machines from a single interface. It provides features like VM provisioning, resource management, and monitoring.

High Availability: Provides automated detection and recovery of virtual machine and application failures. If one ESXi host fails, VMs are automatically restarted on other hosts in the cluster.

Fault Tolerance: Provides continuous availability for virtual machines by creating a secondary VM that mirrors the primary VM. If the primary VM fails, the secondary VM takes over instantly without any downtime.

vMotion: Enables live migration of virtual machines from one host to another with zero downtime. This helps in load balancing, maintenance, and improving resource utilization.

Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS): DRS dynamically balances computing workloads across hosts in a cluster, optimizing resource utilization based on predefined policies. It helps prevent performance bottlenecks.

vSphere Replication: Provides asynchronous replication of VMs to a secondary site. It allows for disaster recovery and ensures data protection by maintaining copies of VMs at a remote location.

VMware NSX: A network virtualization and security platform that allows administrators to create and manage virtual networks. It provides features such as micro-segmentation, load balancing, and network automation.

Content Library: Provides centralized management for virtual machine templates, ISO images, and scripts, improving efficiency in deploying virtual machines.

Proxmox VE Key Features

KVM Virtualization: Users may run multiple virtual machines with a wide choice of supported operating systems.

LXC Containers: A lightweight virtualization method to run multiple isolated Linux systems (containers) on a single control host.

Web-based Management: Proxmox VE provides a user-friendly web interface for managing virtual machines, containers, storage, networking, and cluster settings. The user interface is a little bit outdated from my point of view, but it covers all routine functionalities.

High Availability Clustering: Includes features for setting up and managing high availability clusters to ensure minimal downtime and continuous access to critical services.

Live Migration: Allows live migration of virtual machines and containers without downtime.

Backup: Integrated backup tools to regularly backup and restore virtual machines and containers, ensuring data safety. Requires deployment of Proxmox Backup server.

Integrated Storage: Ceph, ZFS, NFS, iSCSI, and more.

Network: Flexible network configuration options, including bridging, bonding, and VLAN support.

REST API: Proxmox VE includes a REST API for easy automation and third-party integrations.

<H2> VMware vSphere vs Proxmox VE : Feature comparison

Feature Proxmox VE VMware vSphere
Hypervisor KVM for VMs and LXC for containers ESXi
Management Interface Web UI vCenter Server
Storage Options LVM, ZFS, NFS, iSCSI, Ceph, Gluster FS VMFS, NFS, iSCSI, FC, NVMe-oF, VMware vSAN
High Availability Supported Supported, with advanced features like DRS
Fault Tolerance Not supported Supported
Backup and data protection Integrated backup utility: Proxmox VBS Third-party tools, vSphere Data Protection
Container Support Native support for Linux containers (LXC) Container support via vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC)
Scalability Minimum HA Cluster size: 3 nodes

“Best practices” minimum size: 5 nodes

Minimum HA Cluster size: 2 nodes

“Best practices” minimum size: 3 nodes

Licensing Model Open-source, with paid support subscription Proprietary, subscription-based

VMware vs. Proxmox: Performance Comparison

It is hard to compare performance because it also depends on non-platform related things, like hardware, workload, network infrastructure, and external storage. Let’s figure out the architectural performance characteristics of both VMware vSphere and Proxmox VE.

Hypervisor and Containers Performance: Proxmox VE uses the KVM hypervisor and LXC containers, which are known for their efficiency and low overhead in Linux environments. The performance is generally very good, particularly for Linux VMs. VMware vSphere is highly optimized for virtualization and is known for excellent performance, especially in Windows environments. It is designed to efficiently manage resources among VMs. vSphere requires an additional module for containers (utilizes Docker), which potentially may run slower than LXC.

Network Performance: Proxmox utilizes standard Linux networking tools which are generally consistent with typical Linux network performance. Otherwise, vSphere has advanced network features like distributed switches and Network I/O Control, which can enhance network performance and allow for fine-grained resource allocation.

Resource Overheads: Both platforms maximize hardware utilization. Proxmox VE is running on almost every hardware, VMware vSphere has a Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). So, we vSphere may utilize hardware resources with better efficiency, but only on hardware from HCL.

Storage Performance: Both platforms come with integrated software-defined storage (SDS).

Proxmox VE includes Ceph. Ceph is an open-source, distributed storage system designed to provide reliable and highly scalable storage for large cloud computing environments. Ceph is a very complex solution and requires expertise to fine-tune it to the particular infrastructure. Ceph is very effective at what it was designed for – limitless scalability, and it really starts to shine from 4-5 cluster nodes in scenarios with a heavy, mixed, and highly parallel workload. Lightweight 2 or 3-node HCI clusters running a couple of dozen VMs and regular office infrastructure, typical in smaller environments, may find Ceph to be an overkill.

On the other hand, VMware vSphere integrates VMware vSAN. VMware vSAN pools together direct-attached storage devices across a VMware vSphere cluster to create a distributed, shared data store. It was initially designed as an easy-to-use VM storage solution for VMware HCI deployments. It is straightforward to configure and use; however, there is no free version, and its price tag, given the Broadcom-VMware new licensing policy, could exceed the budget expectations of smaller companies.

In summary, both Proxmox VE and VMware vSphere can offer excellent performance, but the best choice will depend on your specific environment, the nature of your workloads, the infrastructure size and the budget constraints.

VMware vSphere vs Proxmox VE : Storage Components

As we have already learned, Proxmox VE and VMware vSphere offer integrated software-defined storage. However, they differ in their architecture, supported features, and how they handle storage management. Here is a quick rundown:

  Proxmox VE VMware vSphere
Software-Defined Storage Ceph Vmware vSAN
File Systems ZFS, CephFS, POSIX file systems VMFS
Storage Protocols iSCSI, FC, NVMe-oF, NFS iSCSI, FC, NVMe-oF, NFS
Snapshot and Cloning Supported with ZFS Supported
Storage Migration Supported Supported
Storage Scalability Scales by adding disks or nodes. Flexibility depends on Ceph configuration Scales by adding disks or nodes
Performance Optimization Caching, cache tiering Advanced storage performance features with DRS, Storage I/O Control
Deduplication and Compression Supported Supported
SDS Licensing Open-source, with optional commercial support Proprietary, subscription-based


Customers and Use cases

All platforms have a lot in common and deliver excellent virtualization experience, but each of them may be better suited for a particular use case.

Proxmox VE Use Cases

Small to Medium-Business (SMEs): Due to its cost-effectiveness and open-source nature, Proxmox is well-suited for SMBs that require a robust virtualization solution without a significant investment.

Educational Institutions and Non-Profits: Organizations with limited budgets find Proxmox appealing because it offers a comprehensive set of features at a lower cost.

DevOps and Containers: Proxmox provides strong support for containerized applications using LXC, making it suitable for DevOps environments where containerization is a priority.

Organizations Preferring Open Source: Companies that prefer open-source solutions for customization, transparency, or to avoid vendor lock-in.

VMware vSphere Use Cases

Large Enterprises and Data Centers: VMware vSphere is a standard in many large enterprises and data centers due to its scalability, robustness, and extensive feature set.

Mission-Critical Applications: Organizations running applications that require advanced fault tolerance and seamless disaster recovery.

Organizations with Windows Guest VMs: VMware’s ESXi hypervisor is known for its excellent performance and integration with Windows-based systems, making it a preferred choice in Windows-dominant environments.

Complex, Multi-Site Environments: vSphere’s advanced networking, storage capabilities, and extensive third-party integrations make it suitable for complex, geographically dispersed infrastructure.

Businesses Requiring Advanced Resource Management: Enterprises needing sophisticated resource scheduling, balancing, and optimization.

Cloud Integration: VMware’s strong cloud integration features, including support for hybrid cloud environments, make it ideal for organizations pursuing a cloud-first strategy.

Conclusion. What to choose?

There is no single ideal platform among VMware vSphere, Proxmox VE, and other virtualization solutions. Choosing the right platform depends on your organization’s specific needs and requirements. Each platform offers enterprise-grade features and can be tailored to different use cases.

VMware vSphere is often chosen for large-scale, complex deployments due to its robust feature set and extensive support. It is ideal for organizations that require high performance, advanced management tools, and scalability.

Proxmox VE is favored for smaller, budget-conscious environments. It provides a comprehensive set of features and is open-source, making it an attractive option for organizations that need powerful virtualization capabilities without the associated costs of commercial solutions.

At StarWind, we are pleased to offer solutions for both virtualization platforms. Whether you need only the software-defined storage component, such as StarWind Virtual SAN as an alternative to VMware vSAN or RedHat Ceph, or a complete, full-blown hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) product, such as StarWind Virtual HCI Appliance, for quick deployment on newly installed hardware (greenfield environments), we can provide the right solution that would perfectly blend with the hypervisor of your choice.

This material has been prepared in collaboration with Asah Syxtus Mbuo, Technical Writer at StarWind.

Found Oleg’s article helpful? Looking for a reliable, high-performance, and cost-effective shared storage solution for your production cluster?
Dmytro Malynka
Dmytro Malynka StarWind Virtual SAN Product Manager
We’ve got you covered! StarWind Virtual SAN (VSAN) is specifically designed to provide highly-available shared storage for Hyper-V, vSphere, and KVM clusters. With StarWind VSAN, simplicity is key: utilize the local disks of your hypervisor hosts and create shared HA storage for your VMs. Interested in learning more? Book a short StarWind VSAN demo now and see it in action!