Proxmox vs. ESXi: Side-By-Side Comparison

In this article, we’re going to take a look at Proxmox vs. ESXi and determine which is the best hypervisor.

A hypervisor is a piece of software that makes virtualization possible. It creates a virtualization layer to separate RAM, CPU, and other physical resources so that they can be used in virtual machines (VMs). That means that the underlying host machine’s hardware can operate one or more VMs as guests independently.

The most practical benefit of using a hypervisor is that it virtualizes the management layer. You can find several hypervisors on the market, but two production-ready hypervisors are Proxmox and VMware ESXi.

Proxmox vs. ESXi is a question that many people will come across as they search for the proper hypervisor they should use. Both have a difference in performance, pricing, and functionality. This article will cover a side-by-side comparison of Proxmox vs. ESXi.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Side-By-Side Comparison

What is Proxmox?

Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE) is a type-1 hypervisor that runs directly on the host machine’s hardware and uses it for guest operating systems. Proxmox is a Debian-based Linux distribution and is completely free. It allows users to experience enterprise-class virtualization on various platforms and is extremely compatible with different types of hardware.

Proxmox is open-source and allows users to utilize KVM virtualization. It offers an easy-to-use web interface for containers, VMs (virtual machines), and associated resources on various nodes and clusters.

One thing to point out is the free version of Proxmox does not offer the same updates and reliability that the paid version does. In my experience though, I’ve never run into any issues with its reliability.

proxmox vs. esxi

What is VMware ESXi?

VMware ESXi is also a type-1 hypervisor that can run directly on system hardware without requiring an operating system (can be run on a USB stick). ESXi is the core of the vSphere virtualization suite and vSphere management portal.

ESXi is a VMkernal-based hypervisor that boasts excellent results in virtualizing servers while using less space than other hypervisors. It’s also a favorite and is used extensively in enterprise environments (extremely high market share).

If you’re a home user interested in learning a lot about enterprise hypervisors, you can’t go wrong with ESXi, though there are limitations that we’ll cover below.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Features

Features of Proxmox

Proxmox supports an exclusive array of features for server virtualization management. It’s also incredibly hardware-friendly in terms of compatibility, so if you have an old computer (assuming that it supports virtualization, which can be found in the BIOS), you should be able to run Proxmox relatively easily.

  • IT Infrastructure Protection

Proxmox VE features a built-in firewall to protect your virtual machines and containers. The Proxmox firewall is highly customizable, allowing complex configuration through the CLI or web GUI.

  • Scheduled Backups

Proxmox allows users to set up scheduled backups for nodes and guests so that they can run automatically on specific days and times.

  • Collaboration with Ceph

By integrating Proxmox VE with Ceph, cluster nodes can directly manage Ceph storage.

  • Several Storage Options

The storage model of the Proxmox virtual environment is extremely flexible. The customized web interface of Proxmox allows users to add multiple storage types such as CephFS, GlusterFS, and NFS shares. 

You also have various options in how you can manage your virtual machine storage (ZFS, Ext4, LVM, and more).

  • Live Migration Capabilities

Proxmox’s live migration feature lets users move virtual machines between clusters without experiencing any downtime at all!

  • Proxmox VE API

Though few will most likely experiment with this, Proxmox offers an API that can be used to perform various actions.

  • Multiple Authentication Sources

OpenID Connect, LAPD, Microsoft Active Directory, Linux PAM, and Proxmox VE’s integrated authentication server all work together in Proxmox VE. 

Of course, you can simply use the default settings and manage users and groups on your Proxmox server if you’d like.

  • Granular Access

Proxmox lets you keep track of who has access to what with a role-based permission system. 

  • Multi-Master Design

The multi-master design of Proxmox VE enables users to carry out maintenance tasks cluster-wide from any node.

  • Central Management System

Proxmox features web and central-based management to manage all tasks of your virtual data center.

  • VM Image Storage

Proxmox allows users to store images locally using ZFS filesystems, LVM containers, or other shared storage such as iSCSI and NFS, which is incredibly handy.

Features of VMware ESXi

VMware ESXi supports all Proxmox features, but it excels in many areas due to its additional advanced features, which are:

  • Quick Installation

The fast installation of ESXi enables users to set up their infrastructure extremely quickly. With its small size, you can boot up VMware ESXi from a USB flash drive.

  • Small Size

VMware ESXi does not require frequent patching. Due to its small codebase, ESXi has reduced the attack surface from external vulnerabilities while ensuring easier maintainability. This is a tremendous benefit of ESXi, though one that many users will be unaware of.

  • User-Friendly Administration Tools

VMware features an HTML-5 built-in browser for administrative use. It also allows organizations to utilize the vSphere command-line interface (CLI) for remote management and application programming interface (APIs).

  • Secure Design

The built-in administrative web portal secures your data from prying eyes and other vulnerabilities. VMware ESXi helps users maintain a secure virtual platform at the outset by using VMWare’s extensive logging and auditing capabilities.

  • Scalable Reliability

A single ESXi hypervisor allows users to run as many as 128 virtual CPUs and 120 devices on 6 TB of memory. The high-performance cluster file of ESXi allows more storage resources to be distributed efficiently.

Please keep in mind that this is a feature that mainly enterprise users would benefit from.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Performance

  • Both Proxmox and ESXi virtual environments are type-1 hypervisors and offer excellent performance capabilities well-suited for various configurations. However, VMware ESXi offers higher host capabilities and RAM than Proxmox VE (though you may need the paid version).
  • Proxmox offers an enterprise-level utility for backing up and restoring virtual environments, hosts, and containers that is better than ESXi. Regarding backup and restore solutions, the supported functionalities of Proxmox include Zstandard compression, authenticated encryption, deduplication, and incremental backups.
  • ESXi features performance tiers depending upon the RAM amount per host, licensing, and the number of hosts in a cluster. In contrast, Proxmox VE provides the same free performance tiers for all users, with a paid “enterprise” repository designed for reliable updates, patches, and support.
  • The free version of VMware ESXi does not support file-based backups and backup solutions. The native applications are required to access backup solutions in the vCenter app. The free version of VMware ESXi is not recommended for enterprises due to a lack of backup solutions.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Clustering

Clustering of Proxmox

Proxmox VE offers the installation of clusters and supports centralized management of multiple Proxmox servers from a single web management console. This feature is really handy when you need to manage a large server farm. The cluster of Proxmox offers:

  • Multiple authentication methods
  • Centralized web management
  • Ease of migration for VMs and containers

Proxmox allows users to create clusters of up to 32 physical nodes and configure them from a single management console.

Clustering of ESXi

VMware vCenter is required to create ESXi clusters. ESXi clusters allow users to get some of the most powerful features in vSphere, such as distributed resource scheduler, high availability, vMotion, and fault tolerance.

VMware ESXi clusters have a capacity of 1024 datastores and a maximum of 32 ESXi hosts. To have all cluster features, you need to purchase a license as the free version does not support advanced functionalities such as high availability and vMotion.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Ease of Use

Proxmox

Users can complete all management tasks in one place without requiring a separate management tool because of Proxmox’s integrated GUI tool. The web management interface is incredibly easy to use and extremely powerful.

Proxmox VE is Debian-based, making it quite easy to learn and use if you have any experience with any Debian-based Linux distros (like Ubuntu). However, some of the advanced options require the command line.

VMware ESXi

VMware ESXi uses a vSphere web client for management that offers advanced features while still maintaining user-friendliness, which will allow you to get a VM up and running quickly and efficiently.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Security

Security of Proxmox

Proxmox supports automatic backups and advanced security features for user-specified nodes. This hypervisor runs all virtual machines separately, meaning that potential issues with one VM will not affect the other.

Being an open-source hypervisor, developers can quickly address security gaps and bugs, though certain businesses stay away from open-sourced applications.

Security or VMware ESXi

ESXi runs only the services essential for its operations and some firewall ports by default to improve its security. It ensures host security by securing the boot with a trusted platform module. The automated ESXi host management and lockdown mode make ESXi highly secure right out of the box.

Proxmox vs. ESXi – Pricing

Pricing Plan of Proxmox

The free version of Proxmox supports several features, but you must have a paid subscription to access technical support and enterprise repositories.

License LevelCost and Available Features
CommunityStarts from ~$100 (€95) per year & CPU socket  
BasicStarts from ~$300 (€295) per year & CPU socket. Three support tickets per year.
StandardStarts from ~$468 (€445) per year & CPU socket. Ten support tickets yearly.
PremiumStarts from ~$935 (€890) per year & CPU socket. Unlimited support tickets.

Pricing Plans of ESXi

The paid subscription to ESXi is essential for many because the free version has many limitations. However, it doesn’t hurt to try the free version, especially if you won’t be impacted by the limitations!

The following table shows the pricing plans of ESXi.

License LevelCost and Available Features
EssentialsStarts from $576.96 per year. Base server virtualization and management. Supports three hosts with up to two CPUs each.
StandardStarts from $1,268 per year. Supports basic server consolidation, vMotion, High Availablity, vShield Endpoint, and vSphere Replication.
Enterprise PlusStarts from $4,350 per year. Supports a range of features, including VM Encryption, vSphere Trust Authority, and data-at-rest encryption for VM data and disks.
Essential PlusStarts from $5,596 per year. Supports three hosts with two CPUs each. Supports all advanced features.

Conclusion: Proxmox vs. ESXi – Which to Choose?

If you’re a home user and have no interest in learning about hypervisors for professional purposes, Proxmox will offer you a ton of flexibility due to its lack of limitations and easy-to-use platform. For the most part, everything can be used, there are no CPU limitations and you’ll be able to set up tons of VMs and Containers on a reliable platform.

ESXi is a great tool as well, and if you’re interested in developing skills that are broadly used in the IT infrastructure enterprise world, ESXi is a great choice. Please be aware that there are a lot of limitations to the free tier (though you may not need/want any of the paid features).

Where ESXi excels over Proxmox is in its market share. According to a recent analysis, ESXi had a 50.19% market share whereas Proxmox only had a 0.22% market share. This is a big deal if you’re trying to learn about hypervisors for career purposes, as ESXi is the clear winner and the skills learned will translate to real-world opportunities. Sadly, Proxmox is a little too small to be of value on a broad scale.

Thanks for checking out the article on Proxmox vs. ESXi. If you have any questions on Proxmox vs. ESXi, please leave them in the comments!

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