That let customers who were expanding their virtual-server installations – and saving money by getting rid of a lot of aging, support-intensive hardware – replace them with cheap servers loaded with so much memory they were top heavy.
The memory-is-free approach from VMware meant that every additional virtual machine was also essentially free.
That no-cost factor was a major contributor to the growth of both VMware and virtual servers in the enterprise – many of which have struggled with flat or shrinking it budgets during the past few years and who needed to get as much power as possible out of the hardware they could afford.
Many large VMware shops have built huge virtual infrastructures based on that model of server and outsize proportion of RAM.
Shooting for a change to cloud-y thinking (and missing)
With vSphere 5, VMware changed gears and began charging for the amount of memory customers assigned to a VM rather than the number of processors on the physical server in which it lived.
That seemed like extortion to many, who spent days screaming about it in user forums, then weeks coming up with ways to minimize the costs anyway, or switch to competing products.
You can't flip a switch and change the economics of the technology on which a lot of the application development and IT productivity increases of the past few years has been based and not face some backlash.
VMware spokespeople brushed off the anger as being based on the same kind of surprise Facebook users express when the interface changes. "They're not going to go away because of this," one told me.
Yes they would, if they could, according to Bernd Harzog, head virtualization and cloud guru and consulting firm the Virtualization Practice.
"A lot of people who were inspired by pricing [from VMware] to check out the competition found out it was able to do the vast majority of the things they already had vSphere doing for them," Harzog said.
"Is VMware Killing Itself," asked investment site TheMotleyFool, before concluding that it wasn't; the flap and the potential increase in costs doesn't compare to the PR disaster Netflix suffered the same week by deciding to raise prices as much as 60 percent, according to the Fool's analysis.
The thing is, vSphere 5 prices were designed to do the same thing as the free-VM pricing models did: get customers to think about their computing needs differently.