Many organizations today maintain operations in a number of different sites. For many businesses, this can include operations in distributed Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) locations where there may be a limited number of employees, workloads, and other operations activities, however, they are critical nonetheless.

With various business and other IT infrastructure needed in the Remote Office Branch Office locations, there may be a need to place VMware vSphere workloads in the remote site. With today’s IT budgets under continuous scrutiny, organizations looking to license VMware vSphere for remote branch offices may not be able to justify the cost of upper-level licensing for only a few workloads.

However, VMware has a type of licensing for vSphere known as Remote Office Branch Office Licensing that is designed for these types of environments that allows customers to have the features and functionality needed from a licensing perspective to run the workloads needed in the remote office branch office location.

Let’s take a look at what is VMware ROBO, that is, Remote Office Branch Office and see what features it affords customers running it.

Remote Office Branch Office Challenges

Before looking at the VMware vSphere Remote Office Branch Office edition, let’s take a look at some of the challenges faces by organizations with ROBO locations.

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  • Lack of IT staff at the ROBO location
  • Inconsistent host configurations
  • Limited IT budgets
  • Limited physical space

Lack of IT staff at the ROBO location

One of the many challenges with ROBO locations is the lack of onsite IT staff.

This presents challenges from a support and day-to-day operations standpoint if local configuration or troubleshooting is needed. Additionally, maintenance updates and other configuration tasks may need to be performed on the local infrastructure.

Without local IT staff and perhaps no visibility at a higher level can present challenges with maintaining the infrastructure in the ROBO locations.

Inconsistent host configurations

A challenge with ROBO locations is they can be configured with different host-level configurations, hardware specs, and other disparities. This can present challenges when troubleshooting or operationalizing the infrastructure remotely.

Limited IT budgets

As mentioned in the outset, IT budgets are certainly under scrutiny as is other fiscal expenditures. Limited IT budgets can lead to challenges in their own right.

However, it generally leads to many of the other challenges of ROBO environments such as not staffing IT locally in the ROBO site to save on budget, omitting proper hardware and other redundancy needed, and other areas of cost savings.

Limited space

Another area that is often missed when thinking about challenges to ROBO environments is the actual physical space to house infrastructure. ROBO locations can be located in extremely remote, rugged, and otherwise atypical environments for IT infrastructure. There may even not be a proper data center as such. Limited space can certainly present challenges to house physical servers/virtualization hosts and other required infrastructure.

What is VMware vSphere ROBO?

The VMware vSphere Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) edition provides a solution from VMware that helps organizations with many of the challenges they face with ROBO infrastructure.

Perhaps the primary way that ROBO can assist businesses operating these ROBO locations is from a licensing cost perspective. The ROBO edition of VMware vSphere pricing is structured a bit differently than the Standard and Enterprise Plus editions in that it is sold based on a per-VM model in license packs containing 25 VMs.

The great thing about this “license pack” model is the 25 or more VMs contained in the packs can be spread between sites. So, if you only have the need for 5 VMs at one ROBO location, you can use the other 20 VMs between your other ROBO locations.

VMware ROBO edition relies on vCenter Server which is sold separately. However, most organizations will likely purchase the ROBO licensing for the workloads at the remote locations, and then use the vCenter Server they already own to manage the ROBO clusters.


VMware vSphere ROBO overview, management, and features (Image courtesy of VMware)

VMware vSphere ROBO edition is sold in two versions:

  • vSphere Remote Office Branch Office Standard – $3000 MSRP
  • vSphere Remote Office Branch Office Advanced – $4500 MSRP

vSphere ROBO Standard edition – features:

  • ESXi, vMotion®, Storage vMotion,
  • High Availability, Fault Tolerance
  • (2-vCPU), vShield Endpoint™,
  • vSphere Replication, Hot Add,
  • Content Library

vSphere ROBO Advanced edition – features:

  • ESXi, vMotion, Storage vMotion,
  • High Availability, Fault Tolerance
  • (4-vCPU), vShield Endpoint,
  • vSphere Replication, Hot Add,
  • Content Library, Host Profiles,
  • Auto Deploy, Distributed Switch

As you might quickly point out, the main differences between the two versions are the following features found in the ROBO Advanced edition:

  • vSphere Distributed Switches
  • Host Profiles
  • Auto Deploy functionality

By leveraging the vSphere ROBO licensing, businesses can perhaps reclaim vSphere Standard or Enterprise (non-ROBO) licenses that may have been purchased for remote locations and better use these licenses elsewhere.

What is vSAN ROBO?

From a Storage solution perspective, organizations can benefit from the vSAN ROBO edition of vSphere. This allows remote offices to reduce total cost of ownership for shared storage.

VMware vSAN for ROBO licensing is based on a per-virtual machine license model as is the vSphere for ROBO solution. This allows businesses to run vSAN across multiple sites at a much-reduced cost when compared to other editions of vSAN. This gains the same enterprise datacenter storage features in the remote branch office locations.

These include:

  • Two-node vSAN architecture
    • Run only two-node vSAN clusters with the “Witness” appliance
  • vSAN local rebuild from disk functionality based on the Primary level of failures to tolerate or PFTT
    • VMware vSAN can rebuild failed VMs from locally stored copies of the VM data based on the PFTT value
  • vSAN Performance
    • vSAN sits directly on top of the hypervisor, allowing it to achieve extremely high levels of efficiency without taxing the CPU and other resources too heavily
    • It makes efficient use of “flash cache” to optimize performance speeds as data is written to the capacity tier
  • Integration with vRealize Operations
    • vROPs has specialized dashboards written for monitoring and optimizing VMware vSAN. Using these, organizations can easily keep vSAN tweaked and tuned accordingly
  • Extend Capacity without Downtime
    • VMware vSAN provides non-disruptive scaling
    • Extend capacity and performance by adding new drives to existing hosts

An important point to note regarding the vSAN ROBO edition is there is a 25 VM site limit on running vSAN ROBO edition. This means that if a specific site needs to run more than 25 VMs on vSAN, a license upgrade to vSAN Standard, Advanced, or Enterprise is needed.

Read More : A Complete comparison of the various VMware vSphere editions and licensing

Concluding Thoughts

The VMware Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) offering is uniquely positioned to allow organizations to leverage powerful VMware vSphere virtualization in ROBO locations.

VMware vSphere is the industry leader in enterprise virtualization and the ROBO license allows using such enterprise features as VMware HA and VMware vSAN in these remote offices that may be limited in infrastructure resources. By efficiently using vSphere licensing that is tied to the number of VMs rather than specific hosts/sockets, organizations can potentially much more efficiently license production ROBO workloads. Additionally, with VMware vSAN ROBO, the same per-VM licensing can be had at a much more efficient cost for ROBO locations that want to use vSAN with 25 or fewer VMs.

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