If a host fails and its virtual machines must be restarted, you can control the order in which the virtual machines are restarted with the VM restart priority setting. You can also configure how vSphere HA responds if hosts lose management network connectivity with other hosts by using the host isolation response setting. Other factors are also considered when vSphere HA restarts a virtual machine after a failure.

The following settings apply to all virtual machines in the cluster in the case of a host failure or isolation. You can also configure exceptions for specific virtual machines. See Customize an Individual Virtual Machine.

Host Isolation Response

Host isolation response determines what happens when a host in a vSphere HA cluster loses its management network connections, but continues to run. You can use the isolation response to have vSphere HA power off virtual machines that are running on an isolated host and restart them on a non-isolated host. Host isolation responses require that Host Monitoring Status is enabled. If Host Monitoring Status is disabled, host isolation responses are also suspended. A host determines that it is isolated when it is unable to communicate with the agents running on the other hosts, and it is unable to ping its isolation addresses. The host then executes its isolation response. The responses are Power off and restart VMs or Shutdown and restart VMs. You can customize this property for individual virtual machines.


If a virtual machine has a restart priority setting of Disabled, no host isolation response is made.

To use the Shutdown and restart VMs setting, you must install VMware Tools in the guest operating system of the virtual machine. Shutting down the virtual machine provides the advantage of preserving its state. Shutting down is better than powering off the virtual machine, which does not flush most recent changes to disk or commit transactions. Virtual machines that are in the process of shutting down take longer to fail over while the shutdown completes. Virtual Machines that have not shut down in 300 seconds, or the time specified in the advanced option das.isolationshutdowntimeout, are powered off.

After you create a vSphere HA cluster, you can override the default cluster settings for Restart Priority and Isolation Response for specific virtual machines. Such overrides are useful for virtual machines that are used for special tasks. For example, virtual machines that provide infrastructure services like DNS or DHCP might need to be powered on before other virtual machines in the cluster.

A virtual machine "split-brain" condition can occur when a host becomes isolated or partitioned from a master host and the master host cannot communicate with it using heartbeat datastores. In this situation, the master host cannot determine that the host is alive and so declares it dead. The master host then attempts to restart the virtual machines that are running on the isolated or partitioned host. This attempt succeeds if the virtual machines remain running on the isolated/partitioned host and that host lost access to the virtual machines' datastores when it became isolated or partitioned. A split-brain condition then exists because there are two instances of the virtual machine. However, only one instance is able to read or write the virtual machine's virtual disks. VM Component Protection can be used to prevent this split-brain condition. When you enable VMCP with the aggressive setting, it monitors the datastore accessibility of powered-on virtual machines, and shuts down those that lose access to their datastores.

To recover from this situation, ESXi generates a question on the virtual machine that has lost the disk locks for when the host comes out of isolation and cannot reacquire the disk locks. vSphere HA automatically answers this question, allowing the virtual machine instance that has lost the disk locks to power off, leaving just the instance that has the disk locks.

Virtual Machine Dependencies

You can create dependencies between groups of virtual machines. To do so, you must first create the VM groups in the vSphere Web Client by going to the Configure tab for the cluster and selecting VM/Host Groups. Once the groups have been created, you can create restart dependency rules between the groups by browsing toVM/Host Rules and in the Type drop-down menu, select Virtual Machines to Virtual Machines. These rules can specify that certain VM groups cannot be restarted until other, specified VM groups have been Ready first.

Factors Considered for Virtual Machine Restarts

After a failure, the cluster's master host attempts to restart affected virtual machines by identifying a host that can power them on. When choosing such a host, the master host considers a number of factors.

File accessibility

Before a virtual machine can be started, its files must be accessible from one of the active cluster hosts that the master can communicate with over the network

Virtual machine and host compatibility

If there are accessible hosts, the virtual machine must be compatible with at least one of them. The compatibility set for a virtual machine includes the effect of any required VM-Host affinity rules. For example, if a rule only permits a virtual machine to run on two hosts, it is considered for placement on those two hosts.

Resource reservations

Of the hosts that the virtual machine can run on, at least one must have sufficient unreserved capacity to meet the memory overhead of the virtual machine and any resource reservations. Four types of reservations are considered: CPU, Memory, vNIC, and Virtual flash. Also, sufficient network ports must be available to power on the virtual machine.

Host limits

In addition to resource reservations, a virtual machine can only be placed on a host if doing so does not violate the maximum number of allowed virtual machines or the number of in-use vCPUs.

Feature constraints

If the advanced option has been set that requires vSphere HA to enforce VM to VM anti-affinity rules, vSphere HA does not violate this rule. Also, vSphere HA does not violate any configured per host limits for fault tolerant virtual machines.

If no hosts satisfy the preceding considerations, the master host issues an event stating that there are not enough resources for vSphere HA to start the VM and tries again when the cluster conditions have changed. For example, if the virtual machine is not accessible, the master host tries again after a change in file accessibility.