ESXi combines the traditional initial placement approach with a dynamic rebalancing algorithm. Periodically (every two seconds by default), the system examines the loads of the various nodes and determines if it should rebalance the load by moving a virtual machine from one node to another.

This calculation takes into account the resource settings for virtual machines and resource pools to improve performance without violating fairness or resource entitlements.

The rebalancer selects an appropriate virtual machine and changes its home node to the least loaded node. When it can, the rebalancer moves a virtual machine that already has some memory located on the destination node. From that point on (unless it is moved again), the virtual machine allocates memory on its new home node and it runs only on processors within the new home node.

Rebalancing is an effective solution to maintain fairness and ensure that all nodes are fully used. The rebalancer might need to move a virtual machine to a node on which it has allocated little or no memory. In this case, the virtual machine incurs a performance penalty associated with a large number of remote memory accesses. ESXi can eliminate this penalty by transparently migrating memory from the virtual machine’s original node to its new home node:

  1. The system selects a page (4KB of contiguous memory) on the original node and copies its data to a page in the destination node.
  2. The system uses the virtual machine monitor layer and the processor’s memory management hardware to seamlessly remap the virtual machine’s view of memory, so that it uses the page on the destination node for all further references, eliminating the penalty of remote memory access.

When a virtual machine moves to a new node, the ESXi host immediately begins to migrate its memory in this fashion. It manages the rate to avoid overtaxing the system, particularly when the virtual machine has little remote memory remaining or when the destination node has little free memory available. The memory migration algorithm also ensures that the ESXi host does not move memory needlessly if a virtual machine is moved to a new node for only a short period.

When initial placement, dynamic rebalancing, and intelligent memory migration work in conjunction, they ensure good memory performance on NUMA systems, even in the presence of changing workloads. When a major workload change occurs, for instance when new virtual machines are started, the system takes time to readjust, migrating virtual machines and memory to new locations. After a short period, typically seconds or minutes, the system completes its readjustments and reaches a steady state.