When the primary host in a VMware vSphere® High Availability cluster cannot communicate with a secondary host over the management network, the primary host uses datastore heartbeating to determine whether the secondary host has failed, is in a network partition, or is network isolated. If the secondary host has stopped datastore heartbeating, it is considered to have failed and its virtual machines are restarted elsewhere.

VMware vCenter Server® selects a preferred set of datastores for heartbeating. This selection is made to maximize the number of hosts that have access to a heartbeating datastore and minimize the likelihood that the datastores are backed by the same LUN or NFS server.

You can use the advanced option das.heartbeatdsperhost to change the number of heartbeat datastores selected by vCenter Server for each host. The default is two and the maximum valid value is five.

vSphere HA creates a directory at the root of each datastore that is used for both datastore heartbeating and for persisting the set of protected virtual machines. The name of the directory is .vSphere-HA. Do not delete or modify the files stored in this directory, because this can have an impact on operations. Because more than one cluster might use a datastore, subdirectories for this directory are created for each cluster. Root owns these directories and files and only root can read and write to them. The disk space used by vSphere HA depends on several factors including which VMFS version is in use and the number of hosts that use the datastore for heartbeating. With vmfs3, the maximum usage is 2GB and the typical usage is 3MB. With vmfs5, the maximum and typical usage is 3MB. vSphere HA use of the datastores adds negligible overhead and has no performance impact on other datastore operations.

vSphere HA limits the number of virtual machines that can have configuration files on a single datastore. See Configuration Maximums for updated limits. If you place more than this number of virtual machines on a datastore and power them on, vSphere HA protects virtual machines only up to the limit.

Note: A vSAN datastore cannot be used for datastore heartbeating. Therefore, if no other shared storage is accessible to all hosts in the cluster, there can be no heartbeat datastores in use. However, if you have storage that is accessible by an alternate network path independent of the vSAN network, you can use it to set up a heartbeat datastore.