When you add a host to a vSphere HA cluster, an agent is uploaded to the host and configured to communicate with other agents in the cluster. Each host in the cluster functions as a primary host or a secondary host.

When vSphere HA is enabled for a cluster, all active hosts (that are not in standby, maintenance mode or not disconnected) participate in an election to choose the cluster's primary host. The host that mounts the greatest number of datastores has an advantage in the election. Only one primary host typically exists per cluster and all other hosts are secondary hosts. If the primary host fails, is shut down or put in standby mode, or is removed from the cluster a new election is held.

The primary host in a cluster has several responsibilities:

  • Monitoring the state of secondary hosts. If a secondary host fails or becomes unreachable, the primary host identifies which virtual machines must be restarted.
  • Monitoring the power state of all protected virtual machines. If one virtual machine fails, the primary host ensures that it is restarted. Using a local placement engine, the primary host also determines where the restart takes place.
  • Managing the lists of cluster hosts and protected virtual machines.
  • Acting as the vCenter Server management interface to the cluster and reporting the cluster health state.

The secondary hosts primarily contribute to the cluster by running virtual machines locally, monitoring their runtime states, and reporting state updates to the primary host. A primary host can also run and monitor virtual machines. Both secondary hosts and primary hosts implement the VM and Application Monitoring features.

One of the functions performed by the primary host is to orchestrate restarts of protected virtual machines. A virtual machine is protected by a primary host after vCenter Server observes that the virtual machine's power state has changed from powered off to powered on in response to a user action. The primary host persists the list of protected virtual machines in the cluster's datastores. A newly elected primary host uses this information to determine which virtual machines to protect.

Note: If you disconnect a host from a cluster, the virtual machines registered to that host are unprotected by vSphere HA.