Debunking the myths of why Vmware is better than Hyper-V – Memory overcommit…

As I wrote previously, I’ve decided to tackle some of the myths and lies that surround Hyper-V as I hear them from either customers or Vmware sales reps. Previously, I’ve written about Transparent Page Sharing and why it isn’t useful anymore.

For this article, I’m going to talk about the Memory Overcommit feature from the vSphere Hypervisor.
Vmware description of this:

VMware’s ESX® Server is a hypervisor that enables competitive memory and CPU consolidation ratios. ESX allows users to power on virtual machines (VMs) with a total configured memory that exceeds the memory available on the physical machine. This is called memory overcommitment.

So, a really cool feature by its description.
Microsoft off course has a feature which accomplishes the same goal but in a very different way, called Dynamic Memory. More on that in a bit.

To go a little bit in depth of this feature, I’ll snip some from Vmware documentation:

For each running virtual machine, the system reserves physical memory for the virtual machine’s reservation (if any) and for its virtualization overhead.

Because of the memory management techniques the ESXi host uses, your virtual machines can use more memory than the physical machine (the host) has available. For example, you can have a host with 2GB memory and run four virtual machines with 1GB memory each. In that case, the memory is overcommitted.

To compare Vmware memory overcommit to Microsoft’s Dynamic Memory, on the surface they both operate towards the same end goal of providing more memory than available in the assumption that the virtual machines actually never goes beyond this boundary.
Dynamic Memory however works a bit different. Where in Vmware you just assign the maximum amount of memory you wish to have available, in Hyper-V you define 3 parameters:

  • Startup Memory
  • Minimum Memory
  • Maximum Memory

The startup memory is somewhat self-explanatory. It is the amount available for the machine at boot. Minimum memory is the minimum amount you wish to have available to the virtual machine and it will never drop below this. Maximum is again self-explanatory, as it is the maximum amount available to the virtual machine. Hyper-V then assigns and removes memory from the guest OS using hot-add and memory ballooning.
However, the key difference is not in these settings but in the fact that you CANNOT overcommit memory in Hyper-V. This however requires some explaining…

Let’s take the above example. You are running a host with 2 GB of memory and create 4 virtual machines with 1 GB of memory each. Your environment is then running and something happens that requires that the virtual machines to use all of their memory (could also just be that 3 of the virtual machines did, but this is just to illustrate the scenario where you need more memory than is available).
In ESX all the machines believe they have the memory available and will use it, but the underlying ESX hypervisor cannot do magic and come up with the extra memory so it starts swapping pages to disk = performance goes haywire.
If this where to happen in Hyper-V, the virtual machines would be aware of the fact that they did not have all that memory as Hyper-V will not assign more memory to the servers than what is available. So what will happen in this scenario? Well, like above swapping will occur but this time not at the hypervisor layer but at the virtual machine layer.

And this is a major difference and why it works so much better in Hyper-V. Who knows better which data can be swapped to disk and which can’t than the machine running the workload? An example could be a SQL server, where you would prefer that data related to SQL databases stayed in memory and for example pages relating to background processing going to the swap file.
In Vmware should swapping occur you run the risk of swapping out the wrong data and thereby decreasing performance even more, but in Hyper-V the virtual machine decides for itself what is best suited for this.

Now, as I’ve had this discussion a couple of times before I know the answer from the Vmware guys are that you can decide where to place the memory swap file in Vmware and do this on SSD.
Well, not so much an argument as first off SSD is still slower than RAM and second this is also a possibility in Hyper-V so the virtual machine places its swap file on SSD (and this is the actual swap file of the virtual machine, so it stays there constantly).

So to sum up, having less memory available than needed is not a desired configuration as it reduces performance. Should you however encounter the scenario where you have to little memory, Hyper-V solves the problem better for you…

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