What is VMware vMotion?

VMware vMotion is a feature within VMware’s vSphere product suite that enables live migration of running virtual machines from one physical server to another with no downtime. vMotion enables workloads to move across underlying physical infrastructure without service interruption, eliminating the need to schedule application downtime for planned server maintenance.

What is VMware vMotion?

VMware vMotion enables the live migration of an entire running virtual machine instantaneously from one physical server to another with continuous service availability. vMotion transfers the memory, storage, and compute resources from the source host to the destination host. This occurs without disrupting service quality or availability, making it transparent to users.

How Does vMotion Work?

vMotion works by leveraging the high-speed vMotion networking infrastructure between VMware ESXi hypervisors. It synchronizes the memory and precise execution state of the virtual machine to seamlessly shift the workload between underlying hosts. This process enables compute resources to be dynamically balanced across a cluster of servers to optimize performance.

The key capabilities of vMotion include:

  • Live Migration – Migrates running VMs without disruption to users or loss of service
  • Workload Balancing – Dynamically allocates resources for optimal performance
  • Proactive Maintenance- Enables underlying infrastructure maintenance without scheduling application downtime
  • Resource Sharing – Provides options for running VMs independently of hardware resources
  • Power Management – Optimizes power utilization by consolidating workloads more efficiently

vMotion is built on top of core VMware vSphere architecture:

  • VMware vCenter Server – Centralized management, monitoring, and automation
  • VMware ESXi – Hypervisor running on physical servers
  • vSphere Cluster – Group of servers enabling resource aggregation and automated load balancing
  • Shared Storage – Central datastore accessible to all hosts in a cluster such as VMFS or NFS

vMotion Process Overview

The vMotion process consists of several key phases:

  1. Initiation – vMotion process is triggered either manually or automatically based on policies
  2. Pre-Copy – Memory contents transferred to destination while VM continues running on source host
  3. Switchover – Storage, remaining memory and precise execution state transferred live to destination server
  4. Commit – VM operation resumes on destination host transparently
  5. Cleanup – Background cleanup of former instance on previous host

This enables live migration across servers with no dropped network packets or disruption to users.

Table showing key benefits of VMware vMotion:

Benefit Description
Eliminates Downtime Enables live migration of workloads across infrastructure
Enables Maintenance Allows infrastructure changes without app disruption
Optimizes Resources Balances workloads across cluster for efficiency
Enhances Continuity Minimizes risk from physical server failure
Reduces Costs Consolidates hardware and improves flexibility

Types of vMotion

There are a few varieties of vMotion capabilities:

  • Standard vMotion – Migration of VMs across hosts in same data center and cluster
  • Long Distance vMotion – Migration across hosts in different DRS clusters or across data center
  • Cross vCenter Server vMotion – Migrates VMs across different VMware vCenter Servers
  • Cross Cloud vMotion – Migrates workloads between private and public cloud environments
  • Hybrid vMotion – Seamless migration across different underlying infrastructure

This provides flexible options to move VMs onto the optimal platform based on performance, scalability, maintenance needs and other considerations.

When is vMotion Used?

Key use cases for leveraging vMotion include:

  • Infrastructure Maintenance – Migrate VMs off host to update hardware, firmware, OS patches without downtime
  • Resource Balancing – Redistribute VMs across infrastructure to optimize CPU, memory, storage usage
  • Power Management – Consolidate workloads onto fewer hosts and shut down unused servers to reduce power
  • Hardware Failure Mitigation – Migrate VMs off failing host to healthy server with zero data loss
  • Cross Site Migration – Move workload locations across facilities based on usage needs
  • Cloud Migration – Migrate some or all workloads into or out of public cloud as needed
  • On-Demand Scalability – Quickly scale capacity up or down by moving VMs across infrastructure

This enables dynamic adjustment of compute resources for optimal performance, efficiency and continuity of mission-critical systems.

Key Takeaways of VMware vMotion

  • vMotion enables live migration of VMs across physical infrastructure with no disruption to users or loss of service
  • It works by synchronizing memory and precise execution state between ESXi hypervisors
  • vMotion is built on core vSphere architecture like vCenter, ESXi and shared storage
  • Key phases are initiation, pre-copy, switchover, commit and cleanup
  • Benefits include eliminating downtime, enabling maintenance, optimizing resources, enhancing continuity and reducing costs
  • Types of vMotion include standard, long distance, Cross vCenter Server, Cross Cloud and Hybrid
  • Main use cases involve infrastructure maintenance, load balancing, power optimization, hardware failure mitigation, site migration and cloud bursting


In summary, VMware vMotion is an essential feature of vSphere for keeping mission-critical applications continuously available. It allows live migration of virtualized workloads across underlying physical infrastructure without service interruption.

vMotion enables maintenance, balancing, consolidation and business continuity capabilities for data centers. With rapid migration across servers, it optimizes resource utilization for efficiency and adapts quickly to changing capacity demands. For modern IT environments, vMotion delivers the mobility and flexibility needed for ensuring SLAs and supporting strategic initiatives.

Frequently Asked Questions 

  1. What is vMotion in VMware?
    vMotion enables live migration of running virtual machines from one physical server to another with no disruption or downtime. It transfers the memory, storage and execution states seamlessly between ESXi hosts. 
  2. How does vMotion work?
    vMotion works by synchronizing memory contents and precise execution state of VMs between hypervisors. It shifts the workloads transparently so operation continues uninterrupted on the destination host. 
  3. What are the benefits of VMware vMotion?
    Key benefits include eliminating downtime, enabling planned maintenance, balancing workloads, mitigating hardware failures, facilitating site migrations and data center consolidations. 
  4. What types of vMotion are there?
    Standard vMotion is within same cluster while long distance works across clusters. Cross vCenter Server vMotion migrates across different vSphere environments and Cross Cloud works between on-prem and cloud. 
  5. Can vMotion migrate VMs between different processors?
    Yes, vMotion can migrate VMs across different processor families as long as the ESXi hypervisors have EVC (Enhanced vMotion Capability) enabled. 
  6. Does VMware vMotion require shared storage?
    Yes, vMotion relies on shared storage accessible to both the source and destination ESXi host, such as VMFS, NFS, vSAN or VVOLs. The VM files remain in place while the environment shifts. 
  7. Is vMotion automatically load balancing?
    Not exactly but it enables DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler) to automatically balance VMs across hosts based on policies to optimize cluster resource utilization. 
  8. How is vMotion different from Storage vMotion?
    vMotion migrates the VM compute environment between hypervisors while storage vMotion only shifts the virtual disks between datastores without moving compute hosts. 
  9. What is the performance impact of vMotion?
    vMotion utilizes a special high-speed VMkernel network so its designed to minimize performance impact during migrations typically to less than 5-10% utilization differences. 
  10. How long does vMotion migration take?
    Duration depends on factors like memory size, changed blocks tracking and available bandwidth. Typical vMotion duration ranges from seconds for small VMs up to 1-2 minutes for large or busy workloads. 
  11. Can I automate vMotion migrations?
    Yes, you can leverage orchestration tools like vRealize Orchestrator or PowerCLI to call vMotion functions based on scheduling, resource thresholds or through API integration with other solutions. 
  12. Is vMotion secure?
    vMotion uses secured tunnels between authenticated ESXi hosts protected by TLS certificates. Data can be encrypted and network traffic is isolated from other vmkernel functions. 
  13. What are the networking requirements for vMotion?
    A high speed (10Gbps recommended) low latency dedicated VMkernel portgroup using a supported network type like Ethernet, LAG, or VLAN tagging depending on switching topology. 
  14. What features does vMotion require?
    Hosts must have shared storage visibility, network portgroups, EVC compatibility and any licensing like vSphere Enterprise Plus that includes vMotion capabilities. 
  15. How do I configure vMotion?
    Key steps include configuring hosts for visibility to shared storage, enabling vMotion VMkernel ports with proper network settings, ensuring hosts are EVC compatible and licensed properly. 
  16. Can I use vMotion with vGPU enabled VMs?
    Yes, vMotion support was added for vGPU DirectPath I/O passthrough from physical GPUs to VMs in recent vSphere versions enabling live migration across GPU accelerated workloads. 
  17. Does DRS automation use vMotion?
    Yes, DRS can automatically load balance VMs across the cluster using vMotion for migrations according to the policies defined by the vSphere administrator. 
  18. Can I migrate only a portion of a VM?
    Currently, full system migration is required. But VMware is adding incremental intelligence to enable partial or selective migration capabilities in future vSphere releases. 
  19. What troubleshooting tips for vMotion?
    Verify shared storage and VM networks visibility on hosts, ensure proper teaming and failover order for vMotion VMkernel ports, check that EVC is consistent across cluster, confirm matching credentials and SSL certificates. 
  20. How is vMotion different from Hyper-V Live Migration?
    Key differences are VMware security features like encrypted vMotion and integration with DRS automation. Hyper-V has lower requirements but less seamless integration for automated optimization.

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