Virtual machines have been used in numerous research projects [3,7,8,9] and commercial products [20,23] over the past several decades. ESX Server was inspired by recent work on Disco  and Cellular Disco , which virtualized shared-memory multiprocessor servers to run multiple instances of IRIX.
ESX Server uses many of the same virtualization techniques as other VMware products. One key distinction is that VMware Workstation uses a hosted architecture for maximum portability across diverse desktop systems , while ESX Server manages server hardware directly for complete control over resource management and improved I/O performance.
Many of the mechanisms and policies we developed were motivated by the need to run existing commodity operating systems without any modifications. This enables ESX Server to run proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and standard distributions of open-source systems such as Linux.
Ballooning implicitly coaxes a guest OS into reclaiming memory using its own native page replacement algorithms. It has some similarity to the ``self-paging'' technique used in the Nemesis system , which requires applications to handle their own virtual memory operations, including revocation. However, few applications are capable of making their own page replacement decisions, and applications must be modified to participate in an explicit revocation protocol. In contrast, guest operating systems already implement page replacement algorithms and are oblivious to ballooning details. Since they operate at different levels, ballooning and self-paging could be used together, allowing applications to make their own decisions in response to reclamation requests that originate at a much higher level.
Content-based page sharing was directly influenced by the transparent page sharing work in Disco . However, the content-based approach used in ESX Server avoids the need to modify, hook, or even understand guest OS code. It also exploits many opportunities for sharing missed by both Disco and the standard copy-on-write techniques used in conventional operating systems.
IBM's MXT memory compression technology , which achieves substantial memory savings on server workloads, provided additional motivation for page sharing. Although this hardware approach eliminates redundancy at a sub-page granularity, its gains from compression of large zero-filled regions and other patterns can also be achieved via page sharing.
ESX Server exploits the ability to transparently remap ``physical'' pages for both page sharing and I/O page remapping. Disco employed similar techniques for replication and migration to improve locality and fault containment in NUMA multiprocessors [3,9]. In general, page remapping is a well-known approach that is commonly used to change virtual-to-physical mappings in systems that do not have an extra level of ``virtualized physical'' addressing. For example, remapping and page coloring have been used to improve cache performance and isolation [17,19,21].
The ESX Server mechanism for working-set estimation is related to earlier uses of page faults to maintain per-page reference bits in software on architectures lacking direct hardware support . However, we combine this technique with a unique statistical sampling approach. Instead of tracking references to all pages individually, an aggregate estimate of idleness is computed by sampling a small subset.
Our allocation algorithm extends previous research on proportional-share allocation of space-shared resources [31,32]. The introduction of a ``tax'' on idle memory solves a significant known problem with pure share-based approaches , enabling efficient memory utilization while still maintaining share-based isolation. The use of economic metaphors is also related to more explicit market-based approaches designed to facilitate decentralized application-level optimization .