Memory Usage Alarm with PCI Passthrough VMs

In the recent revamp of my lab environment, I decided to use VT-d passthrough for a pfsense VM. It has been working well with the integrated Intel igb based NICs on my management host, but I noticed that I started getting memory alarms on the VM.

vtd-mem-0

At first, I thought I may have sized the VM a bit too small with only 512MB of RAM, but when checking in the guest itself, I saw only a small amount was actually being used:

vtd-mem-2

At only 19% utilized, I’m nowhere near the 95% required to trigger this alarm. As you can see in the performance charts, all of the memory is being used by the guest from the perspective of ESXi:

vtd-mem-1

But after thinking about this for a moment, it makes sense – one of the requirements for PCI passthrough is to reserve all guest memory. For passthrough to function, the hypervisor must provide 100% consistent and reliable memory to the guest. What better way to ensure that then to reserve and pin all memory to the VM.

Although I understand why all memory is active and consumed, it’s unfortunate that vCenter doesn’t take into consideration the reason for this. In my search for an answer, I came across VMware KB 2149787. It appears that this can impact not only VMs with passthrough, but also fault tolerant VMs and VMs with latency sensitivity set to ‘high’. Unfortunately, the resolution suggested is to disable to virtual machine memory alarm at the vCenter object level. This effectively disables the alarm for everything in the inventory. I hope that at some point, vSphere will allow disabling specific alarms on a per-VM basis because few people would want to take this approach.

For now, I think the best course of action is to simply click ‘Reset to Green’, which should clear the alarm until the VM is powered off/on again. Just keep in mind that this is normal for this type of VM and that the alarm can be disregarded.

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