Suppose you have a fully virtualized VMware infrastructure: ESXi, vCenter, vMotion, HA, DRS, the whole package.

Inside, you have lots of VMs, which at any given time may reside on one host or another (that's the whole point of clustering, isn't it?).

You experience a power loss, and, one way or another, you manage to shut down gracefully all VMs and all hosts; let's not delve into this for now, let's just assume your UPS software can handle it. Or, at least, let's assume the shutdown was not so graceful, but everything is still able to come up again once power is restored.

Power comes back, and your hosts restart.

Your environment is quite complex, and it has natural dependencies between VMs: domain controllers should start first, an application server can't start unless its back-end DB server is already up and running, and so on.

We all know (or should hopefully know) how to configure automatic VM startup and how to specificy a VM startup order and delay on a single ESX/i host.

But how to do this across a whole datacenter?

Is there any way to tell vSphere "start these VMs in this global order, regardless of the physical host they are running on"?

Bonus points: if vCenter itself is running on a virtual machine, how does this change things?

2 Answers 2


There doesn't seem to be a clean way to fully manage a cold start of a virtual infrastructure once HA is configured on the individual hosts. Enabling HA and DRS seems to disable the Virtual Machine Startup and Shutdown options on the host servers. However, any ordering set before the host is moved into the cluster seems to stick. If the number of hosts is small or manageable, it's possible to set startup priority in the vSphere client by connecting to the hosts individually. Put your rules there. This actually works in the situation you describe.

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Storage comes first!

Once the shared storage is up, I work on the hosts... I've had partial outages where vCenter virtualized as well. What I do in this case is set automatic boot and ordering options for the most critical systems; typically a domain controller and DNS/DHCP. Remember, vCenter is not likely to be available in the cold-start scenario. If I can fit it in, then I will... otherwise it gets started manually.

From there, I make sure HA and DRS rules are intact. I usually have disaffinity rules set for terminal servers, application servers and domain controllers. Once vCenter comes up, most of this gets sorted out.

I had a lightning strike a few weeks ago that took part of my server room down, including the switch blade containing the storage network. VMWare HA brought everything back once the storage switch ports were relocated and reprogrammed.

So, this type of issue falls under a real emergency or a manual effort. I wouldn't expect a hands-off startup of the system environment in the scenario you describe.


Two weeks ago, I had a brownout that tripped a UPS. Two hosts, VC and a SAN/NAS device. Everything came back on its own and I didn't have to intervene (I was actually on a plane and got the messages upon landing).

  • Yes, I know a total datacenter shutdown is (hopefully...) an unusual thing, so it's most likely someone will be there to restart everything. But it would be nice to have something to handle it automatically...
    – Massimo
    Jul 31, 2012 at 21:36
  • Edit: You can connect to the hosts individually and set VM startup priority, even when they're in an HA cluster. Get your DC's and DNS and basic services there. Then start Virtual Center.
    – ewwhite
    Jul 31, 2012 at 21:41
  • But this can only be done for VMs that are hosted on a given host... and won't have any effect as soon as the VMs are moved somewhere else.
    – Massimo
    Jul 31, 2012 at 21:44
  • It still works. I just enabled auto startup and shutdown on individual hosts, set a startup priority and reconfigured HA just to be sure. Moving a VM with a numbered priority to another host places it the any order category on the destination. So the VM will definitely autostart.
    – ewwhite
    Jul 31, 2012 at 21:54
  • Ok, it will autostart; but in any order. Oh, well, better than no starting it at all, of course...
    – Massimo
    Aug 1, 2012 at 6:30

You can configure a vApp to help with startup & shutdown order.

To borrow from this vApp thread:

If your cluster experiences a catastrophic failure, you have a couple of options to ensure VM restart priority. I like to create vApps for this, and drag/drop the VM's in question into this vApp. Lets say you want your database server to start before your web server, so you drag them both into your new vApp. You can right click the vApp --> Edit Settings --> Start Order tab --> then you'll see Group 1 and Group 2. On the bottom of the window please notice that "All entities in the same group are started before proceeding to the next group. Shutdown is done in the reverse order." Well, you can move your servers into the groups using the arrows beside the box (I circled them in the attached image). Finally, VMware gives you the ability to dictate whether the VM's in Group 2 (and Group 3, and Group 4, etc) should start after a set number of seconds (OR) whether you want the next Group to startup after VMware Tools (a service) has started.

vApp Start Order settings

  • This is only useful for vApps, not for generic VMs.
    – Massimo
    Aug 7, 2012 at 20:11
  • 3
    Some organization simply groups VMs into vApps for this sole purpose.
    – jftuga
    Aug 7, 2012 at 23:09

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