Memory Overcommit


Memory Overcommit is a virtualization technique used in computing systems, where more memory resources are allocated to virtual machines or applications than are physically available in the system. This approach works under the assumption that not all virtual machines or applications will require their maximum allocated memory simultaneously. However, it can lead to performance issues or system crashes if over-allocation occurs and multiple virtual machines or applications simultaneously demand more memory than is physically available.

Key Takeaways

  1. Memory Overcommit is a virtualization technique that allows allocating more memory to virtual machines (VMs) than what is physically available on the host system, optimally utilizing available resources.
  2. It depends on the assumption that VMs rarely use their full allocated memory simultaneously, and employs memory management techniques like paging and memory ballooning to handle potential conflicts.
  3. While it can increase resource utilization and allow more VMs to run on a host, Memory Overcommit can also result in degraded performance if the physical memory becomes insufficient, leading to increased disk swapping and slow response times.


Memory overcommit is an important technology term in virtualization as it enables efficient utilization of system memory by allowing multiple virtual machines to share the available memory resources.

This is achieved by allocating more memory to the virtual machines than the physical server actually has, effectively promising more memory than what is physically present.

The memory overcommit approach takes advantage of the fact that not all virtual machines utilize their full memory allocation simultaneously, resulting in improved system performance and cost-effectiveness.

However, if all the virtual machines attempt to use their allocated memory at once, it could lead to performance issues and potential crashes.

Thus, memory overcommit optimizes system resources and can reduce hardware requirements, but requires careful management to mitigate potential risks.


Memory overcommit is a valuable mechanism in virtualized environments that allows the allocation of more memory to virtual machines than the actual physical memory available on the host system. Its purpose is to maximize the utilization of available resources, thus enhancing the efficiency of virtualization environments. In practice, this feature enables multiple virtual machines to run simultaneously, even if their combined memory requirements exceed the physical memory of the host.

Memory overcommit works under the assumption that most applications or virtual machines tend to use only a fraction of their allocated memory during their lifecycle, thereby reducing resource wastage. The memory overcommit technology works hand in hand with the virtual memory management system. With the help of a page-sharing technique and a memory ballooning mechanism, this approach ensures a smart allocation of memory to virtual machines, reducing the allocation of unused memory.

It does this by reclaiming memory from the least active or under-utilized virtual machines and reallocating it to the ones that need it the most. Consequently, memory overcommit allows organizations to run a greater number of workloads, thus reducing hardware and maintenance costs while maintaining stable performance levels. However, it’s important to continuously monitor the memory usage to avoid situations like excessive swapping and performance degradation due to insufficient physical memory resources.

Examples of Memory Overcommit

Memory overcommit is a technique used by operating systems and hypervisors to allocate more memory to applications or virtual machines than is physically available. This approach relies on the assumption that not all applications will use their entire allocated memory simultaneously. Here are three real-world examples of memory overcommit:

Virtualization Environments: One of the most common uses of memory overcommit is in virtualization platforms such as VMware vSphere or the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM). These platforms allow creating multiple virtual machines (VMs) on a single host computer. Since most VMs may not use all of their allocated memory at once, administrators can overcommit memory to increase the number of VMs that can run simultaneously on the host, thus maximizing resource utilization.

Cloud Computing Services: Cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure, often utilize memory overcommit to optimize the performance of their infrastructure. By overcommitting memory, they can provide scalable resources to a greater number of users, who likely have varying resource demands, thereby managing costs effectively and ensuring smooth performance for all users.

Operating Systems: Modern operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, and Linux, also employ memory overcommitment techniques to manage memory more efficiently. They use a combination of virtual memory and swap space, memory compression, and lazy allocation strategies to ensure that applications have access to the memory they need when they truly need it. These techniques enable the OS to run more applications simultaneously while avoiding out-of-memory errors and maintaining system stability.

Memory Overcommit FAQ

What is Memory Overcommit?

Memory Overcommit is a virtualization feature that allows a system to allocate more memory to virtual machines than is physically available on the host. This is achieved by sharing the physical memory among the virtual machines and relying on the fact that not all of them will use their allocated memory at the same time.

How does Memory Overcommit work?

Memory Overcommit works by allowing the hypervisor to allocate memory resources based on the assumption that not all virtual machines will require their full memory allocation simultaneously. This is done using memory management techniques such as page sharing, ballooning, and swapping. The hypervisor constantly monitors memory usage and adjusts the allocations as needed, ensuring that the system remains stable and responsive.

What are the benefits of Memory Overcommit?

The main benefit of Memory Overcommit is that it allows for higher consolidation ratios and better resource utilization in a virtualized environment. By allocating more memory to virtual machines than is physically available on the host, organizations can save on hardware costs and reduce their data center footprint. It also provides greater flexibility in managing workloads and resources, helping to maintain performance and stability.

What are the risks and downsides of Memory Overcommit?

While Memory Overcommit can provide significant benefits, there are also potential risks and downsides. The main risk is that if too many virtual machines begin using their full memory allocation simultaneously, the host system may become overcommitted and face performance issues or even crashes. Additionally, it can be more challenging to predict and manage memory resources with Memory Overcommit, which can lead to inefficiencies and reduced performance in some cases.

How can I optimize my virtual environment for Memory Overcommit?

To effectively use Memory Overcommit in your virtual environment, it’s essential to monitor memory usage and avoid overcommitting the host system. Some best practices for optimizing a virtual environment with Memory Overcommit include configuring appropriate memory reservations, setting resource limits, using transparent page sharing, and regularly monitoring the host and virtual machines to help identify potential issues and ensure optimal resource utilization.

Related Technology Terms

  • Virtual Memory
  • Page File
  • Swapping
  • Memory Ballooning
  • Resource Allocation

Sources for More Information

  • VMware: VMware is a leading virtualization software provider and offers detailed information about memory overcommit technology and its role in server virtualization.
  • Red Hat: Red Hat is a major provider of open source solutions, including the widely-used Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform. Their website covers many aspects of memory overcommit systems.
  • IBM: IBM is a leading technology and innovation company that offers numerous articles, whitepapers, and other resources discussing memory overcommit and its increasing importance in modern computing infrastructure.
  • Intel: Intel, a key player in the technology industry, provides extensive information about memory overcommit technology, specifically in the context of their server-grade processors and data center solutions.

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