How To Measure IOPS Of A Virtual Machine With Resource Metering And MeasureVM


The first time we used the Storage QoS capabilities in Windows Server 2012 R2 it was done in a trial and error fashion. We knew that it was the new VM causing the disruption and kind of dropped the Maximum IOPS to a level that was acceptable.  We also ran some PerfMon stats & looked at the IOPS on the HBA going the host. It was all a bit tedious and convoluted.  Discussing this with Senthil Rajaram, who’s heavily involved with anything storage at Microsoft he educated me on how to get it done fast & easy.

Fast & easy insight into virtual machine IOPS.

The fast and easy way to get a quick feel for what IOPS a VM is generating has become available via resource metering and Measure-VM. In Windows Server 2012 R2 we have new storage metrics we can use for that, it’s not just cool for charge back or show back Smile.

So what did we get extra  in Windows Server 2012 R2? Well, some new storage metrics per virtual disk

  1. Average Normalized IOPS (Averaged over 20s)
  2. Average latency (Averaged over 20s)
  3. Aggregate Data Written (between start and stop metric command)
  4. Aggregate Data Read (between start and stop metric command)

Well that sounds exactly like what we need!

How to use this when you want to do storage QoS on a virtual machine’s virtual disk or disks

All we need to do is turn on resource metering for the VMs of interest. The below command run in an elevated PowerShell console will enable it for all VMs on a host.image

We now run measure-VM DidierTest01 | fl and see that we have no values yet for the properties . Since we haven’t generated any IOPS yes this is normal.image

So we now run IOMeter to generate some IOPSimage

and than run measure-VM DidierTest01 | fl again. We see that the properties have risen.image

It’s normal that the AggregatedAverageNormalizedIOPS and AggregatedAverageLatency are the averages measured over a period of 20 seconds at the moment of sampling. The value  AggregatedDiskDataRead and AggregatedDiskDataWritten are the averages since we started counting (since we ran Enable-VMResourceMetering for that VM ), it’s a running sum, so it’s normal that the average is lower initially than we expected as the VM was idle between enabling resource metering and generating some IOPS.

All we need to do is keep the VM idle wait 30 seconds so and when we run again measure-VM DidierTest01 | fl again we see the following?image

While the values AggregatedAverageNormalizedIOPS and AggregatedAverageLatency are the value reflecting a 20s average that’s collected at measuring time and as such drop to zero over time. The values for AggregatedDiskDataRead and AggregatedDiskDataWritten are a running sum. They stay the same until we disable or reset resource metering.

Let’s generate some extra IO, after which we wait a while (> 20 seconds) before we run measure-VM DidierTest01 | fl again and get updated information. We confirm see that indeed AggregatedDiskDataRead and AggregatedDiskDataWritten is a running sum and that AggregatedAverageNormalizedIOPS and AggregatedAverageLatency have dropped to 0 again.

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Anyway, it’s clear to you that the sampled value of AggregatedAverageNormalizedIOPS is what you’re interested in when trying to get a feel for the value you need to set in order to limit a virtual hard disk to an acceptable number of normalized IOPS.

But wait, that’s aggregated! I have SQL Server VMs with 4 virtual hard disks. How do I know what hard disk is generating what IOPS? The docs say the metrics are per virtual hard disk, right?! I need to know if it’s the virtual hard disk with TempDB or the one with the LOGS causing the IO issue.

Well the info is there but it requires a few more lines of PowerShell:

cls
$VMName  = "Didiertest01" 
enable-VMresourcemetering -VMName $VMName 
$VMReport = measure-VM $VMName 
$DiskInfo = $VMReport.HardDiskMetrics
write-Host "IOPS info VM $VMName" -ForegroundColor Green
$count = 1
foreach ($Disk in $DiskInfo)
{
Write-Host "Virtual hard disk $count information" -ForegroundColor cyan
$Disk.VirtualHardDisk | fl  *
Write-Host "Normalized IOPS for this virtual hard disk" -ForegroundColor cyan
$Disk
$count = $Count +1 
}

Resulting in following output:

image

Hope this helps! Windows Server 2012 R2 make life as a virtualization admin easier with nice tools like this at our disposal.

Join me for aTechNet Live Meeting: Hyper-V Storage Efficiencies & Optimizations in Windows Server 2012 R2


So you have been  playing with or down right seriously testing Windows Server 2012 and perhaps even Windows Server 2012 R2. That’s great. Many of you might have it running in production or are working on that. That’s even better.

Windows Server 2012 has brought us unseen capabilities & performance enhancements that make it a future proof fundament for many versions to come and it is ready for the ever accelerating pace of hardware improvements. R2 has fine tuned some points and added improvements that are stepping stones to better today and even greater in vNext. I’d like to invite you to a free TechNet Live Meeting on Hyper-V Storage Efficiencies & Optimizations in Windows Server 2012 R2 and look at some of these capabilities with me.

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As a virtualization guy two subjects are very dear to me and that is networking & storage, and this event is about a subset of the storage improvements. You might have heard about ODX and UNMAP but you have not had the change to play with it. You have read about the tremendous scalability of the IOPS in a VM and about large sector support for the next generation of hard disks drives. Well some of these we’ll demonstrate (ODX, UNMAP, Dynamically expanding VHDX performance) if the demo gods are with us. Others we’ll discuss so you’ll know where this comes into play and how you’ll benefit from them even without realizing you do. So without further delay register for the free TechNet Live Event here.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Unmap, ODX On A Dell Compellent SAN Demo


UNMAP & ODX Video

Some things are easier to show using a video so have a look at a video on UNMAP/ODX used with Windows Server 2012 R2 and Compellent SAN:

You can also go directly to the Vimeo page by clicking on the below screen shotimage

We start out with a 10.5TB large thinly provisioned LUN that has about 203GB of space in use on the SAN. So the LUN on the SAN might be 10.5TB and windows sees a volume that is 10.5TB only the effective data stored consumes storage space on the SAN. That ought to demonstrate the principle of thin provisioning adequately Smile. The nice PowerShell counter is made possible via the Compellent PowerShell Command Set.

We then copy 42GB worth of ISO files inside a Windows Server 2012 virtual machine from a fixed VHD to a dynamically expanding VDHX. Those are nice speeds. And look at how the size of the VHDX file grows on the CSV volume and how the space used on the SAN is growing. That’s because the LUN is thinly provisioned.

Secondly we copy the same ISO files to a fixed size VHDX. Again, some really nice speeds. As the VHDX is fixed in size you do not see it grow. When looking at the little SAN counter however we do see that the thinly provisioned LUN is using more storage capacity.

Once that is done we see that the total space consumed on the SAN for that CSV LUN has risen to 284GB. We then delete the data from both dynamically expanding VHDX and are about to run the Optimize-Volume command when we notice that the SAN has already reclaimed the space. So we don’t run the optimize command. Keep that in mind. By the way, this process is done as part of standard maintenance (defrag) and some NTFS check pointing mechanism that’s run every 5 minutes and sends down the info from the virtual layer to the physical layer to the SAN. During demo’s it’s kind of boring to sit around and wait for it to happen Smile. Just remember that in real life it’s a zero touch feature, you don’t need to baby sit it.

We then also delete the ISO files from the fixed VHDX and run Optimize-Volume G –Retrim and as result you see the space reclaimed on the SAN. As this is a fixed disk the size of the VDHX will not change. But what about the dynamically expanding VHDX? Well you need to shut it down for that. But hey, nothing happens. So we fire it up again and do run Optimize-Volume H –Retrim before shutting it down again and voila.

So what do you need for this?

Rest assured. You don’t need the most high end, most expensive, complex and proprietary SAN hardware to get this done. What you need is good software (firmware) on quality commodity hardware and you’re golden. If any SAN vendor wants to charge you a license fee for ODX/UNMAP just throw them out. If they don’t even offer it walk away from them and just use storage spaces. There are better alternatives than overpriced SANs lacking features.

I’ve found that systems like Equalogic & Compellent are in the sweet point for 90 % of their markets based on price versus capabilities and features.  Let’s look at the a Compellent for example. For all practical intend this SAN runs on commodity hardware. It’s servers & disk bays. SAS to the storage & FC, iSCSI or SMB/NFS for access. With capable hardware the magic is in the software. Make no mistake about it, commodity hardware when done right, is very, very capable. You don’t need a special proprietary hardware & processors unless for some specialized nice markets. And if you think you do, what about buying commodity hardware anyway at 50% of the cost and replacing it with the latest of the greatest commodity hardware after 4 years and still come out on top cost wise whilst beating the crap out of that now 4 year old ASIC and reaping the benefits of a new capabilities the technology evolutions offers? Things move fast and you can’t predict the future anyway.

Shared Virtual Disks in Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V Maximizes TCO/ROI


One of the great additions to Hyper-V in Windows Server 20012 R2 are shared virtual disks. TechEd 2013 is disclosing a lot of new and improved features and this is one of them!

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This single feature brings benefits to me I can use to solve business issues today:

Ease of guest clustering

How easy is it? Look at this:

New-VHD -Path C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\Shared.VHDX -Fixed -SizeBytes 30GB

Add-VMHardDiskDrive -VMName Node1 -Path C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\Shared.VHDX -ShareVirtualDisk

Add-VMHardDiskDrive -VMName Node2 -Path C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\Shared.VHDX –ShareVirtualDisk

That’s it, basically. No fabrics to extend to the guest, no vFC  needed. In simplicity it looks a lot like SMB 3.0. A major improvement.

To the guest the shared storage has become abstracted

With a shared VHDX I get mobility and flexibility I’m used to with VHDX files & virtualization. FC, iSCSI, SMB3.0, Storage Spaces, PCI Raid, Share SAS, it all doesn’t matter what happens to the underlying storage infrastructure when doing guest clustering in this way.That’s sweet!

Fast Backups

We have a lot of large size LUNs. 2-16TB. We want to virtualize all of these as the speed of backing up these large VHDX file  a LOT better than backing up a LUN with millions of smaller files. But when we need high availability we have to go for vFC, iSCSI and don’t get that benefit.  Yes we can also use SMB3.0 already gave us a helping hand (SQL Server guest clustering if you don’t or can’t do “Always On”) in some scenarios but it’s not the major storage deployment out there (not yet) AND we’re talking about file server workloads. Now with shared VHDX we can have our cookies and eat it to. Or better 2 cookies!

Conclusion

This just rocks. My live just got better and easier. So can yours. Moving to Windows Server 2012 (R2) is all that’s needed. For more information look here at Application Availability Strategies for the Private Cloud (Speakers: Jose Barreto, Steven Ekren)

Windows Server 2012 VHDX Thin Provisioning Benefits Explored


Thin Provisioning With Hyper-V

Windows Server 2012 provides thins provisioning at the virtual layer via the VHDX file format. It also provides it at the physical storage layer when your storage supports it. For the later don’t forget that this also means Storage Spaces! So even in environments where budgets are really tight you can leverage this on the physical storage now. So its not just for the feature rich SAN owners anymore Smile.

Even if you use a storage sub system that does not support thin provisioning at the physical layer you will benefit from this mechanism when you use dynamic VHDX files. Not only will these grow less but during shut down they shrink by the size of the empty blocks. Pretty cool! I do however see a potential risk for increased fragmentation. This has a negative impact on performance and needs defragmentation to remediate which also has an impact on IO performance. How much this is a concern depends on your environment and needs. We’ll also have to see in real life how well dynamic VHDX files live up to their performance improvements they got with Windows Server 2012 to entice more people to use this. You have proponents and naysayers. I’m selective and let the circumstances and needs/requirements decide.

Thin Provisioning at the Virtual Layer

You can take a look at the TechEd 2012 session VIR301 by Senthil Rajaram to see how VHD versus VHDX behaves in regards to thin provisioning. I will not repeat all of this here. What I am going to do is look at some other situations.

Important note: You get this UNMAP feature automatically in Windows. There’s no need to manually run the Optimize-Volume command we’ll use in the scenarios below. It’s run automatically for us when the standard Defrag scheduled task runs or during the NTFS check pointing mechanisms that sends the info down every 5 minutes.  So these will normally take care of all that. But the defrag “only” runs every week by default you might want to tweak it or create your own scheduled task in your environment if needed. In demos and labs we’re rather inpatient geeks so even the 5 minute interval for the check pointing mechanisms are to long so we run “Optimize-Volume  -DriveLetter X –ReTrim” to get immediate gratification while testing. In real life it’s zero touch feature, you don’t need to baby sit it.

Fixed VHDX versus Dynamic VHDX

Apart from the fact that you’ll have no shrink on shutdown this optimization does nothing for the file size. The only benefit here is that the UNMAP can be passed to the physical storage where it can help if that supports it. At the virtual layer it doesn’t matter for a fixed sized VDHX disk.

Dynamic VHDX Disk

You’ll profit from the savings in storage when the dynamically expanding VHDX file doesn’t need to grow as much this. This reduces the overhead of expanding the disk, which is a performance benefit and it even helps your non thin provisioning capable storage go further.

Watch Senthil’s presentation (from around minute 20) to see the benefits in action. With VHDX, If you “shift delete” the files inside the VM, then run “Optimize-Volume -DriveLetter X –ReTrim” or  the defrag job and then copy new files  you’ll see that there is no additional file growth as long as you don’t exceed the current size of the VHDX. If you don’t do this both the VHD and VHDX file will grow.

But is another potential benefit why this might be important. Even with the block sizes that have been increased to have less overhead when growing dynamic VDHX files we still have to deal with fragmentation of the VHDX files on the storage where they live. The better/more empty blocks are reused, the less the dynamic files will have to grow. This means you’ll have less opportunity for fragmentation. Whether this compensates for potential of more fragmentation due to the shrinking when they are shutdown I don’t know. If all the performance improvements for dynamic disks are good enough will depend on your environment and needs. Defragmentation can help mitigate this but IO performance during the defragmentation process suffers. Do it or better, schedule it, wisely!

Virtual SCSI controller attached versus virtual IDE controller attached

What about a guest (boot) VHDX disk attached to an IDE controller? I see a lot of one disk virtual machines out there, so it would be a pity if it didn’t work for those and just for the one who have extras vSCSI disk attached.So let’s test this.

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Below you see the disk size of the VHD and VHDX files and what type of controller they are attached to. As you can see this they had one or two 3.3 GB ISO files copied to them and where then “shift deleted”. The size of the VHD(X) files reflects the amount of data that they stored.

image

Now after running the defrag job or executing “Optimize-Volume -DriveLetter X –ReTrim” inside the VM you’ll see the results below after you shut down the VM

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So as it turns out, the thin provisioning benefits it work with an IDE attached VHDX files as well! Yes inside a Windows Server 2012 virtual machine you get the UNMAP support with IDE attached VHDX disks to. Think of Hosting companies with many thousands single disk virtual machines who can leverage this as well. So this is something you might not expect when having watch the video as there they only talk about virtual SCSI/ FC controllers.

Conclusion

Doing tests like these are a bit artificial but they do demonstrate how the technology works. In real life it will translate into efficiencies over time, based on the data creation and deletion in your VHDX files. Think about hundreds or thousands of virtual machines in your environment leveraging this mechanism. Over time, on that scale, the amount of storage consumed will be reduced which results in better economies. Now leverage that together with thin provisioning support in Storage Spaces and you see that there are some very interesting scenarios to investigate. Some how it’s starting to look like you can have your cookie and eat it to Smile. You don’t need an expensive SAN to get these efficiencies at the physical storage layer, but if you have and use to have to mess around with sdelete or agents, it’s easy to see the benefit you get from this here as well.

Hyper-V Guest Storage Performance: Above & Beyond 1 Million IOPS


Making a million IOPS possible in a Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V VM

A lot of you will have seen the demos of a Hyper-V guest with VHDX disks running on Windows Server 2012 doing a million apps, if you haven’t yet, take a look here. While some quickly dismissed this as “irrelevant boasting” without real life relevance, I respectfully disagree. This is smart future proofing by Microsoft and provides a hypervisor ready for the future hardware capabilities and capable to handle the most demanding workloads today & in the years to come. Sure such a demo is under lab/ideal conditions and does not reflect the majority of real life environments but it’s nice to see what a hypervisor is capable of if and when you might need it. Remember there was a day that 4GB was a lot of RAM and 2TB sounded gigantic. Also remember that some people have larger needs than others.  Until Windows Server 2008 R2 you had some limitations in storage IO performance that would not allow for a million IOPS. These had to be addressed or all the efforts with regards to capabilities and performance in regard to storage, CPU, networking and memory would just hit those particular bottlenecks. So it is addressing real needs and indeed also smart future proofing.

Capabilities of virtual machine storage IO throughput in Windows 2008 R2

The capabilities listed below dictate the IO capabilities in virtual machines running on Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V:

  1. Limited to one IO channel per virtual SCSI Controller
  2. 256 queue depth/SCSI for all devices attached to that SCSI adapter.
  3. There was one fixed vCPU (0) dedicated to handling IO.

image

The picture above illustrates these limits. You see two virtual SCSI Controllers each having 2 VHD virtual disks attached. Each disk shares the one channel the controller it is attached to has.

These limits could become a bottle neck but that was never was too big of a problem with a maximum of 4 vCPUs in Windows 2008 R2 Hyper-V. If needed for performance we might have attached VHDs to different virtual SCSI controllers for the best possible performance in Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V .

With 64 vCPUs and ever more demanding workloads these limitations would become a (serious) issue so this needed to be addressed. If not, despite all other efforts in regards to the 4 big resources (memory, storage and network) in Windows 2012, this would remain the limiting factor of IOPS inside a virtual machine on Windows 2012.

Windows Server 2012 improvements to virtual machine storage IO scaling

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The picture above illustrates the improvements in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V IO Scaling:

  1. There is now 1 channel per 16 vCPUs, per virtual SCSI device, per controller. So that means you have 4 channels, per VHDX attached to a virtual SCSI Controller when you have 64 vCPUs in the virtual machine. Compared to before, this is a significant improvement and a much needed one with the 64 vCPUs capability there is now.
  2. IO interrupt handling is now distributed amongst all vCPUs and this process is NUMA aware. This is a huge improvement!
  3. There is now a 256 queue depth/device attached to a specific SCSI adapter. That’s another big improvement.

That people, is how you get a virtual machine to handle a million IOPS. Nice! The questions or doubts whether Hyper-V can deliver the capacity, throughput & performance have been wiped of the table, yes also for virtual storage IOPS. You can now go straight to how it will address your business needs. From my experience it does so brilliantly and very cost effectively. Life might not be perfect but it is very good Smile

Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V & The New VHDX Format Leads The Way


Introduction

Whether you realize this or not but our trusted old VHD format is getting a bit old in the tooth. As a matter of fact it has been around since the last century. It has served us well but now it needs a major overhaul to better serve us at present and to prepare us for the decades to come. We (at least in the environments I support) see a continuing demand for bigger virtual disks & ever better performance. This should be no surprise. Not only does the amount of data produced keep going up year after year but we’re virtualizing more very resource intensive workloads than ever. Think image intensive data that has to be processed by number crunching virtual machines or large databases like SQL Servers. Sure 64 vCPUs and 1TB of memory are great and impressive but we also need loads of fast and ever more reliable storage. Trying to serve and support these needs with combined 2TB disks is very cumbersome (to be polite) and pass trough disks take a way a lot of the flexibility & options the VHD format gives us. So here comes the new VHDX format.  There is no back porting here, the only OS at the moment that supports VHDX is Windows Server 2012. The good news here is that we have in box tools to convert between VHD & VHDX.

Bigger, Better & Faster

Size

The VHDX format supports up to 64TB now. Yes that is 32 times more than the current VHD. As a matter of fact al lot of SANs still in use today won’t give you that size of LUN. Is there a need for this?  Well, I circle in some places with huge files in massive amounts so I can use big LUNs and large data VHDX files. Concatenating disks is something I do no like to do. Come upgrade/maintenance/renewal time that one bites too much for comfort.

There are also some other virtual disk formats that need to wake up and break that 2TB size boundary . Especially when Microsoft states that this is not a File format hard limitation. By that they mean they have room to increase it. Wow!

Protection Against Disk Corruption

The VHDX format also provides corruption protection during power failures for the VHDX files. This is done by a logging mechanism for the updates of the VHDX metadata structures. The logging mechanism is contained within the VHDX file so no worries, you won’t have to worry about managing log files. The overhead is minimal, as they only log metadata such as block allocations, block state updates and NOT the actual data stored. So no, it has not become a database Smile you need to manage, don’t worry. The protection works only for the VHDX file and not the data that is written to it. That job falls to NTFS or ReFS. What we discussed here was protection against VHDX file corruption.

The Need For Speed

With VHDX we also get larger block sizes up to 256MB for dynamic & differencing disks, meaning they perform better with workloads that allocate in larger chunks.

Modern Large Sector Disks

We get support to run VHDX on large sector disks without loosing performance.

I refer you to KB articles Using Hyper-V with large sector drives on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and Information about Microsoft support policy for large-sector drives in Windows.

As you can read there the performance hit for both non fixed VHDs and applications is pretty bad. The 512e (4K physical and 512-byte logical sector size) approach is bad due to the Read-Modify-Write (RMW) process overhead in dynamic & differencing disks. 4K native (4K logical sector size) just isn’t supported by Hyper-V before Windows Server 2012. The maximum logical & physical sector size is now 4KB and that means that we get a lot better performance when running applications that are designed to use 4KB workloads in Hyper-V 3.0. VHDX structures are aligned on MB boundaries, so the need for the RMW from the disk is eliminated if the physical sector size of the virtual disk is set to 4K.

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Storing Custom Metadata

We also get the ability to store custom metadata in the VHDX  file for information we find relevant. This could be about what’s on there, OS version or patches applied.
ODX Support. This custom data is stored using key/value pairs that support up to 1024 entries of 1MB. That should be adequate for a while Winking smile.

VHDX Leverages Offline Data Transfer (ODX)

The virtual stack allows ODX requests from the guest to flow down all the way to the hardware and as such VHDX operations benefit from this as well. Examples of this are:

  • Creating VHDX files, even such large ones has gotten an whole lot faster. Especially if you can offload this to the SAN. If your storage vendor supports ODX then you’re in VHDX creation speed heaven! As a bonus  even VHD files created in Windows Server 2012 benefit from this technology.
  • On top of that Merge & Mirror operation are also offloaded to the hardware which is great for merging snapshots or live storage migration.
  • In the future the virtual machines themselves might/will be able to pass through offload operations. This is hard core stuff  and due to the file layout far from trivial.

Please note that this only works with SCSI attached VHDX files. IDE devices have no ODX support capabilities.

TRIM/UNMAP Support

With Windows Server 2012 / VHDX we get what is described in the documentation “’Efficiency in representing data (also known as “trim”), which results in smaller file size and allows the underlying physical storage device to reclaim unused space. (Trim requires physical disks directly attached to a virtual machine or SCSI disks in the VM, and trim-compatible hardware.) It also requires Windows Server 2012 on hosts & guests.

It’s a major benefit in the “Stay Thin” philosophy associated with thin provisioning. No more running “sdelete” in your windows VMs (tedious, slow, resource intensive) or installing an agent (less tedious) to support reclaiming space. This is important to many of us and this level of support and integration makes our lives a lot easier & speeds things up. So choose you storage wisely.

TRIM is the specification for this functionality by Technical Committee T13, that handles all standards for ATA interfaces. UNMAP is the Technical Committee T10 specification for this and is the full equivalent of TRIM but for SCSI disks. UNMAP is used to remove physical blocks from the storage allocation in thinly provisioned Storage Area Networks. My understanding is that is what is used on the physical storage depends on what storage it is (SSD/SAS/SATA/NL-SAS or SAN with one or all or the above).

Basically VHDX disks report themselves as thin provision capable. That means that any deletes as well as defrag operation in the guests will send down “unmaps” to the VHDX file, which will be used to ensure that block allocations within the VHDX file is freed up for subsequent allocations as well as the same requests are forwarded to the physical hardware which can reuse it for it’s thin provisioning purpose. This means that an VHDX will only consume storage for really stored data & not for the entire size of the VHDX, even when it is a fixed one. You can see that not t just the operating system but also the application/hypervisor that owns the file systems on which the VHDX lives needs to be TRIM/UNMAP aware to pull this off. It is worth nothing this mean that it only works on the SCSI attached storage in the virtual machine, not on IDE connected VHDX disks.

Closing Thoughts On The Future Proof VHDX Format

For anyone interested in developing against the VHDX formats the specifications will be published. So that’s good news for ISVs, big and small. For all the reasons mentioned above I’m a fan of the VHDX format Open-mouthed smile and it’s yet one more reason to go full speed ahead with testing Windows 2012 so we can move forward fast and reap the benefits of reliability & scalability without sacrificing performance.

TRIM/UNMAP Support in Windows Server 2012 & Hyper-V/VHDX


Introduction

I’m very exited about the TRIM/UNMAP support in Windows Server 2012 & Hyper-V with the VHDX file. Thin provisioning is a great technology. It’s there is more to it than just proactive provisioning ahead of time. It also provides a way to make sure storage allocation stays thin by reclaiming freed up space form a LUN. Until now this required either the use of sdelete on windows or dd for the Linux crowd, or some disk defrag product like Raxco’s PerfectDisk. It’s interesting to note here that sdelete relies on the defrag APIs in Windows and you can see how a defragmentation tool can pull off the same stunt. Take a look at Zero-fill Free Space and Thin-Provisioned Disks & Thin-Provisioned Environments for more information on this. Sometimes an agent is provided by the SAN vendor that takes care of this for you (Compellent) and I think NetApp even has plans to support it via a future ONTAP PowerShell toolkit for NTFS partitions inside the VHD (https://communities.netapp.com/community/netapp-blogs/msenviro/blog/2011/09/22/getting-ready-for-windows-server-8-part-i).  Some cluster file system vendors like Veritas (symantec) also offer this functionality.

A common “issue” people have with sdelete or the like is that is rather slow, rather resource intensive and it’s not automated unless you have scheduled tasks running on all your hosts to take care of that. Sdelete has some other issue when you have mount points, sdelete can’t handle that. A trick is to use the now somewhat ancient SUBST command to assign a drive letter to the path of the mount point you can use sdelete. Another trick would be to script it yourself see. Mind you can’t just create a big file in a script and delete it. That’s the same as deleting “normal” data and won’t do a thing for thing provisioning space reclamation. You really have to zero the space out. See (A PowerShell Alternative to SDelete) for more information on this. The script also deals with another annoying thing of sdelete is that is doesn’t leave any free space and thereby potentially endangers your operations or at least sets off all alarms on the monitoring tools. With a home grown script you can force a free percentage to remain untouched.

TRIM/UNMAP

With Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V VHDX we get what is described in the documentation  “’Efficiency in representing data (also known as “trim”), which results in smaller file size and allows the underlying physical storage device to reclaim unused space. (Trim requires physical disks directly attached to a virtual machine or SCSI disks in the VM, and trim-compatible hardware.)  It also requires Windows 2012 on hosts & guests.

I was confused as to whether VHDX supports TRIM or UNMAP. TRIM is the specification for this functionality by Technical Committee T13, that handles all standards for ATA interfaces. UNMAP is the Technical Committee T10 specification for this and is the full equivalent of TRIM but for SCSI disks. UNMAP is used to remove physical blocks from the storage allocation in thinly provisioned Storage Area Networks. My understanding is that is what is used on the physical storage depends on what storage it is (SSD/SAS/SATA/NL-SAS or SAN with one or all or the above) and for a VHDX it’s UNMAP (SCSI standard)

Basically VHDX disks report themselves as being “thin provision capable”. That means that any deletes as well as defrag operation in the guests will send down “unmaps” to the VHDX file, which will be used to ensure that block allocations within the VHDX file is freed up for subsequent allocations as well as the same requests are forwarded to the physical hardware which can reuse it for it’s thin provisioning purpose. Also see http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh848053(v=vs.85).aspx

So unmap makes it way down the stack from the guest Windows Server 2012 Operating system, the VHDX , the hyper visor and the storage array.This means that an VHDX will only consume storage for really stored data & not for the entire size of the VHDX, even when it is a fixed one. You can see that not just the operating system but also the application/hypervisor that owns the file systems on which the VHDX lives needs to be TRIM/UNMAP aware to pull this off.

The good news here is that there is no more sdelete to run, scripts to write, or agents to install. It happens “automagically” and as ease of use is very important I for one welcome this!  By the way some SANs also provide the means to shrink LUNs which can be useful if you want the space used by a volume is so much lower than what is visible/available in windows and you don’t want people to think you’re wasting space or all that extra space is freely available to them.

To conclude I’ll be looking forward to playing around with this and I hope to blog on our experiences with this later in the year. Until Windows Server 2012 & VHDX specifications are RTM and fully public we are working on some assumptions. If you want to read up on the VHDX format you can download the specs here. It looks pretty feature complete.