Posts Tagged ‘snapshots’

Quick dive: ESX and maximum snapshot sizes

Even today I still encounter discussions about snapshots and their maximum size. It is somewhat too simple a test for my taste, but I’m posting it anyway so hopefully I don’t have to repeat this “yes/no”-discussion every time 🙂



The steps to take are easy:

  1. – Take any running VM;
  2. – Add an additional disk (not in independent mode);
  3. – Fill this disk with data;
  4. – Check out the snapshot size;
  5. – Delete all data from the disk;
  6. – Fill the disk once again with different data just to be sure;
  7. – Check the snapshot size again.

So here we go:



Create an additional disk of 1GB, and we see this:

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:58 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

As you can see, I created a Testdisk of 1GB. The Testdisk-ctk.vmdk file comes from Changed Block Tracking, something I have enabled in my testlab for my PHD Virtual Backup (formerly esXpress) testing.



Now we take a snapshot:

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 4.0K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 330 Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

Above you see that the Testdisk now has an additional file to it, namely Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk. This is the actual snapshot file, where VMware will keep all changes (writes) to the snapped virtual disk. At this stage the base disk (Testdisk-flat.vmdk) is not modified anymore, all changes go into the snapshot from now on (you can see this in the next sections where the change date of the base disk stays at 9:59).



Now I log into the VM where the disk is added to, and I perform a quickformat on the disk:

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 33M Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 385 Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

Interestingly, the snapshot file has grown a bit to 33MB. But it is nowhere near the 1GB size of the disk. Makes sense though, a quick format does not touch data blocks, only some to get the volume up and running. Because snapshot files grow in steps of 16[MB], I guess the quick format changed anything between 16MB and 32MB of blocks.



Next I perform a full format on the disk from within the VM (just because I can):

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.1G Oct 18 10:19 Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 385 Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

Not surprising, the format command touched all blocks within the virtual disk, growing the snapshot to the size of the base disk (plus 0.1GB in overhead).



Let’s try to rewrite the same block by copying a file of 800MB in size onto the disk:

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.1G Oct 18 10:19 Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 385 Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

Things get really boring from here on. The snapshot disk remains at the size of the base disk.



While I’m at it, I delete the 800MB file and copy another file on the disk, this time 912MB:

-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.1G Oct 18 10:21 Testdisk-000001-delta.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 385 Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-000001.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 65K Oct 18 09:59 Testdisk-ctk.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 1.0G Oct 18 09:28 Testdisk-flat.vmdk
-rw------- 1 root root 527 Oct 18 09:56 Testdisk.vmdk

Still boring. There is no way I manage to get the snapshot file to grow beyond the size of its base disk.


CONCLUSION

No matter what data I throw onto a snapped virtual disk, the snapshot never grows beyond the size of the base disk (except just a little overhead). I have written the same blocks inside the virtual disk several times. That must mean that snapshotting nowadays (vSphere 4.1) works like this:


For every block that is written to a snapshotted basedisk, the block is added to its snapshot file, except when that logical block was already written in the snapshot before. In this case the block already existing in the snapshot is OVERWRITTEN, not added.




So where did the misconception come from that snapshot files can grow beyond the size of their base disk? Without wanting to test all ESX flavours around, I know that in the old ESX 2.5 days a snapshot landed in a REDO log (and not a snapshot file). These redo logs were simply a growing list of written blocks. In those days snapshots (redo files) could just grow and grow forever (till your VMFS filled up. Those happy days 😉 ). Not verified, but I believe this changed in ESX 3.0 to the behavior we see today.

Soon to come
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