Lightning Fast Fixed VHDX File Creation Speed With ReFS on Windows Server 2016

In this blog post we’re going to take a quick look at the lightning fast fixed VHDX file creation speed with ReFS on Windows Server 2016. We’ll compare it to creating fixed VHDX files On NTFS with a SAN that supports ODX. Both the NTFS and the CSV volume are CSV disk in a Hyper-V cluster and the test is run on the same node. The ODX cabale SAN is a Dell Compellent with Storage Center 6.5.20.

We create on  a selection of fixed VHDX files sizes (50GB, 100GB, 500GB and 1TB) on NTFS volume Windows Server 2016 host You can see the quite excellent results in file creation speeds with ODX.

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These results are very good (DELL Compellent always did a great job implementing ODX) and the time to create a 1TB fixed VHDX is just over 5 seconds consistently. Impressive by any standard I would say! When we start using CSVs we can see that times double for the larger VHDX sizes but still +/- 12seconds for a 1TB disk is impressive by any standard. There is little difference whether the node where the script runs owns the CSV or not.

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Can things be more impressive? Let’s do the same exercise on a ReFS volume on a Windows Server 2016 host. Same server, same SAN with ODX enabled but note that ReFS does not even support ODX, so it cannot be leveraged.

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No matter what the file size of our fixed VHDX files they are created in just over 1 second consistently. This is very impressive.

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When we use a CVS LUN we still see the same impressive results. On CSV LUNS not owned by the node where we execute the test script we see a creation time of 2 seconds for VHDX sizes of 1TB. Still lightning fast.

If you do not have a SAN that supports ODX you can see why ReFS might become a very attractive choice for the file system for your Hyper-V virtual machine data volumes in Windows Server 2016. I can see why they mentioned it as the preferred option for Storage Spaces Direct. Do note that ReFS does not support deduplication and/or UNMAP (I see no dedupe support yet for virtual server workloads on the horizon either yet?). If you move large amounts of data around ODX does provide significant assistance with this. So with ReFS go for a large SSD tier. Flash only without deduplication or erasure coding might be cost prohibitive I’m afraid.

But let this not put you off ReFS. It has many benefits in combination with storage spaces and these new VHDX operation capabilities just add to that. So for many environments with commodity based storage this has become an even more interesting choice.

Dell Storage Replay Manager 7.6.0.47 for Compellent 6.5

Recently as a DELL Compellent customer version 7.6.0.47 became available to us. I download it and found some welcome new capabilities in the release notes.

  • Support for vSphere 6
  • 2024 bit public key support for SSL/TLS
  • The ability to retry failed jobs (Microsoft Extensions Only)
  • The ability to modify a backup set (Microsoft Extensions Only)

The ability to retry failed jobs is handy. There might be a conflicting backup running via a 3rd party tool leveraging the hardware VSS provider. So the ability to retry can mitigate this. As we do multiple replays per day and have them scheduled recurrently we already mitigated the negative effects of this, but this only gibes us more options to deal with such situations. It’s good.

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The ability to modify a backup set is one I love. It was just so annoying not to be able to do this before. A change in the environment meant having to create a new backup set. That also meant keeping around the old job for as long as you wanted to retain the replays associated with that job. Not the most optimal way of handling change I’d say, so this made me happy when I saw it.

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Now I’d like DELL to invest a bit more in make restore of volume based replays of virtual machines easier. I actually like the volume based ones with Hyper-V as it’s one snapshot per CSV for all VMs and it doesn’t require all the VMs to reside on the host where we originally defined the backup set. Optimally you do run all the VMs on the node that own the CSV but otherwise it has less restrictions. I my humble opinion anything that restricts VM mobility is bad and goes against the grain of virtualization and dynamic optimization. I wonder if this has more to do with older CVS/Hyper-V versions, current limitations in Windows Server Hyper-V or CVS or a combination. This makes for a nice discussion, so if anyone from MSFT & the DELL Storage team responsible for Repay Manager wants to have one, just let me know Smile 

Last but not least I’d love DELL to communicate in Q4 of 2015 on how they will integrate their data protection offering in Compellent/Replay manager with Windows Server 2016 Backup changes and enhancements. That’s quite a change that’s happing for Hyper-V and it would be good for all to know what’s being done to leverage that. Another thing that is high on my priority for success is to enable leveraging replays with Live Volumes. For me that’s the biggest drawback to Live Volumes: having to chose between high/continuous availability and application consistent replays for data protection and other use cases).

I have some more things on my wish list but these are out of scope in regards to the subject of this blog post.

Hyper-V UNMAP Does Work With SAN Snapshots And Checkpoints But Not Always As You First Expect

Recently I was asked to take a look at why UNMAP was not working predictably  in a Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V environment. No, this is not a horror story about bugs or bad storage solutions. Fortunately, once the horror option was of the table I had a pretty good idea what might be the cause.

San snapshots are in play

As it turned out everything was indeed working just fine. The unexpected behavior that made it seem that UNMAP wasn’t working well or at least at moments they didn’t expected it was caused by the SAN snapshots. Once you know how this works you’ll find that UNMAP does indeed work predictably.

Snapshots on SANs are used for automatic data tiering, data protection and various other use cases. As long as those snapshots live, and as such the data in them, UNMAP/Trim will not free up space on the SAN with thinly provisioned LUNs. This is logical, as the data is still stored on the SAN for those snapshots, hard deleting it form the VM or host has no impact on the storage the SAN uses until those snapshots are deleted or expire. Only what happens in the active portion is directly impacted.

An example

  • Take a VM with a dynamically expanding VHDX that’s empty and mapped to drive letter D. Note the file size of the VHDX and the space consumed on the thinly provisioned SAN LUN where it resides.
  • Create 30GB of data in that dynamically expanding  virtual hard disk of the virtual machine
  • Create a SAN snapshot
  • Shift + Delete that 30GB of data from the dynamically expanding virtual hard disk in the virtual machine. Watch the dynamically expanding VHDX  grow in size, just like the space consumed on the SAN
  • Run Optimize-Volume D –retrim to force UNMAP and watch the space consumed of the Size of the LUN on the SAN: it remains +/- the same.
  • Shut down the VM and look at the size of the dynamic VHDX file. It shrinks to the size before you copied the data into it.
  • Boot the VM again and copy 30GB of data to the dynamically expanding VHDX in the VM again.
  • See the size of the VHDX grow and notice that the space consumed on the SAN for that LUN goes up as well.
  • Shift + Delete that 30GB of data from the dynamically expanding  virtual hard disk in the virtual machine
  • Run Optimize-Volume D –retrim to force UNMAP and watch the space consumed of the Size of the LUN on the SAN: It drops, as the data you delete is in the active part of your LUN (the second 30GB you copied), but it will not drop any more than this as the data kept safe in the frozen snapshot of the LUN is remains there (the first 30GB you copied)
  • When you expire/delete that snapshot on the SAN  we’ll see the size on the thinly provisioned SAN LUN  drop to the initial size of this exercise.

I hope this example gave you some insights into the behavior

Conclusion

So people who have snapshot based automatic data tiering, data protection etc. active in their Hyper-V environment and don’t see any results at all should check those snapshot schedules & live times. When you take them into consideration you’ll see that UNMAP does work predictably, all be it in a “delayed” fashion Smile.

The same goes for Hyper-V checkpoints (formerly known as snapshots). When you create a checkpoint the VHDX is kept and you are writing to a avhdx (differencing disk) meaning that any UNMAP activity will only reflect on data in the active avhdx file and not in the “frozen” parent file.

Mind the UNMAP Impact On Performance In Certain Scenarios

The Problem

Recently we’ve been trouble shooting some weird SQL Server to file backup issues. They started failing on the clock at 06:00 AM. We checked the NICs, the switches, the drivers, the LUNs, HBAs, … but it was all well. We considered over stressed buffers as the root cause or spanning tree issues but the clock steadiness of it all was weird. We tried playing with some time out parameters but with little to no avail. Until the moment it hit me, the file deletions that clean up the old backups!We had UNMAP enabled recently on the SAN.

Take a look at the screenshot below an note the deletion times underlined in red. That’s with UNMAP enabled. Above is with UNMAP disabled. The Backup jobs failed waiting for the deletion process.

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This is a no issues if your backup target is running something prior to Windows Server 2012. if not, UNMAP is disabled by default. I know about the potential performance impact of UNMAP when deleting or more larger files due to the space reclamation kicking in. This is described here Plan and Deploy Thin Provisioning under the heading “Consider space reclamation and potential performance impact”. But as I’m quite used to talking about many, many terabytes of data I kind of forget to think of 500 to 600GB of files as “big” Embarrassed smile. But it seemed to a suspect so we tested certain scenarios and bingo!

Solutions

  1. Disable the file-delete notification that triggers real-time space reclamation. Find the following value HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlFileSystemDisableDeleteNotification and set it to 1.

    Note that: This setting is host wide, so for all LUNs. Perhaps that server has many other roles or needs to server that could benefit from UNMAP. If not this is not an issue.  It is however very efficient in avoiding issues. You can still use the Defragment and Optimize Drives tool to perform space reclamation on-demand or on a scheduled basis.

  2. Create LUNs that will have high deltas in a short time frame as fully provisioned LUNs (aka thick LUNs). As you do this per LUN and not on the host it allows for more fine grained actions than disabling UNMAP.  It makes no sense to have UNMAP do it’s work to reclaim the free space that deleting data created when you’ll just be filling up that space again in the next 24 hours in an endless cycle. Backup targets are a perfect example of this. This avoid the entire UNMAP cycle and you won’t mind as it doesn’t make much sense and fixes you issue. The drawback is you can’t do this for an existing volumes. So it has some overhead & downtime involved depending on the SAN solution you use. It also means that you have to convince you storage admins to give you fully provisioned LUNs, which might or might not be easy depending on how things are organized.

Conclusion

UNMAP has many benefits both in the physical and virtual layer. As with all technologies you have to understand its capabilities, requirements, benefits and draw backs. Without this you might run into trouble.