Golden Nuggets: Windows Server 2012 R2 Failover Cluster CSV Placement Policy

Some enhancements only become truly evident to people when they see them in action. For many features this means something need to go wrong before they kick in. Others are more visible during normal operations. This is the case with the CSV enhancements in Windows Server 2012 R2 Failover Clustering.

One golden nugget here is the CSV placement policy (which really shines in combination with SOFS/Storage Spaces). This will spread ownership of the CSV amongst the cluster nodes to ensure a balanced distribution. In a failover cluster, one node is the “coordinator node” (owner) for a CSV. The coordinator node owns the physical disk resource that is associated with a logical unit (LUN). All I/O operations for the File System on that LUN are are through the coordinator node. In previous versions there is no automatic rebalancing of coordinator node assignment. This means that all LUNs could potentially be owned by the same node. In storage spaces & SOFS scenarios becomes even more important.

The benefits

  • It helps all nodes carry their share of the workload as it load balances the disk I/O.
  • Failovers of CSV owners are potentially quicker and more predictable/consistent as an even distribution ensures that no one node owns a disproportionate number of CSVs.
  • When losing storage access the number of CSVs that are in redirected mode is potentially less as they are evenly distributed. In an unbalanced cluster it could be for all of them in a worse case scenario.
  • When using SOFS with Storage Spaces it makes sure the Storage Spaces Ownership is distributed fairly.

When does it happen

  • Each time a node leaves or joins the cluster. This means you don’t need to intervene manually or via PowerShell to get an even distribution. This goes for both exiting nodes as when adding a new node. The new node will get a CSV assigned if there is any on surplus on one of the existing nodes.
  • The process also works when you start a failover cluster when it has shut down.

When customers see this in action (it’s most obvious when then add a node as then they are normally watching) they generally smile as the cluster does it job getting  the best possible results out of their hardware.

Manually Merging Hyper-V Checkpoints

A Last ditch Effort

Fist of all you need to realize this might not work. It’s a last ditch effort. There is a reason why you have backups (with tested restores) and why you should monitor your environment for things that are not as they should be. Early intervention can pay off.

Also see blog post on a couple of more preferred actions.

If you have lost checkpoints, you have basically lost data and corruption/data inconsistencies are very much a possibility and reality. If the files have been copied and information about what file is the parent the dates/timestamps are what you have to go by. You might not know for sure if you have them all.

Setting up the demo

For demo purposes we take a test VM and ad files to indicate what checkpoint we’re at.

We start with ORGINAL.TXT on the desktop and we create a checkpoint, which we rename accordingly.

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We add a file called CHECK01.TXT and we create a checkpoint, which we rename accordingly.

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We add a file called CHECK02.TXT and we create a checkpoint, which we rename accordingly.

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We add a file called NOW.TXT no more checkpoints are taken.

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The file names represent the content you’d see disappear if you applied the checkpoint and we have reflected this in the name for the checkpoints.

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As we want to merge all the snapshots and and up with a usable VHDX we’ll work back from the most recent differencing disk until all is merged. As you can see this is a straight forward situation and I hope you’ll never be running having to deal with a vast collection of sub trees Smile.

Finding out what are the parents of avhdx files

In this demo it’s pretty obvious what snapshot exist and what avhdx files they represent. We’ve even shown you the single tree visualized in Hyper-V Manager. In reality bad things  have happened and you don’t see this information anymore. So you might have to find out yourself. This is done via inspect disk in Hyper-V manager. I you’re confused about what the parent is of (a)vhdx files this tool will help you find out or show you what the most recent one was.

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Sometimes the original files have been renamed or moved and that it will show you’re the last known valid parent.

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Manually Merging the checkpoints

Remember to make a copy of all files as a backup! Also make sure you have enough free diskspace … you need working space! You might need another shot at this. As we want to merge all the snapshots and and up with a usable VHDX we’ll work back from the most recent differencing disk until all is merged in the oldest one which is the vhdx. You can look at the last modified time stamps to find out the correct order in which to work. The most recent avdx is the one used in the virtual machine configuration file and locate the information for the virtual hard disk.

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The configuration file’s avhdx is the one containing the “NOW” running state of the VM.

Note: You might find some information that you need to rename the extension avhdx to vhdx (or avhd to vhd). The reason for this was that in Windows 2008 Hyper-V Manager did not show avhd files in the Edit virtual disk wizard. You can still do this and it will still works, but you do not need to. Ever since Windows Server 2008 R2 avhd (and with since Windows Server 2012 avhdx) files do show up in Hyper-V Managers Disk edit.

For some insights as to why the order is important read this blog by Ben Armstrong What happens when a snapshot is being merged? [Hyper-V]

WARNING: If you did not start with the most recent one and work your way down, which is the easiest and least confusing way all is not lost. But you will have to reconnect the first more recent (a)vhdx to one to it’s new parent. This is needed as by merging a snapshot out of order more recent one will have lost it’s will have lost it’s original parent.

Here’s how to do this: Select reconnect. This is the page you’ll get if you’d start edit disk wizard as all other option are unavailable due to the missing parent.

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The wizard will tell you what used to be the parent and allow you to select a new one. Make sure to tick the check box for Ignore ID mismatch or the reconnect will fail as you’re previous out of order merge has created a new a(vhdx). If your in this pickle by renaming (a)vhdx files or after a copy this isn’t needed by the way.

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Follow the wizard after that and when your done you can launch the edit disk wizard again and perform a merge. It’s paramount that you do not mix up orders when doing so that you reconnect to the parent this or you’ll end up in a right mess. There are many permutations, keep it simple!. Do it in order Smile. If you start having multiple checkpoint trees/subtrees things can get confusing very fast.

You might also have to reconnect if the checkpoints have lost their connection the what they know to be their last parent for other reasons. In that case you do this and when that’s done, you merge. Rinse and repeat. The below walk through assumes you have no reconnects to be done. If so it will tell you like in the example above.

Walk trough:

Open the Edit Disk Wizardimage

Select the most recent avhdx & click “Next”

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We choose to merge the avhdx

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In our case into its parent disk

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Verify the options are correct and click “Finish”

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Let the wizard complete

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That’s it. You’ve merged the most recent snapshot into it’s parent. That means that you have not lost the most recent state of the virtual machine as when it was running before you shut it down. This can be verified by mounting the now most recent avhdx and looking at the desktop for my user profile. You can see the NOW.txt text file is there!

OK, dismount the avhdx and now it’s rinse and repeat.

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You do this over an over again until your merge the last avhdx into the vhdx.

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Than you have the vhdx you will use to create a new virtual machine.

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Make sure you get the generation right.

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Assign memory

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Connect to the appropriate virtual switch or not if you’re not ready to do this yet

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Use your vhdx disk that’s the remaining result of your merging efforts

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When you boot that virtual machine you’ll see that all the text files are there. It’s as if you’ve deleted the checkpoints in the GUI and retained “NOW” in the vhdx.

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Last but not least, you can use PowerShell or even DiskPart for this but I found that most people in this pickle value a GUI. Use what you feel most comfortable with.

Thanks for reading and hope this helps someone. Do remember “big boy” rules apply. This is not safe, easy or obvious in each and every situation so you are responsible for everything you do in your environment. If your in to deep, way over your head, etc. call in some expert help.

3 Ways To Deal With Lingering Hyper-V Checkpoints Formerly Known as Snapshots

Lingering or phantom Hyper-V checkpoints or snapshots

Once in a while the merging of checkpoints, previously known as snapshots, in Hyper-V goes south. An example of this is when checkpoints are not cleaned up and the most recent avhdx or multiple of these remains in use as active virtual disk/still even as you don’t see them anymore as existing in the Hyper-V Manager UI for example. When that happens you can try looking at the situation via PowerShell to see if that show the same situation. Whatever the cause, once in while I come across virtual machines that have one or more avhdx (or avdh) active that aren’t supposed to be there anymore. In that case you have to do some manual housekeeping.

Now please, do not that in Windows Server 2012(R2) Hyper-V replica is using checkpoints and since Windows Server 2012 R2 backups also rely on this. Just because you see a snapshot you didn’t create intentionally, don’t automatically think they’re all phantoms. They might exits temporarily for good reason Winking smile. We’re talking about dealing with real lingering checkpoints.

Housekeeping

Housekeeping comes in a couple of variants form simply dusting of to industrial cleaning. Beware of the fact that the latter should never be a considered a routine operation. It’s not a normal situation. It’s a last ditch resort and perhaps you want to call support to make sure that you didn’t miss anything else.

Basically you have tree options. In order of the easiest & safest to do first these are:

  1. Create a new checkpoint and delete it. Often that process will take care of merging the other (older) lingering avhd/avhdx files as well. This is the easiest way to deal with it and it’s as safe as it gets. Hyper-V cleans up for you, you just had to give it a kick start so to speak.
  2. Shut down the VM and create a new checkpoint. Export that newly created checkpoint. Yes you can do that. This will create a nicely exported virtual machine that only has the relevant vhd/vhdx files and no more checkpoints (avhd/avhdx). Do note that this vhd/vhdx is dynamically expanding one. If that is not to your liking you’ll need to convert it to fixed. But other than that you can dump the old VM (don’t delete everything yet) and replace it by importing the one you just exported. For added security you could first copy the files for save guarding before you attempt this. image
  3. Do manual mergers. This is a more risky process & prone to mistakes. So please do this only on a copy of the files. That way you’ll give Microsoft Support Services a fighting change if things don’t work out or you make a mistake. Also note that in this case you get one or more final VHDX files which you’ll use to create a new virtual machine with to boot from. It’s very hands on.

So that’s the preferred order of things to try/do in regards to safety. The 3rd option, is the last resort. Don’t do it before you’ve tried options 1 and 2. And as said above, if you do need to go for option 3, do it on copies.If you’re unsure on how to proceed with any of this, get an expert involved.

There’s actually another option which is very save but not native to Hyper-V. In the running virtual machine which current state you want to preserve do a V2V using Disk2vhd v2.01. Easy and sort of idiot proof if such a thing exists.

In a next blog post I’ll walk you through the procedure for the 3rd option. So if this is your last resort you can have practiced it before you have to use it in anger. Bit please, if needed, and do make sure it’s really needed as discussed above, try 1 first. If that doesn’t do it. Then try option 2. If that also fails try option 3. Do not that for option 2 and 3 you will have to create a new virtual machine with the resulting VHDX, having the required settings documented will help in this case.

Virtualizing Intensive Workloads on Hyper-V, Can It Be Done?

Can it be done?

All I can say is that, yes, absolutely, you can virtualize resource intensive workloads. Done right you’ll gain all benefits associated with virtualization and you won’t lose your performance & scalability.

Now I have to stress done right. There are a couple of major causes of problems with virtualization. So let’s look at those and see how a few well placed torpedoes can sink your project fast & effective.

Common Sense

One of them is the lack of common sense. If you currently have 10 SQL Servers with 12 15K RPM SAS Disks in RAID 1 and RAID 10 for the OS, TempDB, Logs & Data files, 64 GB of Memory, dual Quad Core sockets and teamed 1Gbps for resilience and throughput and you want to virtualize them you should expect to deliver the same resources to the virtualized servers. It’s technology people. Hoping that a hypervisor will magically create resources out of thin air is setting yourself up for failure. You cannot imagine how often people use cheap controllers, less disk or slower disks, less bandwidth or CPU cycles and then dump their workload on it. Dynamic memory, NUMA awareness, Storage QoS, etc. cannot rescue a undersized, ill conceived solution. I realize you have read that most physical servers are sitting there idle and let their resources go to waste. If you don’t measure this you can get bitten. You can get ripped to pieces when you’re dealing with virtualizing intensive workloads on Hyper-V based on assumptions.

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Consider the entire stack

The second torpedo is not understanding the technology stack. The integration part of things or the holistic approach in management consulting speak. The times one could think as a storage admin, network admin, server admin, virtualization admin, SQL DBA, Exchange Engineer is long gone. Really, long gone. You need to think about the entire stack. Know your bottle necks, SPOF, weaknesses, capabilities and how these interact. If you’re still on premise for 100% that means you have to be a datacenter admin, not forgetting you might have multiple of those. And you’d better communicate a bit through DevOps to make sure the developers know that all those resources are not magically super redundant, are not continuously available without any limitation and that these do not have infinite scalability.

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Drivers, firmware & bugs can sink your project

Hardware, VAR & ISV support is also a frequent cause of problems. They’ll al tell you that everything is supported. You can learn very fast and very painfully that this is too often not the case or serious bugs are wreaking havoc on your beautiful design. So I live by one of my mantras: “Trust but verify”. However sad it may be, you cannot in good faith trust OEM, VAR and ISVs. I’m not saying they are willfully doing this, but their experience, knowledge isn’t perfect & complete either. You have to do your due diligence. There are too many large scale examples of this right now with Emulex NIC issues around DVMQ. This is a prime example of how you slow acknowledgement of a real issue can ruin your virtualization project for intensive workloads and has been doing so for 9 months and might very well take a year to resolve. Due diligence could have saved you here. A VAR should protect its customers from that, but in reality they often find out when it’s too late. Another example is bugs in storage vendors implementation of ODX causing corruption or extremely slow support for a new version of Windows effectively blocking the use of it in production when you need it for the performance & scalability. I have long learned that losing customers and as such revenue is the only real language vendors understand. So do not be afraid to make hard decisions when you need to.

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Knowledge & Due Diligence

Know your hypervisor and core technologies well. Don’t think it’s the same a hardware based deployments, don’t think all options and features work everywhere for everything, don’t think all hypervisor work the same. They do not. Know about Exchange and the rules/limits around virtualization. The same goes for SQL Server and any resource intensive workload you virtualize. Don’t think that the same rules apply to all workloads. There is no substitute for knowledge, experience and hands on testing, the verification part of trust but verify, remember? It goes for you as well!

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It can be done

Yes, we can Winking smile! If you want to see some high level examples to simulate your appetite just browse my blog. Here are some pointers to get you started.

Unmap

 

 

Live migration at the speed of light

Remember , don’t just say “Damn those torpedoes, full speed ahead” but figure out why, where, when and how you’ll get the job done.