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Advanced Technical Design Guide - Technical Book

Advanced Technical Design Guide - Technical Book

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Published by: Bryon on Feb 21, 2010
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All VMDK files must be stored on a VMFS partition if they're going
to run as or within a virtual machine on an ESX Server. There are
actually two different VMDK formats that can be used with various
VMware products. Monolithic format is the only format that ESX can
use, and are the type of file that we've been referring to so far.
However, there is another disk file format known as the COW for-
mat. COW-formatted file types are required for VMware Workstation
and GSX Server. Up until recently VMware had utilized two differ-
ent extensions that were utilized to distinguish these formats (DSK
for Monolithic and VMDK for COW). Now, everything uses the
VMDK extension. In any of the instances in this chapter that we are
talking about Monolithic files, the legacy DSK extension may be sub-
stituted for VMDK. There are several noticeable differences between
the two file types:

Monolithic Disk Files

•Contained in a single file

•Filled with zeros, sizing the VMDK file as their full size in
the file system

•Can only be accessed in ESX

COW Disk Files

•Can be contained in a single file or may be broken up into
2GB files

•Can be configured to be only as large as the data contained
within them and to dynamically grow as more storage space
is requested

•Can only be accessed in Workstation or GSX Server products

Chapter 5. Designing the Guest Environment 241

One thing to note with any VMDK file is that the file system that
they are stored on must be capable of handling the proper file size.
With ESX, Monolithic files can only be accessed when running on a
VMFS partition which, as we mentioned, can handle file sizes up to
9TB in size. Linux file systems such as ext2 or ext3 do not have the
luxury of being able to handle file sizes larger than 2GB. This is why
COW files may be broken up into several 2GB files instead of self-
contained in a single VMDK file.

Converting Formats

It's important to note that disk files can easily be converted from one
format to the other. A great use of this is if you create master images
in VMware workstation environments. Once you've completed the
configuration of your master image, you can copy your set of
Monolithic files to the /vm/vmimages directory of an ESX server as
COW files. When you need to deploy a new VM, locate the COW
filename that does not have an incremental numerical value append-
ed to the end. This file contains data about every file that makes up
the physical drive. To import this file into a useable ESX format,
you'll need to use vmkfstools in the following format: (The second
line is a real life example.)

# vmkfstools -i sourceCOW.vmdk

# vmkfstools -i /vm/vmimages/w2k3/w2k3.vmdk

This command will take some time to run, as it does a direct binary
copy of the data stored on the Cow file into a new Monolithic file.
All blank space on the VMDK file also needs to be written with zeros
to make it useable by ESX. The size of the new Monolithic file will
be the same size as the maximum disk size that was configured with-
in the VMDK file.

When you created a new VMDK file within VMware Workstation,
you were given the option to create it as either IDE or SCSI. You can
only convert VMDKs that were created as SCSI drives, as ESX can-
not handle IDE. You will receive errors if you try to import an IDE


VMware ESXServer

VMDK and will either have to recreate your image or find another
way to get your data from one server to another.

On the flipside, you can also take an ESX Monolithic file and export
it to COW format. This can be done so the file may be used for test-
ing in either Workstation or GSX. An export can also be used to min-
imize the size of your image files. Since the COW format is only as
large as the data contained within the file system configured on the
VMDK, it can save a significant amount of space when moving your
images to a network repository. By default, when you create a tem-
plate within VirtualCenter, it performs the Monolithic to COW con-
version while storing the files. The command to manually export a
Monolithic file to COW is extremely similar to the command to con-
vert in the opposite direction:

# vmkfstools -e destCOW.vmdk

# vmkfstools -e /vm/vmimages/w2k3/w2k3.vmdk

It's important to note that you do not want to convert Monolithic
files to COW format and store them on VMFS partitions. We've per-
sonally run into nothing but problems when working with COW files
located on a VMFS partition. It's a best practice to keep these stored
on a standard Linux or Windows partition.

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