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Storage Reclamation under Linux

TechOps Guy: Nate

UPDATED - Oh the good 'ol days, I remember when I first started using thin provisioning in late 2006, learning the ropes, learning ins and outs.. I can't count how many times I did data migrations between volumes to reclaim space at the time.

Today times have changed, a few years ago many companies started introducing thin reclamation technologies which provides a means for the computer to communicate to the storage which blocks are not being used and can be reclaimed by the shared storage system for use in other volumes.

Initially software support for this was almost non existent, short of a Microsoft tool called sdelete, which was never designed with storage reclamation in mind (I assume ..) it would be the tool of choice for early reclamation systems since it had the ability to zero out deleted space in a volume. Of course it only worked on Windows boxes.

Later came support from Symantec in their Veritas products, and VMware in their VAAI technologies (though in VMware's case it seems they suggest you disable support because storage arrays can't keep up which drives latency up - wonder if that includes 3PAR ?). Then Oracle announced their own reclamation system which the built in co-operation with 3PAR. Myself at least, I have not seen many other announcements for such technology.

A few days ago I came across this post from Compellent which talks about the support of the SCSI UNMAP command in Red Hat Enterprise 6, apparently integrated into the ext4 file system (or somewhere else in the layer so that it is transparent, no special tool needed to reclaim space). That sounded really cool, my company is an Ubuntu shop at the moment, and as far as I can tell there is no such support in Ubuntu at this time (at least not with 10.04 LTS).

One of my co-workers pointed me to another tool called fstrim, which seems to do something similar as sdelete.

Fstrim is used on a mounted filesystem to discard (or "trim") blocks which are not in use by the filesystem. This is useful for solid-state drives (SSDs) and thinly-provi-sioned storage.

I have not yet tried it. YAT (Yet Another Tool) I came across is zerofree, but this tool is not really too useful since it needs the file system to be in read only mode or totally unmounted.

fstrim is part of the util-linux package in newer Debian-based distributions (Ubuntu 10.04 excluded), so it should be supported by your distro if your on a current release. It is also part of the latest versions of Red Hat Enterprise.

Any other thin reclamation tools out there (for any platform), or any other thin reclamation support built into other software stacks ?

UPDATE - Upon further investigation I believe I determined that this new Linux functionality was introduced into the kernel as something called FITRIM which Ubuntu says was part of 2.6.36 kernel. I see an XFS page that mentions  real time reclamation (what RHEL 6 does) is apparently part of the 3.0 kernel, so I assume RHEL back ported those changes.

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