RHEL6: thinly provisioned luns

Title:RHEL6: thinly provisioned luns
Author:Douglas O’Leary <dkoleary@olearycomputers.com>
Description:Process for using thinly provisioned luns
Date created:08/2013
Date updated:08/2013
Disclaimer:Standard: Use the information that follows at your own risk. If you screw up a system, don’t blame it on me...


Thin provisioning of disk space is a method of virtually allocating disk space. It is a method to help avoid the overallocation of disk space that tends to happen. I’m sure any of us that have been doing this job for more than a few days have seen the filesystems with 100s of gigs if not terabytes of disk space free - or the volume groups with that much space unallocated. Disk space has gotten significantly cheaper over the years. At one point, I calculated the cost of the unallocated disk space for a rather large SAP environment and realized it cost more than my house. While disk space is cheaper, it still costs money, though. Go figure, bean counters (and anyone responsible for a budget) want to avoid that cost.

Enter thin provisioning.

As you may imagine, there are differences between the way the various disk vendors implement thin provisioning and differences in how visible those differences are when implemented on physical systems vs virtuals.

Differences, in no particular order, that I’ve noticed to date:

  • HDS thinly provisioned disks presented to rhel environments prior to 6.4 dont’ appear to act any differently than thickly provisioned disks. To be completely open this is more hearsay than established fact, although, I have no reason to suspect the SAN manager of lying when he said that they’d been thinly provisioning HDS disks for months.
  • Regardless of vendor, thinly provisioned disks presented to a vmware server, act exactly as thickly provisioned disks to the guests. This makes sense as the whole point of vmware is to virtualize the resources. I’d be curious about the performance hit associated with having to allocate more disk space on the vmware server when the guest starts filling up a filesystem, though.
  • Thinly provisioned 3-par disks are apparently visible to rhel6.4 installed on physical hardware as thinly provisioned disks resulting in the lessons learned below. We haven’t been able to determine yet if this is the case with versions of the OS prior to 6.4

So, the steps that follow are applicable to rhel/centos 6.4 physical systems to which thinly provisioned disks have been presented.


Official details of how to manipulate thinly provisioned disks on rhel6.4 are available here This is a condensed vesion of that document and it provides some examples.

You will get I/O errors when attempting to create a filesystem on a thinly provisioned disk using the standard commands:

# vgcreate appvg /dev/mapper/mpathv
  Volume group "appvg" successfully created
# lvcreate -L 2g -n temp appvg
  Logical volume "temp" created
# mkfs.ext4 /dev/appvg/temp
mke2fs 1.41.12 (17-May-2010)
Discarding device blocks: failed - Input/output error

And, you can’t mount it:

# mount -t ext4 /dev/appvg/temp /mnt
mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on /dev/mapper/appvg-temp,
       missing codepage or helper program, or other error
       In some cases useful info is found in syslog - try
       dmesg | tail  or so

The short version is that we need to create a thin provisioned pool and then create LVs from that. Example follows:

# lvcreate -L 10g -T appvg/appvg
  Logical volume "appvg" created
# lvs appvg
  LV    VG    Attr      LSize  Pool Origin Data%  Move Log Cpy%Sync Convert
  appvg appvg twi-a-tz- 10.00g               0.00
# lvcreate -V 2g -T appvg/appvg -n temp
  Logical volume "temp" created
# lvs appvg
  LV    VG    Attr      LSize  Pool  Origin Data%  Move Log Cpy%Sync Convert
  appvg appvg twi-a-tz- 10.00g                0.00
  temp  appvg Vwi-a-tz-  2.00g appvg          0.00
# mkfs.ext4 /dev/appvg/temp
mke2fs 1.41.12 (17-May-2010)
Discarding device blocks: done
Filesystem label=
# mount /dev/appvg/temp /mnt

Now, to see what happens when we fill the filesystem up:

# dd if=/dev/zero of=/mnt/dkoleary bs=1024k count=2064208
dd: writing `/mnt/dkoleary': No space left on device
1949+0 records in
1948+0 records out
2043461632 bytes (2.0 GB) copied, 4.15765 s, 491 MB/s
# lvs appvg
  LV    VG    Attr      LSize  Pool  Origin Data%  Move Log Cpy%Sync Convert
  appvg appvg twi-a-tz- 10.00g               19.91
  temp  appvg Vwi-aotz-  2.00g appvg         99.53


Not overly difficult; however, I can see lots of places where this can bite you in the ass quite hard. What happens, for instance, if you extend a filesystem on a thickly provisioned lun with space from a thinly provisioned lun? Is there a way, from the OS, to know that a specific lun is thick or thin or, do we just rely on the existance or absence of I/O errors when creating a filesystem? NOTE: That seems like an incredibly bad idea to me...

So, given that a thinly provisioned lun is presented to an rhel6.4 system, the steps are very simple:

  1. Create the vg as normal
  2. Create a thin provisioned pool. My suggestion, pending further experience is to use all of the space assigned to the VG as the pool. For instance: lvcreate -L 10g -T appvg/appvg
  3. Create virtual logical volumes using the thin provisioned pool: lvcreate -V 2g -T appvg/appvg -n temp
  4. Use as you otherwise would.

Hope that helps.

Doug O’Leary