In-depth ESX Server service console partitioning and provisioning

Any VMware ESX Server service console partitioning scheme needs to be tailored to organizations' specific needs, but the scheme outlined here's a good starting point.

A short while ago on blog.scottlowe.org I posted an article about a recommended partitioning scheme for VMware...

ESX Server 3.x. Note that this information does not pertain to ESX Server 3i, since that version of ESX Server does not have a service console.

The recommended partitioning scheme I described came from some documentation that VMware makes available to their VMware Authorized Consulting (VAC) partners. Before reviewing that documentation, I had developed my own service console partitioning scheme based on my knowledge of ESX Server and experience in the field installing the product. The partitioning scheme that I had developed looked something like this:

OLD PARTITIONING SCHEME
Mount Point Primary? Size
=========== ======== ====
/ (root) Yes 5120MB
/boot Yes 100MB
swap Yes 544MB
/var No 4096MB
/tmp No 2048MB
/home No 4096MB
/vmimages No 10240MB
vmkcore No 100MB
VMFS No (Any remaining space)

The basic rationale behind this scheme, which I would imagine is very similar to schemes developed by fellow engineers who install ESX Server on a regular basis, boils down to protecting the root partition from filling up:

  • Because ESX Server's Service Console is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, it places its log files in /var/log. Lots of other files are created and deleted on a regular basis in other directories underneath /var, so we place /var on a dedicated partition.

  • Likewise, /tmp holds temporary files, so we place /tmp on a separate partition.

  • Some agents install themselves in /home, and users' home directories are placed there by default as well. Again, to protect the root partition, we place that in a separate partition.

  • The /vmimages directory used to be one of the only places within the Service Console that you could place ISO files and have them visible within VirtualCenter. Again, to keep users from inadvertently filling the root partition, we separated this onto its own partition.

After reviewing the VAC Partner documentation and looking at the recommendations, and reviewing the space utilization on some of our previous installations, I developed this new partitioning scheme:

NEW PARTITIONING SCHEME
Mount Point Primary? Size
=========== ======== ====
/ (root) Yes 5120MB
/boot Yes 250MB
swap Yes 1600MB
/var No 4096MB
/tmp No 1024MB
/opt No 2048MB
/home No 1024MB
vmkcore No 100MB
VMFS No (Any remaining space)

The changes from the original scheme are based on the size of the swap partition and some of the extended partitions. The reasoning behind the swap partition's change in size has to do with the amount of memory given to the service console. The recommended swap space for the service console is equal to twice the amount of RAM allocated to the service console. By default, ESX Server allocates 272MB of RAM to the service console; meaning a default swap size of 544MB.

More memory may need to be allocated to the service console if additional software packages—such as a hardware management agent or a backup agent--and ESX Server can allocate up to 800MB of RAM. By setting the swap size to 1600MB we guarantee that enough swap size has been set, regardless of the amount of RAM allocated to the service console.

Similarly, the recommended sizes for /tmp and /home ends up being smaller as fewer and fewer software packages install themselves into /home. Instead, they install themselves into /opt, warranting its own partition. The VMware HA agent is one example of software that installs itself into /opt.

Of course, any partitioning scheme for ESX Server's Service Console needs to be tailored to that organization's specific needs, but this scheme provides a good starting point for designs and for discussions with the customers about their needs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scott Lowe is a senior engineer for ePlus Technology, Inc. He has a broad range of experience, specializing in enterprise technologies such as storage area networks, server virtualization, directory services, and interoperability. Previously he was President and CTO of Mercurion Systems, an IT consulting firm, and CTO of iO Systems.

This was last published in March 2008

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