Virtual Disk Formats

The distinguishing factor among virtual disk formats is how data is zeroed out for the boundary of the virtual disk file. Zeroing out can be done either at run time (when the write happens to that area of the disk) or at the disk’s creation time.

There are three main virtual disk formats within VMware vSphere

  1. Zeroedthick (Lazy)
  2. Eagerzeroedthick.
  3. Thin

1. Zeroedthick – The “zeroedthick” format is the default and quickly creates a “flat” virtual disk file. The Zeroed Thick option is the pre-allocation of the entire boundary of the VMDK disk when it is created. This is the traditional fully provisioned disk format. In the vSphere Client, this is the default option. The virtual disk is allocated all of its provisioned space and immediately made accessible to the virtual machine.  A lazy zeroed disk is not zeroed up front which makes the provisioning very fast. However, because each block is zeroed out before it is written to for the first time there is added latency on first write.

2. Eagerzeroed  -This pre-allocates the disk space as well as each block of the file being pre-zeroed within the VMDK. Because of the increased I/O requirement, this requires additional time to write out the VMDK but eliminates the zeroing later on . Finally, the “eagerzeroedthick” format is used/required by VMware’s new Fault Tolerance (FT) feature

3. Thin – The thin virtual disk format is perhaps the easier option to understand. This is simply an as-used consumption model. This disk format is not pre-written to disk and is not zeroed out until run time

Performance Differences

So, why is this important? For one, there may be a perceived performance implication of having the disks thin provisioned. The thin provisioning white paper by VMware explains with more detail how each of these formats are used, as well as a quantification of the performance differences of eager zeroed thick and other formats. The white paper states that the performance impact is negligible for thin provisioning, and in all situations the results are nearly indistinguishable.

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