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How to configure disk compression in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8

Learn how to use the Virtual Data Optimizer (VDO) in RHEL 8 to compress files and maximize the space available on physical storage.
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Compression allows you to reduce the size of a file. By decreasing use of the inodes table, it means more files and folders can be stored, maximizing the space available on physical storage. In Linux, system administrators have used tools such as zip, tar, gzip, bzip2, and other open source utilities for this task.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8 introduced the Virtual Data Optimizer (VDO). This system compresses data dynamically. VDO is integrated into Logical Volume Management (LVM) in RHEL 9, but in RHEL 8, it has its own special toolchain. I'll cover that in this article. In a future article, I'll look at using LVM2 to create VDO volumes on RHEL 9.

VDO uses two kernel modules, kvdo and uds, to implement a three-stage compression scheme:

  1. Zero-Block Elimination (or thin provisioning): First, it verifies a VDO device exists and can use the underlying physical storage as and when necessary. VDO locates all data blocks containing zero bytes and records this information in metadata. Non-zero blocks are passed on to the next phase.
  2. Deduplication: This phase ensures that multiple repeated copies of data are eliminated, leaving only distinct data blocks on disk.
  3. Compression: This last phase uses the kvdo kernel module to compress data blocks using the LZ4 compression algorithm.

Install VDO in RHEL 8

Install VDO in RHEL 8 by installing the relevant packages:

$ sudo yum install vdo kmod-kvdo -y

Enable VDO using the vdo command, which is a userspace command for interacting with VDO. To create a VDO volume called my_vdo, based on the physical disk /dev/sdb, with the logical space of 100 GB:

$ sudo vdo create --name=my_vdo \
--device=/dev/sdb --vdoLogicalSize=100G

Use VDO

The --vdoLogicalSize flag defines the size the VDO volume presents to users. It's usually larger than the actual physical storage. If left unspecified, by default, it has a 1:1 ratio to the physical storage.

To list the VDO volumes created on your system, use the list subcommand:

$ sudo vdo list

For details on a specific VDO, use the status subcommand:

$ sudo vdo status --name=my_vdo

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Next, format the VDO volume with the XFS filesystem (or the filesystem of your choice). You can also use LVM to manage the volume. Here is an mkfs example:

$ sudo mkfs.xfs -K /dev/mapper/my_vdo

Run udevadm to register the new device:

$ sudo udevadm settle

Finally, mount the volume using the mount command:

$ sudo mount /dev/mapper/my_vdo /mnt

Update the /etc/fstab file to set the mount options for the device:

$ sudo mount /dev/mapper/vdo_kvm /mnt

You can then update the /etc/fstab file for the new device with the mount options. In the example above, the /etc/fstab entry will be:

$ sudo vim /etc/fstab
/dev/mapper/vdo_kvm /mnt xfs defaults 0 0

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Use the vdostats command to display data deduplication and compression details on the mounted VDO filesystem:

$ sudo vdostats --human-readable

Better compression

With VDO, you don't have to compress files manually to conserve space. Instead, space is maximized by dynamic compression as data is created and modified. If you don't have VDO enabled on your RHEL 8 system, give it a try! If you're using RHEL 9 already, stay tuned for my next article.

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Evans Amoany

I work as Unix/Linux Administrator with a passion for high availability systems and clusters. I am a student of performance and optimization of systems and DevOps. I have passion for anything IT related and most importantly automation, high availability, and security. More about me

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