Things to keep in mind about Snapshots

Some time ago I setup a VMWare environment, and I was involved in sizing and design decisions. I did a lot of reading about how to size the VMFS datastores how many VMDKs per datastore, how to calculate appropriate size. Everyone on the web mentioned you have to take into account snapshot size, so I did (for a good read on snapshots try this post by VMWare). I split VMFS datastores according to roles (Logs, Database, OS, swap) and accounted for a snapshot allowance for each datastore.

Fastforward 3 months later and a couple of snapshot VMs and I do a usage report on the datastores to notice something I didn’t expect. I used the VMware vCenter reporting features to get a disk usage (which are pretty sweet by the way). I was amazed the report said zero space used for snapshots (although those VMs had snapshots and VDMKs on the datastores). I cycled through the Datastores and found where the snapshots were stored. They were stored on the Datastore where the OS was found, same where the config file was located, then I looked it up in the documentation and found this:

  • The default location for snapshots of Virtual Machines is their Working Directory.

  • The default Working Directory is the datastore where the Configuration File (.vmx) of the VM is stored.

Wow, that was unexpected, for me at least since that meant I undersized my OS datastore a little. So this question haunted me, ok, how to change this setting in dire situations, when you want to avoid VMs crashing because your datastore is out of space. I then did more research and discovered this:

  • Default Working Directory can be changed if you change the VMX file using by adding/changing this line: workingDir=”path/path/”

  • Doing so will ALSO change the location of your .vswp file (the swap file created by vSphere) to the location specified by “WorkingDir”

According to this article you can also specify the location of the swap file within the VMX by adding this line: sched.swap.dir = “/vmfs/volumes/Volume1/VM/”. However this setting or adding the workingdir to the configuration file will take effect over the “Store Virtual Machine Swap file in location specified by the Host” option (on the logic that VM settings take precedence over host settings, unless defaults are used for VM – please correct me if wrong)

The consequence of this is that you no longer define swap file storage at host level (which was pretty easy because you have much fewer hosts) instead you define it at VM level (which you may have in the hundreds). Taking this further you’d probably have to use powershell to set this easily…and have this thorougly documented for each VM.

You can see how from something relatively benign changing defaults for Snapshots turns into quite an administrative burden. Then you have to balance administrative burden vs reisizing datastores.

Datastore sizing – revisited

Now with this information the way datastores are sized get a little more complex. Prior to me knowing about this I read what really smart and knowledgeable people had to say about about datastore sizing and it went a little like this:

(Avg VM * #VMs ) * (100% + (Snapshot Allowance) + 10% Reserve)

Snapshot allowance was 10-20%.

Now that is great for datastores that hold the entire VM inside it, I wanted to separate I/O you have to create multiple datastores and each VM can have more than 1 VMDK the math above applies to a single type of Datastore (e.g. for a Dastore for DB vdmks)

(Avg DB VMDK * #VMDKs ) * (100% + (Snapshot Allowance) + 10%Reserve)


In light of my recent discovery about snapshots, the math changes yet again, the sizing would be:

(AvgVMDK * #VMDKs) * (100% + 10% Reserve)

Now assuming you store the VMDK where you store your OS VDMDK sizing this DataStore changes as follows:

(AvgVDMK * #VMDKs) * (100% + 10%Reserve)+(Other Datastores [db,app,log,swap]) + Snapshot Allowance

Where Snapshot Allowance is now sized different:

Snapshot Allowance = (OS Datastore Size + DB/App/Log/Swap Datastore Size) * (10-20%)


In essence if no VMware snapshot defaults are changed and snapshots will be used (they are found in a lot of processes within VMware – backup solutions, VDI, development, patch management of guests) the space occupied by these snapshots is important and it is also important where snapshots consume this space from. Whatever the design, it must include some form or “snapshots space management” to use some fancy words for it. Any comments or different angles on this are welcome as usual.