Archive for February, 2013

Recovery of a StorageRepository (SR) in XenServer, part one

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

In this part I will discuss a possible solution to a problem I encountered several times already – failure to understand XenServer use of LVM, but first – a little explanation of the topic.

XenServer makes extensive use of LVM technology in order to support the storage requirements of virtual disks. It is being utilized in two methods – LVMoISCSI/LVMoHBA and ext. In both cases, XenServer defines the initial layout as a LVM framework. The LVM, except for the system disk, is positioned directly on the disk in whole, and not on the first partition. I imagine that the desire to avoid dealing with GPT/Basic/Other partitioning schemes is the root of this notion. While it does solve the disk partitioning method problem, it creates a different problem – PEBKC problem (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair). Lack of understanding that there is no partition on the disk, but the data is structured directly on it, is the cause of relatively frequent deletion of the LVM structure as it being replaced by a partitioning layout. The cause of it can be one of two common problems – the first is that the LUN/disk is exposed directly to a Windows machine, which asks joyfully if one would like to ‘sign the partition’. If one does so, a basic partitioning structure is created, and the LVM data structure is overwritten by it. The second problem is a little less common, and involves lack of understanding of the LVM structure as employed by XenServer, when performing disk tasks as the root user on the XenServer host directly. In this case, the user will not be aware of the data structure, and might be tempted to partition, and God forbid – even format the created partition. The result would be a total loss of the SR.

This was about how data is structured and how it is erased or damaged.

I was surprised to discover the ‘easy’ method of recovery from a partitioning table layer over the LVM metadata. I assume that no one has attempted to format the resulting partition(s), but stopped only at creating the partition layout and attempting to understand why it doesn’t work anymore in XenServer.

The easy way, which will be discussed here, is the first of two articles I intend on writing about LVM recovery. If this ‘easy’ method works for you – no need to try your luck with the more complex one.

So, to work. In case someone has created a partition layout, overwriting, as explained earlier, the LVM metadata structure, the symptoms would be that a disk will have (a) partition(s). For example, the results of ‘cat /proc/partitions’ would look like that (snipping the irrelevant parts)

8         16        156290904 sdb
8        17        156288321 sdb1

As clearly visible – the bold line should not be there. The output of ‘fdisk -l /dev/sdb’ showed (again – snipping the irrelevant parts):

/dev/sdb1                                1                   19457                 156288321       83  Linux

It proves someone has manually attempted to partition the disk. Had a mount command worked (example: ‘mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt’) my response e-mail message would go like this: “Sorry. The data was overwritten. Can’t do anything about it”, however, this was not the case. Not this time.

The magic trick I used was to remove the partition entirely, freeing the disk to be identified as LVM, if it could – I wasn’t sure it would – and then take some recovery actions.

First – fdisk to remove the partition:

fdisk /dev/sdb << EOF

Now, a pvscan operation could take place. The following command returned the correct value – a PV ID which wasn’t there before, meaning that the PV information was still intact:


Now, a simple ‘SR Repair’ operation could take place.

My next article in this series will show a more complex method of recovery to employ when this ‘easy’ one doesn’t work.