Tips for copying large VHD and VHDX files

I have been copying VHD files for a while and have been partly putting up with some issues, but finally devoted the time to look at the issues a little closer.

I have 2 different systems running Windows Server 2008 R2, one with 4GB of physical RAM and one with 16GB of physical RAM. Obviously these are developer systems and certainly not production systems. The problem happens when I copy large VHD files, large being defined as anything significantly larger than the amount of physical RAM on the system that is doing the copying. So for these 2 systems, say anything larger than 20GB in size.

I used copy or xcopy with the default options to copy the large VHD file from one local volume to another. Due investigation showed that the physical RAM in use grew to 100% and stayed there while the copy was happening. I was careful not to run any other tasks on either system. It also appeared that the physical RAM was all being consumed by the Cache Manager.

Once the physical RAM usage hit 100% (as observed via PerfMon), I tried starting up NotePad. In a highly unscientific study that does not have enough data points, I found that at least half the times, the system “hiccupped” noticeably before NotePad ran – it took a while even for me to be able to type “Start Run notepad”.  There certainly were times, especially so early in the copy process, that the systems were highly responsive, even with physical RAM usage at 100%.

My speculation – and I have not done any investigation to verify – is that the physical RAM is being consumed by the Cache Manager for 2 different purposes. One is read ahead of the source VHD file, and the second is caching the data written into the destination VHD file. The cache manager is more willing – and able – to give up memory that has read ahead cached data. The cache manager has to work harder – and will consume system resources – when it needs to free up RAM that has cached data written to the destination VHD file.

Looking around, I noticed that the problem of copying large files on Windows seems to be a well known problem. The Microsoft performance team has written a blog “Slow large file copy issues”. Clearly they conclude that the solution is to copy the large file non cached. While the Microsoft Performance team suggests using Exchange EseUtil, I am not sure how many of my readers have access to that utility. I will also point out that I don’t understand the legal issues in taking an utility that ships with Microsoft Exchange and copying it to a non Microsoft Exchange system!

The simpler solution, again as the Microsoft Performance Team advocates, is using the Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 xcopy utility and making sure to specify the /J option indicating that the file should be opened and copied in a non-cached manner.

My same unscientific testing shows that xcopy /J works well in copying large VHD files. Someday, I will trace this to figure out whether xcopy /J performs non-cached I/O on both the source and destination VHD files, or on just one of them.

In the meanwhile, do certainly consider using xcopy /J to copy large VHD  and VHDX files.

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  • […] – (and yes – xcopy /J –see my previous blog “Tips for copying VHD and VHDX files”)  the VM1.vhdx  file to say VM2.vhdx. That’s 40 GB of reads and 40 GB of writes. […]

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