Align GPT partitions on 4K sector disks

I’m upgrading the storage in a offsite backup server to two new disks. The new disks are of 3TB each which pose some challenges when it comes to partitioning. Here is a quick background to this issue.

Why is it an issue to partition disks larger than 2TB?

Historically, data stored on the actual disks have been stored in 512 byte chunks, called a sector. 32 bit addressing of sectors creates the following limit:

And there you have it. Newer disks have transitioned to “4K”/4096 bytes physical sectors which extends this limit to 16TB. But…

Why is partition alignment crucial to storage performance?

To complicated things further, disks often expose 512 bytes logical sectors to the operating system for legacy support. This might cause tools to believe it is okay to begin and end a partition on any 512 byte sector border, which might not be a 4K byte sector border that is stored on the disk.

Hardware.info has a good article illustrating this.
Wikipedia on 4K / Advanced Format

How do you align partitions in Ubuntu with GNU Parted?

GNU Parted is a tool that supports GUID Partition Table, GPT, setup under Linux. Parted have some parameters to aid in the alignment of partition starts and ends. Let’s launch parted with:

Where sdX is the drive we intend to view and/or modify. The –align optimal is the aid in the alignment. In parted we can view the current partition table with the command print:

As we can see, the drive has 4K physical sectors but presents 512 logical sectors. A tricky part I struggled with for hours was to calculate the partition sizes with the unit set to sectors. In my opinion, parted could be more clear on what sector size it presents to the user. To figure this out I issued the following:

Making the calculation, bytes per sectors:

So, even though this is a 4K drive, parted is using 512 byte sectors for viewing partition starts, ends and sizes.

Setting up partitions with parted

First, let’s setup a gpt partition table with the following command:

This was the partition layout I wanted to achieve:

Partition Size Usage
sdX1 8GB swap
sdX2 250GB /
sdX3 1200GB raid
sdx4 1542GB raid

Initially, I tried calculating the partition sizes using the sector unit to make sure that each partition border aligned with the physical sectors. Often, parted complained about the alignment with:

What helped was to use the unit MB for the starts and ends. Here is the final parted commands:

Notes: Using 0% default to the first 1MB border that is correctly aligned. The same goes for 100% which makes sure the last partition aligns with the end of the disk. Here is the resulting partition layout:

To verify that the partitions are aligned, the following command can be executed, with P being the partition number:

This became a long post. In the future I will try to cover handling alignment between the filesystem layer and the partitions.

Let me know how it goes for you!