Expanding Storage

I'm sure all or most of you have needed extra disk storage at some point (USB drives, optical disks, floppies???). Such needs are no different for systems administrators, who often are responsible for managing, monitoring, or storing large amounts of data.

The disk that we created for our VM is small (10 GB), and that's fine for our needs, albeit quite small in many real world scenarios. To address this, we can add a persistent disk that is much larger. In this section, we will add a disk to our VM, mount it onto the VM's filesystem, and format it. Extra storage does incur extra cost. So at the end of this section, I will show you how to delete the extra disk to avoid that if you want.

We will essentially follow the Google Cloud tutorial to add a non-boot disk to our VM, but with some modification.

Add a persistent disk to your VM

Note: the main disk used by our VM is the boot disk. The boot disk contains the software required to boot the system. All of our computers (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, etc.), regardless of which operating system they run, have some kind of boot system.

Creating a Disk

In the Google Cloud console, visit the Disks page in the Storage section, which should be here:

Create a disk

And then follow these steps:

  1. Under Name, add a preferred name or leave the default.
  2. Under Description, add text to describe your disk.
  3. Under Location, leave or choose Single zone.
    • We are not concerned about data safety.
    • If we were, then we would select other options here.
  4. Under Source, select Blank disk.
  5. Under Disk settings, select Balanced persistent disk.
  6. Under Size, change this to 10GB.
    • You can actually choose larger sizes, but be aware that disk pricing is $0.10 per GB.
    • At that cost, 100 GB = $10 / month.
  7. Click on Enable snapshot schedule.
  8. Under Encryption, make sure Google-managed encryption key is selected.
  9. Click Create to create your disk.

Adding the Disk to our VM

Now that we have created our disk, we need to mount it onto our filesystem so that it's available to our VM. Conceptually, this process is like inserting a new USB drive into our computer.

To add the new disk to our VM, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the VM instances page.
  2. Click on the check box next to your virtual machine.
    • That will convert the Name of your VM into a hyperlink.
  3. Click on that Name.
    • That will take you to the VM instance details page.
  4. Click on the Edit button at the top of the details page.
  5. Under the Additional disks section, click on + ATTACH EXISTING DISK.
  6. A panel will open on the right side of your browser.
  7. Click on the drop down box and select the disk, by name, you created.
  8. Leave the defaults as-is.
  9. Click on the SAVE button.
  10. Then click on the SAVE button on the details page.

If you return to the Disks page in the Storage section, you will now see that the new disk is in use by our VM.

Formatting and Mounting a Non-Boot Disk

Formatting Our Disk

In order for our VM to make use of the extra storage, the new drive must be formatted and mounted. Different operating systems use different filesystem formats. You may already know that macOS uses the Apple File System (APFS) by default and that Windows uses the New Technology File System (NTFS). Linux is no different, but uses different file systems than macOS and Windows, by default. There are many formatting technologies that we can use in Linux, but we'll use the ext4 (fourth extended filesystem) format, since this is recommended by Google Cloud and is also a stable and common one for Linux.

In this section, we will closely follow the steps outlined under the Formatting and mounting a non-boot disk on a Linux VM section. I replicate those instructions below, but I highly encourage you to read through the instructions on Google Cloud and here:

  1. Use the gcloud compute ssh command that you have previously used to connect to your VM.
    • Alternatively, you can ssh to your VM via your browser:
      • Click on the VM instances page.
      • Under the Connect column, select Open in browser window next to SSH.
  2. When you have connected to your VM's command line, run the lsblk command.
    • Ignore the loop devices.
    • Instead, you should see sda and sdb under the NAME column outputted by the lsblk command.
    • sda represents your main disk.
      • sda1, sda14, sda15 (may be slightly different for you) represent the partitions of the sda disk.
      • Notice the MOUNTPOINT for sda1 is /, or the root level of our filesystem.
    • sdb represents the attached disk we just added.
      • After we format this drive, there will be an sdb1, and this partition will also have a mountpoint.

To format our disk for the ext4 filesystem, we will use the mkfs.ext4 (see man mkfs.ext4 for details). The instructions tell us to run the following command (please read the Google Cloud instructions closely; it's important to understand these commands as much as possible and not just copy and paste them):

sudo mkfs.ext4 -m 0 -E lazy_itable_init=0,lazy_journal_init=0,discard /dev/DEVICE_NAME

But replace DEVICE_NAME with the name of our device. My device's name is sdb, which we saw with the output of the lsblk command; therefore, the specific command I run is:

sudo mkfs.ext4 -m 0 -E lazy_itable_init=0,lazy_journal_init=0,discard /dev/sdb

Mounting Our Disk

Now that our disk has been formatted in ext4, I can mount it.

Note: to mount a disk simply means to make the disk's filesystem available so that we can use it for accessing, storing, etc files on the disk. Whenever we insert a USB drive, a DVD drive, etc into our computers, the OS you use should mount that disk automatically so that you can access and use that disk. Conversely, when we remove those drives, the OS unmounts them. In Linux, the commands for these are mount and umount. Note that the umount command is not unmount.

You will recall that we have discussed filesystems earlier, and that the term is a bit confusing since it refers to both the directory hierarchy and also the formatting type (e.g., ext4). In that prior section, I discussed how in Windows, attaching a new drive, whether it's a USB drive, a DVD drive, an additional disk drive, or an external drive, Windows gives the new drive a letter, like A:, B:, D:, etc. Unlike Windows, I mentioned that in Linux and Unix (e.g., macOS), when we add an additional disk, its filesystem gets added onto our existing one. That is, it becomes part of the directory hierarchy and under the / top level part of the hierarchy. In practice, this means that we have to create the mountpoint for our new disk, and we do that with the mkdir command. The Google Console documentation instructs us to use the following command:

sudo mkdir -p /mnt/disks/MOUNT_DIR

And to replace MOUNT_DIR with the directory we want to create. Since my added disk is named disk-1, I'll call it that:

sudo mkdir -p /mnt/disks/disk-1

Now we can mount the disk to that directory. Per the instructions on Google Console, and given that my added drive has the device name sdb, I use the following command:

sudo mount -o discard,defaults /dev/sdb /mnt/disks/disk-1

We also need to change the modifications, and grant access for additional users:

sudo chmod 777 /mnt/disks/disk-1

We can test that it exists and is accessible with the lsblk and the cd commands. The lsblk command should show that sdb is mounted at /mnt/disks/disk-1, and we can cd (change directory) to it:

cd /mnt/disks/disk-1

Automounting Our Disk

Our disk is mounted, but if the computer (VM) gets rebooted, we would have to re-mount the additional drive manually. In order to avoid this and automount the drive upon reboot, we need to edit the file /etc/fstab.

Note that the file is named fstab and that it's located in the /etc directory. Therefore the full path is /etc/fstab

The fstab file is basically a configuration file that provides information to the OS about the filesystems the system can mount. The standard information fstab contains includes the name (or label) of the device being mounted, the mountpoint (e.g., /mnt/disks/disk-1), the filesystem type (e.g., ext4), and various other mount options. See man fstab for more details. For devices to mount upon boot up automatically, they have to be listed in this file. That means we need to edit this file on our VM.

Again, here we're following the Google Cloud instructions:

Before we edit system configuration files, however, always create a backup. We'll use the cd command to create a backup of the fstab file.

sudo cp /etc/fstab /etc/fstab.backup

Next we use the blkid command to get the UUID (universally unique identifier) number for our new device. Since my device is /dev/sdb, I'll use that:

sudo blkid /dev/sdb

The output should look something like this BUT NOTE that your UUID value will be DIFFERENT:

/dev/sdb: UUID="3bc141e2-9e1d-428c-b923-0f9vi99a1123" TYPE="ext4"

We need to add that value to /etc/fstab plus the standard information that file requires. The Google Cloud documentation explicitly guides us here. We'll use nano to make the edit:

sudo nano /etc/fstab

And then add this line at the bottom:

UUID=3bc141e2-9e1d-428c-b923-0f9vi99a1123 /mnt/disks/disk-1 ext4 discard,defaults,nofail 0 2

And that's it! If you reboot your VM, or if your VM rebooted for some reason, the extra drive we added should automatically mount upon reboot. If it doesn't, then it may mean that the drive failed, or that there was an error (i.e., typo) in the configuration.

Delete the Disk

You are welcome to keep the disk attached to the VM, but if you do not want to incur any charges for it, which would be about $1 / month at 10 GB, then we can delete it.

To delete the disk, first delete the line that we added in /etc/fstab, unmount it, and then delete the disk in the gcloud console.

To unmount the disk, we use the umount command:

sudo umount /mnt/disks/disk-1

Then we need to delete the disk in gcloud.

  1. Go to the VM instances page.
  2. Click on the check box next to the VM.
  3. Click on the name, which should be a hyperlink.
  4. This goes to the VM instances detail page.
  5. Click on the Edit button at the top of the page.
  6. Scroll down to the Additional disks section.
  7. Click the edit (looks like a pencil) button.
  8. In the right-hand pane that opens up, select Delete disk under the Deletion rule section.
  9. Scroll back to the Additional disks section.
  10. Click on the X to detach the disk.
  11. Click on Save.
  12. Go the Disk section in the left-hand navigation pane.
  13. Check the disk to delete, and then Delete it.
  14. Click on the Snapshots section in the left-hand navigation pane.
  15. Check the disk snapshot to delete, and then Delete it.
    • Be sure you don't delete your VM here but just your disk.


In this section we learned how to expand the storage of our VM by creating a new virtual drive, adding it to our VM, formatting the drive in the ext4 filesystem format, mounting the drive at /mnt/disks/disk-1, and then editing /etc/fstab to make automount the drive.

In addition to using the gcloud console, the commands we used in this section include:

  1. ssh : to connect to the remote VM
  2. sudo : to run commands as the administrator
  3. mkfs.ext : to create an ext4 filesystem on our new drive
  4. mkdir -p : to create multiple directories under /mnt
  5. mount : to mount manually the new drive
  6. umount : to unmount manually the new drive
  7. chmod : to change the mountpoint's file permission attributes
  8. cd : to change directories
  9. cp : to copy a file
  10. nano : to use the text editor nano to edit /etc/fstab