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Tag: ZFS

Lately, I’ve been rooting around in the bowels of ZFS as we’ve explored some long-standing performance pathologies. To that end I’ve been fortunate to learn at the feet of Matt Ahrens who was half of the ZFS founding team and George Wilson who has forgotten more about ZFS than most people will ever know. I wanted to start sharing some of the interesting details I’ve unearthed.

For allocation purposes, ZFS carves vdevs (disks) into a number of “metaslabs” — simply smaller, more manageable chunks of the whole. How many metaslabs? Around 200:

vdev_metaslab_set_size(vdev_t *vd)
         * Aim for roughly 200 metaslabs per vdev.
        vd->vdev_ms_shift = highbit(vd->vdev_asize / 200);
        vd->vdev_ms_shift = MAX(vd->vdev_ms_shift, SPA_MAXBLOCKSHIFT);

Why 200? Well, that just kinda worked and was never revisited. Is it optimal? Almost certainly not. Should there be more or less? Should metaslab size be independent of vdev size? How much better could we do? All completely unknown.

The space in the vdev is allotted proportionally, and contiguously to those metaslabs. But what happens when a vdev is expanded? This can happen when a disk is replaced by a larger disk or if an administrator grows a SAN-based LUN. It turns out that ZFS simply creates more metaslabs — an answer whose simplicity was only obvious in retrospect.

For example, let’s say we start with a 2T disk; then we’ll have 200 metaslabs of 10G each. If we then grow the LUN to 4TB then we’ll have 400 metaslabs. If we started instead from a 200GB LUN that we eventually grew to 4TB we’d end up with 4,000 metaslabs (each 1G). Further, if we started with a 40TB LUN (why not) and grew it by 100G ZFS would not have enough space to allocate a full metaslab and we’d therefore not be able to use that additional space.

At Delphix our metaslabs can become highly fragmented because most of our datasets use a 8K record size (read up on space maps to understand how metaslabs are managed — truly fascinating), and our customers often expand LUNs as a mechanism for adding more space. It’s not clear how much room there is for improvement, but these are curious phenomena that we intend to investigate along with the structure of space maps, the idiosyncrasies of the allocation path, and other aspects of ZFS as we continue to understand and improve performance. Stay tuned.

Every once in a rare while our development machines encounter an fatal error during boot because we couldn’t unmount tmpfs. This weekend I cracked the case, so I thought I’d share my uses of boot-time DTrace, and the musty corners of the operating systems that I encountered along the way. First I should explain a little bit about what happens during boot and why we were unmounting a tmpfs filesystem.

Upgrade and boot

When you upgrade your Delphix system from one version to the next, we perserve your configuration. Part of that system configuration lives in SMF, the Service Management Facility, which is stored in the filesystem at /etc/svc. We keep /etc/svc in its own ZFS dataset so that we can snapshot and clone it for an upgrade to save the old data (in case we need to roll back) and keep the settings. This gets a tad tricky because the kernel mounts tmpfs on /etc/svc/volatile to provide scratch space for early processes like init(1); before we can mount on /etc/svc, we have to unmount /etc/svc/volatile. Here’s what that part of our boot script looks like:

# The kernel mounts tmpfs on /etc/svc/volatile so we we need to
# unmount that before mounting the svc dataset on /etc/svc.
umount /etc/svc/volatile
mount -F zfs $base/running/svc /etc/svc
mount -F tmpfs /etc/svc/volatile

The problem

Infrequently — but not never — we’d see that unmount of/etc/svc/volatile fail with EBUSY. The boot script would stop and report the error; subsequent attempts to unmount /etc/svc/volatile would succeed. So there wasn’t much to go on. The tmpfs code did reveal this:

static int
tmp_unmount(struct vfs *vfsp, int flag, struct cred *cr)
        tnp = tm->tm_rootnode;
        if (TNTOV(tnp)->v_count > 1) {
                return (EBUSY);
        for (tnp = tnp->tn_forw; tnp; tnp = tnp->tn_forw) {
                if ((vp = TNTOV(tnp))->v_count > 0) {
                        return (EBUSY);

So someone had an additional hold on either the root of the filesystem or a file in it. I looked at the contents of /etc/svc/volatile and found one file: init.state. Digging through the code for init(1) I was surprised to find that init(1) keeps a state file around with a list of processes of interest. It doesn’t keep the file descriptor open (which would prevent us from unmounting the filesystem), but it does rewrite the file from time to time. I was worried that init(1) might be racing with our script. I didn’t want to understand the brutal compexity of the code, so I amended our boot script to do the following:

pstop 1 # stop init
umount /etc/svc/volatile
mount -F zfs $base/running/svc /etc/svc
mount -F tmpfs /etc/svc/volatile
prun 1 # resume init

If the unmount failed, I’d be able to use pfiles(1) to see if init(1) did, in fact, have something open in /etc/svc/volatile. I was convinced that in trying to observe the problem, I’d chase it away — a Heisenbug — but after a short while of running a reboot loop, we hit the problem, and init(1) didn’t have anything open in /etc/svc/volatile. What next…

Boot-time DTrace

The problem was that by the time I’d get to the system, the conditions that caused the error had resolved themselves. What I wanted to do was panic the system when tmp_unmount() returned EBUSY so that I could poke around with a debugger. On many systems that would entail compiling in debug logic, but fortunately a DTrace-enabled system has a better option. My former colleague Bryan Cantrill invented anonymous DTrace for looking at boot-time issues — earlier in boot than when one could execute the dtrace(1M) command-line utility. To use boot-time DTrace, specify the D program as usual, but add the -A option to add the D program to the DTrace kernel module’s boot-time configuration. After rebooting, DTrace will enable the program whose output can later be retreived with dtrace -a. In my case, I wanted to drop into the kernel debugger when tmp_unmount() returned EBUSY, so I ran DTrace like this:

dtrace -A -w -n 'fbt:tmpfs:tmp_unmount:return/arg1 == EBUSY/{ panic(); }'

Again after many reboots, we hit the problem and dropped into the debugger. Thanks to infrastructure put into the kernel by my colleague Eric Schrock, I was able to quickly see the identity of the file whose reference count prevented us from unmounting tmpfs:

[5]> ffffff0197321b00::print vnode_t v_path
v_path = 0xffffff0197125d60 "/etc/svc/volatile/init-next.state"

It’s worth noting that v_path isn’t guaranteed to be correct, but may reflect some state state. In this case, I examined the directory structure of tmpfs and found that the filename was actually /etc/svc/volatile/init.state — v_path isn’t updated on a rename. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who had that file open. None of the (few) other processes were touching the file. I looked through the fsflush code which flushes cached data back to disk, but that didn’t make a lot of sense, and didn’t seem to be causing problems. The pageout thread isn’t supposed to run unless the system is low on memory. I used kmdb’s ::kgrep command to find places where the vnode_t or its associated page were referenced. There were many, and I quickly got lost in the bowels of the VM system. Rather than groveling through the kernel’s structures, I decided to turn back to DTrace. The next question I wanted to answer was this: after tmp_unmount() returns EBUSY, who is it that releases the reference on that tmpfs vnode_t? To answer it, I wrote this D script:

        self->vfs = args[0];

/arg1 == EBUSY/
        gotit = self->vfs;

        self->vfs = NULL;

/gotit != NULL && args[0]->v_vfsp = gotit/

I installed that as my anonymous DTrace enabling, rebooted, and waited.

Who dunnit

Like the Mystery Inc. gang unmasking the criminal, helplessly caught by the elaborate trap, I used the kernel debugger to identify the subsystem to find that it was none other than harmless old Mr. Pageout. Gasp! Why was pageout running at all? The system had plenty of memory so it wouldn’t normally be running except there’s an exception made very very early in boot (it turns out). In the first second after boot, pageout will execute exactly four times in order to fill in certain performance-related parameters that let it predict how long it will take to page out memory in the future. When it executes, pageout will identify unused pages and take a temporary hold on them — this is exactly the pathology at the root of our problem!


I’m still working on exactly how to solve this. The simplest approach would be to sleep for a second before trying the unmount. Slightly more complicated would be to try unmounting in a loop until a second had passed (checking $SECONDS in bash). More complicated still would be to do a rethink of pageout — I still don’t fully understand how it works, but it really seems like it’s making assumptions that have been invalidated in the past decade and contains this gem of a comment:

For now, this thing is in very rough form.

Note that “now” in this case referred to 1987 or possibly earlier — as Roger Faulkner would say, “it came from New Jersey.”


Pageout would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for these meddling tools! DTrace during boot is awesome — when you need it, it’s a life saver. There are some places so early in boot that DTrace can’t help; for that VProbes can give you some DTrace-like functionality. And mature systems can have some musty corners so your tools had better be up to the task.

Exactly 10 years ago today, Jeff Bonwick and Matt Ahrens got their first ZFS prototype working in user-land. Jeff had scrapped his previous attempt at reinventing filesystems, working through the established filesystem management and engineering channels at Sun, and this time started with a clean sheet of paper. Matt had joined Sun that June shortly after graduating from Brown University. Both prodigious coders, the duo, in remarkably short order, showed us a glint of what ZFS would be. A year later, the master and apprentice had ZFS working in the kernel, moving data from end to end. Three years after that, standing in front of a team of a dozen engineers, Matt typed ‘putback’ to integrate ZFS into Solaris. The distance ZFS has traveled these past 10 years has been monumental, and ZFS has indelibly impacted the industry. ZFS is one of the load-bearing pillars here at Delphix; without it, our task would have been too ambitious to even begin. Congratulations to our own Matt Ahrens on this milestone, as well as to Jeff, and everyone else who has contributed to ZFS over the last 10 years including the growing community building new products around ZFS and illumos.

Update: Check out Matt’s blog post on the subject.

[latexpage] RAID algorithms have become a particular fascination of mine, and I recently read a very interesting paper that describes an optimization for RAID reconstruction (by Xiang, Xu, Lui, Chang, Pan, and Li). Before writing double- and triple-parity RAID algorithms for ZFS, I spent a fair bit of time researching the subject and have stayed interested since. Before describing the reconstruction optimization, some preamble is required. RAID algorithms can be divided into two buckets: one-dimensional algorithms, and multi-dimensional algorithms (terms of my own choosing; I haven’t seen this distinction discussed in literature).

One-dimensional RAID

A one-dimensional algorithm is one in which all data in a single RAID stripe is used to compute all parities. The RAID algorithm used by ZFS falls into this category as do most algorithms derived from Reed-Solomon coding. For a given RAID stripe’s set of data blocks, $D$, we can compute the nth parity block with some function $p(D, n)$. For example, ZFS, roughly, uses the formula \[ p(D,n) = \sum_{i=1}^{\left|{D}\right|} 2^{(i-1)(n-1)} \cdot D_{i} \] Here, addition and multiplication are defined over a Galois Field – the explanation would be far longer than it would be interesting or relevant so I’ll omit it from this post. It is worth noting that this particular approach only works for three parity disks or fewer, but that too is an entirely different subject (albeit an interesting one). Reconstruction of a missing block in a one-dimensional algorithm requires reading the available data, and performing some computation; each stripe may be reconstructed separately (and thus, in parallel).

Multi-dimensional RAID

A multi-dimensional algorithm is one in which parts of multiple logical RAID stripes may contribute to parity calculation. Examples of this include IBM’s EVENODD and NetApp’s slight simplification, Row-Diagonal Parity (RDP). These are most easily conveyed through diagrams:


With both EVENODD and RDP, calculation of the first parity block simply XOR the data blocks in that RAID stripe. The second parity block is calculated by a simple XOR of data values across RAID stripes more or less diagonally. Both of these techniques place constraints on the width of a RAID stripe.

Optimizing RAID reconstruction for fewer reads

The paper, A Hybrid Approach of Failed Disk Recovery Using RAID-6 Codes: Algorithms and Performance Evaluation, describes a optimization for reconstruction under multi-dimensional RAID algorithms. The key insight is that with parity calculations that effectively overlap, a clever reconstruction algorithm can use fewer blocks, thus incurring fewer disk reads. As described in the paper, normally when a given disk fails, all remaining data blocks and blocks from the first parity disk are used for reconstruction:

simple recovery
simple recovery

It is, however, possible to read fewer total blocks by taking advantage of the fact that certain blocks can be multiply used. In the reconstruction below, blocks with circles are used for “row” reconstruction, and blocks with squares are used for “diagonal” reconstruction.

optimized recovery
optimized recovery

Note that the simple approach requires reading 36 blocks (none from disk 7) whereas the reconstruction described in the paper requires reading only 27 blocks. This applies generally: the new approach requires 25% fewer blocks to perform the same reconstruction. And the paper includes a method of balancing the reads between disks.

Disappointing results

Unfortunately, optimizing for fewer reads didn’t translate to significant performance improvements in the overall recovery. For RDP it was about 12% better in the best case, but typically closer to 7%. For EVENODD the improvement was less than 5% in all cases. Why? The naïve recovery algorithm streams data off the healthy hard drives, performs a simple computation, and streams good data onto the replacement drive. Streaming is what drives do best – 3.5” or 2.5”, 7200, 10K, or 15K RPM; SATA, SAS, or FC they all stream pretty well. There may be some contention for I/O resources, but either that contention isn’t severe or the “skips” in the I/O patterns interrupt the normal streaming efficiency.

Applicability in flash

There’s another medium, however, that has throughput and IOPS to spare where this RAID reconstruction approach could be highly effective: flash. With SSDs, it’s possible to see throughput that strains the limits of I/O systems; reading less data could be a significant improvement, and the non-contiguous read patterns wouldn’t degrade performance as they do with HDDs. For all-flash arrays, this sort of optimization may be one of many in its class; with a surplus of IOPS, compute, and memory, the RAID algorithms designed for slow disks, slow CPUs, and a dearth of DRAM, may need to be scrapped and rethought.

For a short while, I ran the flash memory strategy at Sun and then Oracle, so I still keep my ear to the ground regarding flash news. That news is often frustratingly light — journalists in the space who are fully capable of providing analysis end up brushing the surface. With a tip of the hat to the FJM crew, here’s my commentary on a recent article.
NetApp has Hybrid Aggregate drives coming, with data moved automatically in real time between flash located next to the spinning disks. The company now says that this is a better technology than PCIe flash approaches.
Sounds interesting. NetApp had previously stacked its chips on a PCIe approach for flash called the performance acceleration module (PAM); I read about it in the same publication. This apparent change of strategy is significant, and I wish that the article would have explored the issue, but it was never mentioned.
NetApp, presenting at an Analyst Day event in New York on 30 June, said that having networked storage move as it were into the host server environment was disadvantageous. This was according to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers.
1. So is this a quote from NetApp or a quote from an analyst or a quote from NetApp quoting an analyst? I’m confused.
2. This is a dense and interesting statement so allow me to unpack it. Moving storage to the host server is code for Fusion-io. These guys make a flash-laden PCIe card that you put in your compute node for super-fast local data access, and they connect a bunch of them together with an IB backplane to share the contents of different cards between hosts. They recently went public, and customers love the performance they offer over traditional SANs. I assume the term “disadvantageous” was left intentionally vague as those being disadvantaged may be NTAP shareholders rather than customers implementing such a solution.
Manish Goel, NetApp’s product ops EVP, said SSDs used as hard disk drive replacements were not as interesting as using flash at the disk layer in a Hybrid Aggregate drive approach – and this was coming.
An Aggregate is the term NetApp uses for a collection of drives. A Hybrid Aggregate — presumably — is some new thing that mixes HDDs and SSDs. Maybe it’s like Sun’s hybrid storage pool. I would have liked to see Manish Goel’s statement vetted or explained, but that’s all we get.
Flash Cache in the controller is a straightforward array read I/O accelerator. PCIe flash in host servers is a complementary technology but will not decentralise the storage market and move networked storage back into the host servers.
Is this still the NetApp announcement or is this back to the journalism? It’s a new paragraph so I guess it’s the latter. Fusion-io will be happy to learn that it only took a couple of lines to be upgraded from “disadvantageous” to “complementary”. And you may be interested to know why NetApp says that host-based flash is complementary. There’s a vendor out there working with NetApp on a host-based flash PCIe card that NetApp will treat as part of its caching tier, pushing data to the card for fast access by the host. I’d need to dig up my notes from the many vendor roadmaps I saw to recall who is building this, but in the context of a public blog post it’s probably better that I don’t.
NetApp has a patent in this Hybrid Aggregate disk drive area called “Mechanisms for moving data in a Hybrid Aggregate”.
I won’t bore you by reposting the except from the patent, but the broad language of the patent does recall to mind the many recent invalidated NetApp patents…
Surely this is what we all understand as auto-placement of data in a virtual storage pool comprising SSD and fast disk tiers, such as Compellent’s block-level Data Progression? Not so, according to a person close to the situation: “It’s much more automatic, real-time and granular. Compellent needs policies and is not real-time. [NetApp] will be automatic and always move data real-time, rather than retroactively.”
What could have followed this — but didn’t — was a response from a representative from Compellent or someone familiar with their technology. Compellent, EMC, Oracle, and others all have strategies that involve mixing flash memory with conventional hard drives. It’s the rare article that discusses those types of connections. Oracle’s ZFSproducts uses flash as a caching tier, automatically populating it with useful data. Compellent has a clever technique of moving data between storage tiers seamlessly — and customers seem to love it. EMC just hucks a bunch of SSDs into an array — and customers seem to grin and bear it. NetApp’s approach? It’s hard to decipher what it would mean to “move data in real-time, rather than retroactively.” Does that mean that data is moved when it’s written and then never moved again? That doesn’t sound better. My guess is that NetApp’s approach is very much like Compellent’s — something they should be touting rather than parrying. And I’d love to read that article.

Apple recently announced a new iMac model — in itself, only as notable as the seasons — but with an interesting option: users can choose to have both an HDD and an SSD. Their use of these two is absolutely pedestrian, as noted on the Apple store:

If you configure your iMac with both the solid-state drive and a Serial ATA hard drive, it will come preformatted with Mac OS X and all your applications on the solid-state drive. Then you can use the hard drive for videos, photos, and other files.

Fantastic. This is hierarchical storage management (HSM) as it was conceived by Alan Turing himself as he toiled against the German war machine (if I remember my history correctly). The onus of choosing the right medium for given data is completely on the user. I guess the user who forks over $500 for this fancy storage probably is savvy enough to copy files to and fro, but aren’t computers pretty good at automating stuff like that?

Back at Sun, we built the ZFS Hybrid Storage Pool (HSP), a system that combines disk, DRAM, and, yes, flash. A significant part of this is the L2ARC implemented by Brendan Gregg that uses SSDs as a cache for often-used data. Hey Apple, does this sound useful?

Curiously, the new iMacs contain the Intel Z68 chipset which provides support for SSD caching. Similar to what ZFS does in software, the Intel chipset stores a subset of the data from the HDD on the SSD. By the time the hardware sees the data, it’s stripped of all semantic meaning — it’s just offsets and sizes. In ZFS, however, the L2ARC knows more about the data so can do a better job about retaining data that’s relevant. But iMac users suffer a more fundamental problem: the SSD caching feature of the Z68 doesn’t appear to be used.

It’s a shame that Apple abandoned the port of ZFS they had completed ostensibly due to “licensing issues” (DTrace in Mac OS X uses the same license — perhaps a subject for another blog post). Fortunately, Ten’s Complement has picked up the reins. Apple systems with HDDs and SSDs could be the ideal use case ZFS in the consumer environment.

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