Wednesday Jul 21, 2010

What is RAID-Z?

The mission of ZFS was to simplify storage and to construct an enterprise level of quality from volume components by building smarter software — indeed that notion is at the heart of the 7000 series. An important piece of that puzzle was eliminating the expensive RAID card used in traditional storage and replacing it with high performance, software RAID. To that end, Jeff invented RAID-Z; it's key innovation over other software RAID techniques was to close the "RAID-5 write hole" by using variable width stripes. RAID-Z, however, is definitely not RAID-5 despite that being the most common comparison.

RAID levels

Last year I wrote about the need for triple-parity RAID, and in that article I summarized the various RAID levels as enumerated by Gibson, Katz, and Patterson, along with Peter Chen, Edward Lee, and myself:

  • RAID-0 Data is striped across devices for maximal write performance. It is an outlier among the other RAID levels as it provides no actual data protection.
  • RAID-1 Disks are organized into mirrored pairs and data is duplicated on both halves of the mirror. This is typically the highest-performing RAID level, but at the expense of lower usable capacity.
  • RAID-2 Data is protected by memory-style ECC (error correcting codes). The number of parity disks required is proportional to the log of the number of data disks.
  • RAID-3 Protection is provided against the failure of any disk in a group of N+1 by carving up blocks and spreading them across the disks — bitwise parity. Parity resides on a single disk.
  • RAID-4 A group of N+1 disks is maintained such that the loss of any one disk would not result in data loss. A single disks is designated as the dedicated parity disk. Not all disks participate in reads (the dedicated parity disk is not read except in the case of a failure). Typically parity is computed simply as the bitwise XOR of the other blocks in the row.
  • RAID-5 N+1 redundancy as with RAID-4, but with distributed parity so that all disks participate equally in reads.
  • RAID-6 This is like RAID-5, but employs two parity blocks, P and Q, for each logical row of N+2 disk blocks.
  • RAID-7 Generalized M+N RAID with M data disks protected by N parity disks (without specifications regarding layout, parity distribution, etc).

RAID-Z: RAID-5 or RAID-3?

Initially, ZFS supported just one parity disk (raidz1), and later added two (raidz2) and then three (raidz3) parity disks. But raidz1 is not RAID-5, and raidz2 is not RAID-6. RAID-Z avoids the RAID-5 write hole by distributing logical blocks among disks whereas RAID-5 aggregates unrelated blocks into fixed-width stripes protected by a parity block. This actually means that RAID-Z is far more similar to RAID-3 where blocks are carved up and distributed among the disks; whereas RAID-5 puts a single block on a single disk, RAID-Z and RAID-3 must access all disks to read a single block thus reducing the effective IOPS.

RAID-Z takes a significant step forward by enabling software RAID, but at the cost of backtracking on the evolutionary hierarchy of RAID. Now with advances like flash pools and the Hybrid Storage Pool, the IOPS from a single disk may be of less importance. But a RAID variant that shuns specialized hardware like RAID-Z and yet is economical with disk IOPS like RAID-5 would be a significant advancement for ZFS.

Monday Jul 19, 2010

A Logzilla for your ZFS box

A key component of the ZFS Hybrid Storage Pool is Logzilla, a very fast device to accelerate synchronous writes. This component hides the write latency of disks to enable the use of economical, high-capacity drives. In the Sun Storage 7000 series, we use some very fast SAS and SATA SSDs from STEC as our Logzilla &mdash the devices are great and STEC continues to be a terrific partner. The most important attribute of a good Logzilla device is that it have very low latency for sequential, uncached writes. The STEC part gives us about 100μs latency for a 4KB write — much much lower than most SSDs. Using SAS-attached SSDs rather than the more traditional PCI-attached, non-volatile DRAM enables a much simpler and more reliable clustering solution since the intent-log devices are accessible to both nodes in the cluster, but SAS is much slower than PCIe...

DDRdrive X1

Christopher George, CTO of DDRdrive was kind enough to provide me with a sample of the X1, a 4GB NV-DRAM card with flash as a backing store. The card contains 4 DIMM slots populated with 1GB DIMMs; it's a full-height card which limits its use in Sun/Oracle systems (typically half-height only), but there are many systems that can accommodate the card. The X1 employs a novel backup power solution; our Logzilla used in the 7000 series protects its DRAM write cache with a large super-capacitor, and many NV-DRAM cards use a battery. Supercaps can be limiting because of their physical size, and batteries have a host of problems including leaking and exploding. Instead, the DDRdrive solution puts a DC power connector on the PCIe faceplate and relies on an external source of backup power (a UPS for example).

Performance

I put the DDRdrive X1 in our fastest prototype system to see how it performed. A 4K write takes about 51μs — better than our SAS Logzilla — but the SSD outperformed the X1 at transfer sizes over 32KB. The performance results on the X1 are already quite impressive, and since I ran those tests the firmware and driver have undergone several revisions to improve performance even more.

As a Logzilla

While the 7000 series won't be employing the X1, uses of ZFS that don't involve clustering and for which external backup power is an option, the X1 is a great and economical Logzilla accelerator. Many users of ZFS have already started hunting for accelerators, and have tested out a wide array of SSDs. The X1 is a far more targeted solution, and is a compelling option. And if write performance has been a limiting factor in deploying ZFS, the X1 is a good reason to give ZFS another look.

About

Adam Leventhal, Fishworks engineer

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