Some thoughts on ZFS's impact on Solaris

So ZFS is now available and we've put together lots of blogs and demos to show everyone the neat kinds of things ZFS supports - snapshots, writable snapshots (clones), simple disk management, protection against hardware and firmware errors, etc. Rather than discuss some other neat feature of ZFS or do some extreme performance demos, I thought it might be interesting to mull over some of the possible implications of this new technology on the rest of Solaris and other applications. We don't yet support booting ZFS quite yet, so some of the ideas below will have to wait a bit for implementation - but it's certainly time to start thinking about them.

First of all, in years past we've been moving more and more to the "one giant filesystem" model for installing systems; it's just been to much of a PITA to anticipate how much space we might need for root, var, opt, usr, etc.... but now with ZFS divorcing space allocation from filesystem boundaries, it's easy to use separate filesystems to make administration easier. It's ok to use lots of filesystems - they're essentially free, and since snapshots are at the filesystem level, filesystems also the "undo" boundary. Clearly, we don't want to delivery of mail or the growth of logs from inhibiting one from rolling back a ill-considered change to other parts of the system, so separating directories that contain files that are modified "automatically" from those that containing binaries or configuration files seems like a good idea.

Once this separation occurs, using zfs rollback to undo the effects of changes such as a ill-considered patch or administrative actions becomes simple. It also appears that Live Upgrade could be a lot easier with ZFS - just snapshot and clone the filesystems being upgraded. Perhaps we should take snapshots always before adding a patch... hmmm, given that we have ZFS, how would we redesign patching if we could always use ZFS for root filesystems?

Another area of possible change is initial installation. Right now we use bzip2 compression on on each package on the install media to compress our packages into the smallest possible footprint; this has been needed in order to fit localization information onto the first CD. Since we access the CD/DVD as a filesystem and then uncompress the package as it's being installed, we often have trouble reading data fast enough from the install media to keep the device spun up at anywhere near full speed, esp. for small packages. With zfs compression, we could store a ZFS filesystem image on the CD/DVD and stream that onto a ZFS filesystem on the hard disk in one (fast)shot, and then install packages from the hard disk as needed. Afterwards the extra packages could be deleted, or left there to facilitate later installation of additional components; disk space is amazingly cheap these days.

Another area of interest is providing backups. ZFS makes it very easy to determine the differences between snapshots; this makes doing incremental updates of even very large slightly modified filesystems inexpensive in terms of disk and CPU utilization. It sure would be nice if my Ferrari laptop could just upload it's changes since the last backup automatically when I plugged it into the building nets; yes, I could do that today, but without the smarts of ZFS, traversing a 50GB data set to see what has changed just isn't very practical on the slow laptop drives.

There are more ideas to consider, but it's clear that today is just the beginning of the ZFS revolution; ZFS will change the way Solaris works.

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