Friday Mar 09, 2007

CSI:Munich - How to save the world with ZFS and 12 USB Sticks

Here's a fun video that shows how cool the Sun Fire X4500 (codename: Thumper) is and how you can create your own Thumper experience on your laptop using Solaris ZFS and 12 USB sticks:

This is finally the english dubbed version of a German video that a couple of colleagues and I produced some weeks ago. If you don't mind the german language, you might enjoy the original german version, too (It turns out that the english language has a lot less redundancy than the german one, so please forgive the occasional soundless lip motions).

If you liked the video(s), let us know, we'll be glad to answer any questions, receive any leftover Oscars or accept any new ideas for future episodes.

Here are a few more details, in case you really want to try this at home:

The first hurdle to overcome is to teach Solaris how to accept more than 10 USB storage devices. On a plain vanilla Solaris 10 system, it turns out that there is a limitation: Connecting more than 10 USB sticks through 3 USB-powered Hubs yields a Connecting device on port n failed error. Thanks to a colleague from engineering, the fix is to set ehci:ehci_qh_pool_size = 120 in /etc/system.

The second issue is briefly explained in the video itself: Not all USB sticks (particularly the cheap ones) are created equal. Small variations in the components create small variations in their storage space. So, when creating a zpool, you need to use -f to tell zpool to ignore differing device sizes.

If you pay close attention to the video, you'll notice around 7:20 that pulling a hub wasn't so harmless at all: "errors: 8 data errors, use '-v' for a list" can be seen at the bottom of the teminal window. In fact, zpool status reports 6 checksum errors in c21t0d0p0. Well, using cheap USB sticks means that block errors can occur in practice and once you don't have enough redundancy (like after unplugging a USB hub for show effect) they may hurt you. Fortunately, they didn't hurt our particular demo, since on one hand ZFS' prefetch algorithm had most of the video in memory anyway, while on the other hand zpool scrub fixed any broken blocks after re-plugging the USB hub. So, the cheaper the storage the more redundancy one should add. In this case, RAID-Z2 would have been better. Perhaps we can get some more USB sticks and hubs from any sponsors?

Finally, it took us a couple of retrys until the remove-sticks-mix-then-replug stunt worked, because it turned out that the laptop's USB implementation wasn't as reliable as we needed it to be. And yes, it does help to wait until they've finished blinking before removing any sticks :).

All in all, it was great fun for us producing this video and thanks to the tireless efforts of Marc, our beloved but invisible video editor, we now can proudly present an english version. Actually, we were quite surprised by this video's success: We published it in early February and just a day later, it got noticed by a couple of Solaris engineering people. Now, we have more than 9000 views of the german version (counting the Google video and the YouTube edition together) and are still counting. Hopefully, we can cross the 10,000 views barrier with the english version, now that we have increased the potential audience :).

After watching the video, feel free to try out Solaris ZFS for yourself. There's nothing like building your own pool, then watching ZFS take care of your data. At home, ZFS keeps my photos, music and TV videos nice and tidy, including weekly snapshots thanks to Tim Foster's automatic snapshot SMF service. Just this tuesday, my weekly zpool scrub cron job told me it had fixed a broken block on one of my disks. One that I'd never found out with any other storage system.

To get started, get OpenSolaris here or download it here. All you need to do is check out the docs though real system heroes only need two man-pages: zpool(1M) and zfs(1M).

P.S.: CSI of course stands for "Computer Systems Integration". Any similarities to the popular TV show are purely coincidence. Really. Hmm, but maybe having a dead body or two in one of the next episodes might spice up things a little...

P.P.S.: The cool rock music at the beginning is from XING a great rock band where one of our colleagues plays drums in. Go XING!

Update: Here is a much higher quality version, in case you want to show this video around on your laptop.

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