LSF/MM 2014 and ext4 Summit Notes by Darrick Wong

This is a contributed post from Darrick Wong, storage engineer on the Oracle mainline Linux kernel team.

The following are my notes from LSF/MM 2014 and the ext4 summit, held last week in Napa Valley, CA.

  • Discussed the draft DIX passthrough interface. Based on Zach Brown's suggestions last week, I rolled out a version of the patch with a statically defined io extensions struct, and Martin Petersen said he'd try porting some existing asmlib clients to use the new interface, with a few field-enlarging tweaks. For the most part nobody objected; Al Viro said he had no problems "yet" -- but I couldn't tell if he had no idea what I was talking about, or if he was on board with the API. It was also suggested that I seek the opinion of Michael Kerrisk (the manpages maintainer) about the API. As for the actual implementation, there are plenty of holes in it that I intend to fix this week. The NFS/CIFS developers I spoke to were generally happy to hear that the storage side was finally starting to happen, and that they could get to working on the net-fs side of things now. Nicholas Bellinger noted that targetcli can create DIF disks even with the fileio backend, so he suggested I play with that over scsi_debug.

  • A large part of LSF was taken up with the discussion of how to handle the brave new world of weird storage devices. To recap: in the beginning, software had to deal with the mechanical aspects of a rotating disk; addressing had to be done in terms of cylinders, heads, and sectors (CHS). This made it difficult to innovate drive mechanics, as it was impossible to express things like variable zone density to existing software. SCSI eliminated this pain by abstracting a disk into a big tub of consecutive sectors, which simplified software quite a bit, though at some cost to performance. But most programs weren't trying to wring the last iota of performance out of disks and didn't care. So long as some attention was paid to data locality, disks performed adequately. Fast forward to 2014: now we have several different storage device classes: Flash, which has no seek penalty but prefers large writeouts; SMR drives with hard-disk seek penalties but requirements that all writes within a ~256MB zone be written in linear order; RAIDs, which by virtue of stripe geometries violate a few of the classic hard disk thinking; and NVMe devices which implement atomic read and write operations. Dave Chinner suggests that rather than retrofitting each filesystem to deal with each of these devices, it might be worth shoving all the block allocation and mapping operation down to a device mapper (dm) shim layer that can abstract away different types of storage, leaving FSes to manage namespace information. This suggestion is very attractive on a few levels: Benefits include the ability to emulate atomic read/writes with journalling, more flexible software-defined FTLs for flash and SMR, and improved communication with cloud storage systems -- Mike Snitzer had a session about dm-thinp and the proper way for FSes to communicate allocation hints to the underlying storage; this would certainly seem to fit the bill. I mentioned that Oracle's plans for cheap ext4 reflink would be trivial to implement with dm shims. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details -- when will we see code? For that reason, Ted Ts'o was openly skeptical.

  • The postgresql developers showed up to complain about stable pages and to ask for a less heavyweight fsync() -- currently, when fsync is called, it assumes that the caller wants all dirty data written out NOW, so it writes dirty pages with WRITE_SYNC, which starves reads. For postgresql this is suboptimal since fsync is typically called by the checkpointing code, which doesn't need to be fast and doesn't care if fsync writeback is not fast. There was an interlock scheduled for Thursday afternoon, but I was unable to attend. See LWN for more detailed coverage of the postgresql (and FB) sessions.

  • At the ext4 summit, we discussed a few cleanups, such as removing the use of buffer_heads and the impending removal of the ext2/3 drivers. Removing buffer_heads in the data path has the potential benefit that it'll make the transition to supporting block/sector size > page size easier, as well as reducing memory requirements (buffer heads are a heavyweight structure now). There was also the feeling that once most enterprise distros move to ext4, it will be a lot easier to remove ext3 upstream because there will be a lot more testing of the use of ext4.ko to handle ext2/3 filesystems. There was a discussion of removing ext2 as well, though that stalled on concerns that Christoph Hellwig (hch) would like to see ext2 remain as a "sample" filesystem, though Jan Kara could be heard muttering that nobody wants a bitrotten example.

  • The other major new ext4 feature discussed at the ext4 summit is per-data block metadata. This got started when Lukas Czerner (lukas) proposed adding data block checksums to the filesystem. I quickly chimed in that for e2fsck it would be helpful to have per-block back references to ease reconstruction of the filesystem, at which point the group started thinking that rather than a huge static array of block data, the complexity of a b-tree with variable key size might well be worth the effort. Then again, with all the proposed filesystem/block layer changes, Ted said that he might be open to a quick v1 implementation because the block shim layer discussed in the SMR forum could very well obviate the need for a lot of ext4 features. Time will tell; Ted and I were not terribly optimistic that any of that software is coming soon. In any case, lukas went home to refine his proposal. The biggest problem is ext4's current lack of a btree implementation; this would have to be written or borrowed, and then tested. I mentioned to him that this could be the cornerstone of reimplementing a lot of ext4 features with btrees instead of static arrays, which could be a good thing if RH is willing to spend a lot of engineering time on ext4.

  • Michael Halcrow, speaking at the ext4 summit, discussed implementing a lightweight encrypted filesystem subtree feature. This sounds a lot like ecryptfs, but hopefully less troublesome than the weird shim fs that is ecryptfs. For the most part he seemed to need (a) the ability to inject his code into the read/write path and some ability to store a small amount of per-inode encryption data. His use-case is Chrome OS, which apparently needs the ability for cache management programs to erase parts of a(nother) user's cache files without having the ability to access the file. The discussion concluded that it wouldn't be too difficult for him to start an initial implementation with ext4, but that much of this ought to be in the VFS layer.

 -- Darrick

[Ed: see also the LWN coverage of LSF/MM]

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The Oracle mainline Linux kernel team works as part of the Linux kernel community to develop new features and maintain existing code.


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