Monday Oct 13, 2008

Evolution of RAS in the Sun SPARC T5440 server

Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS) in the Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 builds upon the solid foundations created for the Sun SPARC Enterprise T5140, T5240, and Sun Fire X4600 M2 servers. The large number of CPU cores available in the T5440 needs large amounts of I/O capability to balance the design. The physical design of the X4600 M2 servers was a natural candidate for the new design – modular CPU and memory cards along with plenty of slots for I/O expansion. We've also seen good field reliability from the X4600 M2 servers and their components. The T5440 is a excellent example of how leveraging the best parts of these other designs has resulted in a very reliable and serviceable system.

The trade-offs required for scaling from a single board design to a larger, multiple board design always impact reliability of the server. Additional connectors and other parts also contribute to increased failure rates, or lower reliability. On the other hand, the ability to replace a major component without replacing a whole motherboard increases serviceability – and lowers operating costs. The additional parts which enable the system to scale also have an impact on performance, as some of my colleagues have noted. When comparing systems on a single aspect of the RAS and performance spectrum, you can miss important design characteristics, or worse, misunderstand how the trade-offs impact the overall suitability of a system. To get a better insight on how to apply highly scalable systems to a complex task prefer to do a performability analysis.

The T5440 has almost exactly twice the performance capabilities of the T5220. If you have a workload which previously required four T5220s with a spare (for availability), then you should be able to host that workload on only two T5440s, and a spare. Using benchmarks for sizing is the best way to compare, and we can generally see that a T5440 is six times more capable than a Sun Fire V490 server. This will complete a comparable performance sizing.

On the RAS side, a single T5440 is more reliable than two T5220s, so there is a reliability gain. But for a performability analysis, that is contrasted with the fewer numbers of T5440. For example, if the workload requires 4 servers and we add a spare, then the system is considered performant when 4 of 5 servers are available. As we consolidate onto fewer servers, the model changes accordingly: for 2 servers and a spare, the system is performant when 2 of 3 servers are available. The reliability gain of using fewer servers can be readily seen in the number of yearly service calls expected. Fewer servers tends to mean fewer service calls. The math behind this can become complicated for large clusters and is arguably counter-intuitive at times. Fortuntately, our RAS modeling tools can handle very complicated systems relatively easily.

We build availability models for all of our systems and use the same service parameters to permit easy comparisons. For example, we would model all systems with 8 hour service response time. The models are then compared, thusly

System

Units

Performability

Yearly Services

Sun SPARC Enterprise 5440 server

2 + 1

0.99999903

0.585

Sun SPARC Enterprise 5240 server

4 + 1

0.99999909

0.661

Sun SPARC Enterprise 5140 server

4 + 1

0.99999915

0.687

Sun Fire V490 server

12 + 1

0.99998644

1.402

In these results, you can see that T5440 clearly wins the number of units and yearly services. Both of these metrics impact total cost of ownership (TCO) as the complexity of an environment is generally attributed to the number of OS instances – fewer servers generally means fewer OS instances. Fewer service calls means fewer problems that require physical human interactions.

You can also see that the performability of the T5x40 systems are very similar. Any of these systems will be much better than a system of V490 servers.

More information on the RAS features these servers can be found in the white paper we wrote, Maximizing IT Service Uptime by Utilizing Dependable Sun SPARC Enterprise T5140, T5240, and T5440 Servers. Ok, I'll admit that someone else wrote the title...

Wednesday Feb 20, 2008

Big Clusters and Deferred Repair

When we build large clusters, such as high performance clusters or any cluster with a large number of computing nodes, we begin to look in detail at the repair models for the system. You are probably aware of the need to study power usage, air conditioning, weight, system management, networking, and cost for such systems. So you are also aware of how multiplying the environmental needs of one computing node times the number of nodes can become a large number. This can be very intuitive for most folks. But availability isn't quite so intuitive. Deferred repair models can also affect the intuition of the design. So, I thought that a picture would help show how we analyze the RAS characteristics of such systems and why we always look to deferred repair models in their design.

To begin, we have to make some assumptions:

  • The availability of the whole is not interesting.  The service provided by a big cluster is not dependent on all parts being functional. Rather, we look at it like a swarm of bees. Each bee can be busy, and the whole swarm can contribute towards making honey, but the loss of a few bees (perhaps due to a hungry bee eater) doesn't cause the whole honey producing process to stop. Sure, there may be some components of the system which are more critical than others, like the queen bee, but work can still proceed forward even if some of these systems are temporarily unavailable (the swarm will create new queens, as needed). This is a very different view than looking at the availability of a file service, for example.
  • The performability will might be interesting. How many dead bees can we have before the honey production falls below our desired level? But for very, very large clusters, the performability will be generally good, so a traditional performability analysis is also not very interesting. It is more likely that a performability analysis of the critical components, such as networking and storage, will be interesting. But the performability of thousands of compute nodes will be less interesting.
  • Common root cause failures are not considered. If a node fails, the root cause of the failure is not common to other nodes. A good example of a common root cause failure is loss of power -- if we lose power to the cluster, all nodes will fail. Another example is software -- a software bug which causes the nodes to crash may be common to all nodes.
  • What we will model is a collection of independent nodes, each with their own, independent failure causes.  Or just think about bees.
For a large number of compute nodes, even using modern, reliable designs, we know that the probability of all nodes being up at the same time is quite small. This is obvious if we look at the simple availability equation:
Availability = MTBF / (MTBF + MTTR)

where, MTBF (mean time between failure) is MTBF[compute node]/N[nodes]
and, MTTR (mean time to repair) is > 0

The killer here is N. As N becomes large (thousands) and MTTR is dependent on people, then the availability becomes quite small. The time required to repair a machine is included in the MTTR. So as N becomes large, there is more repair work to be done. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not spend my life in constant repair mode, so we need to look at the problem from a different angle.

If we make MTTR large, then the availability will drop to near zero. But if we have some spare compute nodes, then we might be able to maintain a specified service level. Or, some a practical perspective, we could ask the question, "how many spare compute nodes do I need to keep at least M compute nodes operational?" The next, related question is, "how often do we need to schedule service actions?" To solve this problem, we need a model.

Before I dig into the model results, I want to digress for a moment and talk about Mean Time Between Service (MTBS) and Mean Time Between System Interruption (MTBSI).  I've blogged in detail about these before, but to put there use in context here, we will actually use MTBSI and not MTBF for the model.  Why? Because if a compute node has any sort of redundancy (ECC memory, mirrored disks, etc.) then the node may still work after a component has failed. But we want to model our repair schedule based on how often we need to fix nodes, so we need to look at how often things break for two cases. The models will show us those details, but I won't trouble you with them today.

The figure below shows a proposed 2000+ node HPC cluster with two different deferred repair models. For one solution, we use a one week (168 hour) deferred repair time. For the other solution, we use a two week deferred repair time. I could show more options, but these two will be sufficient to provide the intuition for solving such mathematical problems.

Deferred Repair Model Results 

We build a model showing the probability that some number of nodes will be down. The OK state is when all nodes are operational. It is very clear that the longer we wait to repair the nodes, the less probable it is that the cluster will be in the OK state. I would say, that that with a two week deferred maintenance model, there is nearly zero probability that all nodes will be operational. Looking at this another way, if you want all nodes to be available, you need to have a very, very fast repair time (MTTR approaching 0 time). Since fast MTTR is very expensive, accepting a deferred repair and using spares is usually a good cost trade-off.

OK, so we're convinced that a deferred repair model is the way to go, so how many spare compute nodes do we need? A good way to ask that question is, "how may spares do I need to ensure that there is a 95% probability that I will have a minumum of M nodes available?" From the above graph, we would accumulate the probability until we reached the 95% threshold. Thus we see that for the one week deferred repair case, we need at least 8 spares and for the two week deferred repair case we need at least 12 spares. Now this is something we can work with.

The model results will change based on the total number of compute nodes and their MTBSI. If you have more nodes, you'll need more spares. If you have more reliable or redundant nodes, you need fewer spares. If we know the reliability of the nodes and their redundancy characteristics, we have models which can tell you how many spares you need.

This sort of analysis also lets you trade-off the redundancy characteristics of the nodes to see how that affects the system, too. For example, we could look at the affect of zero, one, or two disks (mirrored) per node on the service levels. I personally like the zero disk case, where the nodes boot from the network, and we can model such complex systems quite easily, too. This point should not be underestimated, as you add redundancy to increase the MTBSI, you also increase the MTBS, which impacts your service costs.  The engineer's life is a life full of trade-offs.

 

In conclusion, building clusters with lots of nodes (red shift designs) requires additional analysis beyond what we would normally use for critical systems with few nodes (blue shift designs). We often look at service costs using a deferred service interval and how that affects the overall system service level. We also look at the trade-offs between per-node redundancy and the overall system service level. With proper analysis, we can help determine the best performance and best cost for large, red shift systems.

 

 

Tuesday Oct 16, 2007

Introduction to Performability Analysis

Modern systems are continuing to evolve and become more tolerant to failures. For many systems today, a simple performance or availability analysis does not reveal how well a system will operate when in a degraded mode. A performability analysis can help answer these questions for complex systems. In this blog, I'll show one of the methods we use for performability analysis.

We often begin with a small set of components for test and analysis. Traditional benchmarking or performance characterization is a good starting point. For this example, we will analyze a storage array. We begin with an understanding of the performance characteristics of our desired workload, which can vary widely for storage subsystems. In our case, we will create a performance workload which includes a mix of reads and writes, with a consistent iop size, and a desired performance metric of iops/second. Storage arrays tend to have many possible RAID configurations which will have different performance and data protection trade-offs, so we will pick a RAID configuration which we think will best suit our requirements. If it sounds like we're making a lot of choices early, it is because we are. We know that some choices are clearly bad, some are clearly good, and there are a whole bunch of choices in between. If we can't meet our design targets after the performability analysis, then we might have to go back to the beginning and start again - such is the life of a systems engineer.

Once we have a reasonable starting point, we will setup a baseline benchmark to determine the best performance for a fully functional system. We will then use fault injection to measure the system performance characteristics under the various failure modes expected in the system. For most cases, we are concerned with hardware failures. Often the impact on the performance of a system under failure conditions is not constant. There may be a fault diagnosis and isolation phase, a degraded phase, and a repair phase. There may be several different system performance behaviors during these phases. The transient diagram below shows the performance measurements of a RAID array with dual redundant controllers configured in a fully redundant, active/active operating mode. We bring the system to a steady state and then inject a fault into one of the controllers.

array fault transient analysis 

This analysis is interesting for several different reasons. We see that when the fault was injected, there was a short period where the array serviced no I/O operations. Once the fault was isolated, then a recovery phase was started during which the array was operating at approximately half of its peak performance. Once recovery was completed, the performance returned to normal, even though the system is in a degraded state. Next we repaired the fault. After the system reconfigured itself, performance returned to normal for the non-degraded system. You'll note that during the post-repair reconfiguration the array stopped servicing I/O operations and this outage was longer than the outage in the original fault. Sometimes, a trade-off is made such that the impact of the unscheduled fault is minimized at the expense of the repair activity. This is usually a good trade-off because the repair activity is usually a scheduled event, so we can limit the impact via procedures and planning. If you have ever waited for an fsck to finish when booting a system, then you've felt the impact of such decisions and understand why modern file systems have attempted to minimize the performance costs of fsck, or eliminated the need for fsck altogether.

Modeling the system in this way means that we will consider both the unscheduled faults as well as the planned repair, though we usually make the simplifying assumption that there will be one repair action for each unscheduled fault.

If this sort of characterization sounds tedious, well it is. But it is the best way for us to measure the performance of a subsystem under faulted conditions. Trying to measure the performance of a more complex system with multiple servers, switches, and arrays under a comprehensive set of fault conditions would be untenable. We do gain some reduction of the test matrix because we know that some components have no impact on performance when they fail.

Next we build a RAScad model for the system. I usually use a heirarchial model built from components which hides much of the complexity from me, but for this simpler example, the Markov model looks like this:

Markov model 

Where the states are explained by this table:

State

Explanation

Transition Rate

Explanation

28,0,1

No failures

m_repair

rate (=1/MTTR)

1 UIC_Dn

1 UIC is down

l_uic

UIC failure rate

Down

System is down

l_mp

Midplane failure rate

1 Ctlr_Dn

1 Controller is down

l_cntl

Controller failure rate

1PCU_Dn

1 PCU is down

l_pcu

PCU failure rate

27,1,0

1 disk is under reconstruction

l_recon

Disk reconstruction rate

28,1,1

1 disk is under reconstruction, 1 spare disk available

l_disk

Disk failure rate

27,0,0

No spare disk



26,0,0

One parity group loses 1 disk, no

spare available, no disk reconstruction



Solving the Markov model will provide us with the average staying time per year in each of the states. Note that we must make some sort of assumptions about the service response time. We will usually use 4 hour service response time for enterprise-class operations. Is that assumption optimal? We don't always know, so that is another feature of a system I'll explore in a later blog.

So now we have the performance for each state, and the average staying time per year. These are two variables, so lets graph them on an X-Y plot. To make it easier to compare different systems, we sort by the performance (in the Y-axis). We call the resulting graph a performability graph or P-Graph for short. Here is an example of a performability graph showing the results for three different RAID array configurations.

simple performability graph 

I usually label availability targets across the top as an alternate X-axis label because many people are more comfortable with availability targets represented as "nines" than seconds or minutes. In order to show the typically small staying time, we use a log scale on the X-axis. The Y-axis shows the performance metric. I refer to the system's performability curve as a performability envelope

because it represents the boundaries of performance and availability, where we can expect the actual use to fall below the curve for any interval.

Suppose you have a requirement for an array that delivers 1,500 iops with "four-nines" availability. You can see from the performability graph that Product A and C can deliver 1,500 iops, Product C can deliver "four-nines" availability, but only Product A can deliver both 1,500 iops and "four-nines" availability.

To help you understand the composition of the graph, I colored some of the states which have longer staying times.

composite fault performability graph 

You can see that some of the failure states have little impact on performance, whereas others will have a significant impact on performance. For this array, when a power supply/battery unit fails, the write cache is placed in write through mode, which has a significant performance impact. Also, when a disk fails and is being reconstructed, the overall performance is impacted. Now we have a clearer picture of what performance we can expect from this array per year.

This composition view is particularly useful for product engineers, but is less useful to systems engineers. For complex systems, there are many products, many failure modes, and many more trade-offs to consider. More on that later...

Tuesday Oct 09, 2007

Performability analysis of T5120 and T5220

In complex systems, we must often trade-off performance against reliability, availability, or serviceability. In many cases, a system design will include both performance and availability requirements. We use performability analysis to examine the performance versus availability trade-off. Performability is simply the ability to perform. A performability analysis combines performance characterization for systems under the possible combinations of degraded states with the probability that the system will be operating the degraded states.

The simplest performability analysis is often appropriate for multiple node, shared nothing clusters which scale performance perfectly. For example, in a simple web server farm, you might have N servers capable of delivering M pages per server. Disregarding other bottlenecks in the system such, as the capacity of the internet connection to the server farm, we can say that N+1 servers will deliver M\*(N+1) performance. Thus we can estimate the aggregate performance of any number of web servers.

We can also perform an availability analysis on a web server. We can build Markov models which consider the reliability of the components in a server and their expected time to repair. The output of the models will provide the estimated time per year that each web server may be operational. More specifically, we will know the staying time per year for each of the model states. For a simple model, the performance reward for an up state is M and a down state is 0. A system which provides 99.99% (four-nines) availability can be expected to be down for approximately 53 minutes per year and up for the remainder.

For a shared nothing cluster, we can further simplify the analysis by ignoring common fault effects. In practice, this means that a failure or repair in one web server does not affect any other web servers. In many respects, this is the same simplifying assumption we made with performance, where the performance of a web server is dependent on any of the other web servers.

The shared nothing cluster availability model will contain the following system states and the annual staying time in each state: all up, one down (N-1 up), two down (N-2 up), three down (N-3 up), and so on. The availability model inputs include the unscheduled mean time between system interruption (U_MTBSI) and mean time to repair (MTTR) for the nodes. We often choose a MTTR value by considering the cost of service response time. For many shared nothing clusters, a service response time of 48 hours may be reasonable – a value which may not be reasonable for a database or storage tier. Model results might look like this:

System State

Annual Staying Time (minutes)

Cumulative Uptime (%)

Performance Reward

All up

521,395.20

99.2

M \* N

1 down

4,162.75

99.992

M \* (N - 1)

2 down

39.95

99.9996

M \* (N - 2)

3 down

2.00

99.99998

M \* (N - 3)

> 3 down

0.11

100

< M \* (N - 4)

Total

525,600.00

100


Now we have enough data to evaluate the performability of the system. For the simple analysis, we accept the cumulative uptime result for the minimum required performance. We can then compare various systems considering performability.

We have modeled the new Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120 and Sun SPARC Enterprise T5220 servers against the venerable Sun Fire V490 servers. For this analysis we chose a performance benchmark with a metric that showed we needed 6 T5120 or T5220 servers to match the performance of 9 V490 servers. We will choose to overprovision by one server, which is often optimum for such architectures. The performability results are:

Servers

Units

Performability (%)

Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120

6 + 1

99.99988

Sun SPARC Enterprise T5220

6 + 1

99.99988

Sun Fire V490

9 + 1

99.99893

You might notice that the T5120 and T5220 have the same performability results. This is because they share the same motherboard design, disks, power supplies, etc. It is much more interesting to compare these to the V490. Even though we use more V490 systems, the T5120 and T5220 solution provides better performability. Fewer, faster, more reliable servers should generally have better performability than more, slower, less reliable servers.

 

Thursday Oct 04, 2007

Performability Analysis for Storage

I'll be blogging about performability analysis over the next few weeks. Last year Hairong Sun, Tina Tyan, Steven Johnson, Nisha Talagala, Bob Wood, and I published a paper on how we do performability analysis at Sun.  It is titled Performability Analysis of Storage Systems in Practice: Methodology and Tools, and is available online at SpringerLink. Here is the abstract:

This paper presents a methodology and tools used for performability analysis of storage systems in Sun Microsystems. A Markov modeling tool is used to evaluate the probabilities of normal and fault states in the storage system, based on field reliability data collected from customer sites. Fault injection tests are conducted to measure the performance of the storage system in various degraded states with a performance benchmark developed within Sun Microsystems. A graphic metric is introduced for performability assessment and comparison. An example is used throughout the paper to illustrate the methodology and process.

I'm giving a presentation on performability at Sun's Customer Engineering Conference next week, so if you're attending stop by and visit.

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