Using ZFS as a Network Attach Controller and the Value of Solid State Devices

So Sun is coming out today with a line of Sun Storage 7000 systems that have ZFS as the integrated volume and filesystem manager using both read and write optimized SSD. What is this Hybrid Storage Pool and why is this a good performance architecture for storage ?

A write optimized SSD is a custom designed device for the purpose of accelerating operations of the ZFS intent log (ZIL). The ZIL is the part of ZFS that manages the important synchronous operation guaranteeing that such writes are acknowledged quickly to applications while guaranteeing persistence in case of outage. Data stored in the ZIL is also kept in memory until ZFS issue the next Transaction Groups (every few seconds).

The ZIL is what stores data urgently (when application is waiting) but the TXG is what stores data permanently. The ZIL on-disk blocks are only ever re-read after a failure such as power outage. So the SSDs that are used to accelerate the ZIL are write-optimized : they need to handle data at low latency on writes; reads are unimportant.

The TXG is an operation that is asynchronous to applications : apps are generally not waiting for transactions groups to commit. The exception here is when data is generated at a rate that exceeds the TXG rate for a sustained period of time. In this case, we become throttled by the pool throughput. In a NAS storage this will rarely happen since network connectivity even at GB/s is still much less that what storage is capable of and so we do not generate the imbalance.

The important thing now is that in a NAS server, the controller is also running a file level protocol (NFS or CIFS) and so is knowledgeable about the nature (synchronous or not) of the requested writes. As such it can use the accelerated path (the SSD) only for the necessary component of the workloads. Less competition for these devices means we can deliver both high throughput and low latency together in the same consolidated server.

But here is where is gets nifty. At times, a NAS server might receive a huge synchronous request. We've observed this for instance due to fsflush running on clients which will turn non-synchronous writes into a massive synchronous one. I note here that a way to reduce this effect, is to tune up fsflush (to say 600). This is commonly done to reduce the cpu usage of fsflush but will be welcome in the case of client interacting with NAS storage. We can also disable page flushing entirely by setting dopageflush to 0. But that is a client issue. From the perspective of the server, we still need as a NAS to manage large commit request.

When subject to such a workload, say 1GB commit, ZFS being all aware of the situation, can now decide to bypass the SDD device and issue request straight to disk based pool blocks. It would do so for 2 reasons. One is that the pool of disks in it's entirety has more throughput capabilities than the few write optimized SSD and so we will service this request faster. But more importantly, the value of the SSD is in it's latency reduction aspect. Leaving the SSDs available to service many low latency synchronous writes is considered valuable here. Another way to say this is that large writes are generally well served by regular disk operations (they are throughput bound) whereas small synchronous writes (latency bound) can and will get help from the SSDs.

Caches at work

On the read path we also have custom designed read optimized SSDs to fit in these OpenStorage platforms. At Sun, we just believe that many workloads will naturally lend to caching technologies. In a consolidated storage solution, we can offer up to 128GB of primary memory based caching and approximately 500GB of SSD based caching.

We also recognized that the latency delta between memory cached response and disk response was just too steep. By inserting a layer of SSD between memory and disk, we have this intermediate step providing lower latency access than disk to a working set which is now many times greater than memory.

It's important here to understand how and when these read optimized SSD will work. The first thing to recognized is that the SSD will have to be primed with data. They feed off data being evicted from the primary caches. So their effect will not immediately seen at the start of a benchmarks. Second, one of the value of read optimized SSD is truly in low latency responses to small requests. Small request here means things of the order of 8K in size. Such request will occur either when dealing with small files (~8K) or if dealing with larger size but with fix record based application, typically a database. For those application it is customary to set the recordsize and this will allow those new SSDs to become more effective.

Our read optimized SSD can service up to 3000 read IOPS (see Brendan's work on the L2 ARC) and this is close or better to what a 24 x 7.2 RPM disks JBOD can do. But the key point is that the low latency response means it can do so using much fewer threads that would be necessary to reach the same level on a JBOD. Brendan demonstrated here that the response time of these devices can be 20 times faster than disks and 8 to 10 times faster from the client's perspective. So once data is installed in the SSD, users will see their requests serviced much faster which means we are less likely to be subject to queuing delays.

The use of read optimized SSD is configurable in the Appliance. Users should learn to identify the part of their datasets that end up gated by lightly threaded read response time. For those workloads enabling the secondary cache is one way to deliver the value of the read optimized SSD. For those filesystems, if the workload contains small files (such as 8K) there is no need to tune anything, however for large files access in small chunks setting the filesystem recordsize to 8K is likely to produce the best response time.

Another benefit to these SSDs will be in the $/IOPS case. Some workloads are just IOPS hungry while not necessarely huge block consumers. The SSD technology offers great advantages in this space where a single SDD can deliver the IOPS of a full JBOD at a fraction of the cost. So with workloads that are more modestly sized but IOPS hungry a test drive of the SSD will be very interesting.

It's also important to recognized that these systems are used in consolidation scenarios. It can be that some part of the applications will be sped up by read or write optimized SSD, or by the large memory based caches while other consolidated workloads can exercise other components.

There is another interesting implication to using SSD in the storage in regards to clustering. The read optimized ssd acting as caching layers actually never contain critical data. This means those SSD can go into disk slots of head nodes since there is no data to be failed over. On the other hand, write optimized SSD will store data associated with the critical synchronous writes. But since those are located in dual-ported backend enclosures, not the head nodes, it implies that, during clustered operations, storage head nodes do not have to exchange any user level data.

So by using ZFS and read and write optimized SSDs, we can deliver low latency writes for application that rely on them, and good throughput for synchronous and non synchronous case using cost effective SATA drives. Similarly on the read size, the high amount of primary and secondary caches enables delivering high IOPS at low latency (even if the workload is not highly threaded) and it can do so using the more cost and energy efficient SATA drive.

Our architecture allows us to take advantage of the latency accelerators while never being gated by them.

Having L2ARCs (Readzillas) on a shared SSD has an advantage - when you do a failover the other node could re-use L2ARC with all the data which is alradt there possibly providing better performance after failover while main memory is being filled up. IIRC there is a RFE to implement it. Thanks to checksumming it is safe to do so.

Imaging a MySQL database which is smaller than lets say 60GB of SSD - if basically entire database has been cached on L2ARC after failover the new node won't have to basially even touch physical drives...

Posted by Robert Milkowski on novembre 12, 2008 at 09:20 AM MET #


Thanks for this interesting description of performance improvements !

But what is the use if the data is lost because the server is dead for any reason ?

What i have to really guarantee is that the data is synchronously stored in another building on the network.

But i can't find an efficient way to do a ZFS mirror on both local disks and 1 or 2 remote iSCSI targets. I may have 1G or 10G links, so no real bandwidth problem, but the network is more prone to small cuts.

So i would prefer that the server use the remote iSCSI targets for writes and "management/checking" reads, but not for "production" reads.

Can i do it today with current ZFS ?

If not, when will it be available ?

Best regards !

Posted by Bernard Dugas on novembre 25, 2008 at 11:42 AM MET #

Post a Comment:
Comments are closed for this entry.



« avril 2014

No bookmarks in folder