If you are in the IT field, you have no doubt heard a lot of great things about ZFS, the file system originally introduced by Sun in 2004.  The ZFS file system has features that make it an exciting part of a solid SAN solution.  For example, ZFS can use SSD drives to cache blocks of data.  That ZFS feature is called the L2ARC.  A ZFS file system is built on top of a storage pool made up of multiple devices.  A ZFS file system can be shared through iSCSI, NFS, and CFS/SAMBA. 

We need a lot of reliable storage to host low cost websites at No Support Linux Hosting.  In the past, we have used Promise iSCSI solutions for SAN based storage.  The Promise SAN solutions are reliable, but they tend to run out of disk IO long before they run out of disk space.  As a result, we have been intentionally under-utilizing our current SAN boxes.  We decided to investigate other storage options this year in an effort to improve the performance of our storage without letting costs get completely out of hand.

We decided to spend some time really getting to know OpenSolaris and ZFS.  Our theory was that we could build a custom ZFS based server for roughly the same price as the Promise M610i SAN, and the ZFS based SAN could outperform the M610i at that price point.  If our theory proved right, we would use the ZFS boxes in future deployments.  We also tested the most popular OpenSolaris based storage solution, Nexenta, on the same hardware.  We decided to blog about our findings and progress at ZFSBuild.com, so others could benefit from anything we learned throughout the project.

ZFS Features
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • sfw - Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - link

    I'm just wondering about SAS bandwidth. If you connect the backplane via 4 SAS lanes you have a theoretical peak throughput of around 1,200MB/s. The RE3 has an average read/write spead of around 90MB/s so you could already saturate the backplane connection with about thirteen RE3s at average speed. Given the fact you also connect the SSDs this seems to a bottleneck you may wish to consider on your "areas where we could have improved the original build" list.

    By the way: really great article! Thanks for it...
  • Mattbreitbach - Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - link

    While in pure sequential reads (from all drives at the same time) would yield a bottleneck, I don't know of any instances where you would actually encounter that in our environment. Throw in one random read, or one random write, and suddenly the heads in the drives are seeking and delivering substantially lower performance than in a purely sequential read situation.

    If this was purely a staging system for disk to tape backups, and the reads were 100% sequential, I would consider more options for additional backplane bandwidth. Since this isn't a concern at this time and this system will be used primarily for VM storage, and our workloads show a pretty substantial random write access pattern (67 write/ 33 read is pretty much the norm, fully random) the probability of saturating the SAS bus is greatly reduced.
  • sfw - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    Concerning random IO you are surely right and the impressing numbers of your box prove this. But even if you don't have sequential workload there is still "zpool scrub" or the possible need to resilver one or more drives which will fill your bandwidth.

    I've checked the options at Supermicro and beside the SC846E1 they are offering E16, E2 and E26 versions with improved backplane bandwidth. The difference in price tag isn't that huge and should not have much impact if your are thinking of 15k SAS or SSD drives.
  • Mattbreitbach - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    The E2 and E26 are both dual-controller designs, which are meant for dual SAS controllers so that you can have failover capabilities.

    The E16 is the same system, but with SAS 2.0 support, which doubles the available bandwidth. I can definately see the E16 or the E26 as being a very viable option for anyone needing more bandwidth.
  • solori - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - link

    Actually (perhaps you meant to say this), the E1 and E16 are single SAS expander models, with the E16 supporting SAS2/6G. The E2 and E26 as dual SAS expander models, with the E26 supporting SAS2/6G.

    The dual expander design allows for MPxIO to SAS disks via the second SAS port on those disks. The single expander version is typical of SATA-only deployments. Each expander has auto-sensing SAS ports (typically SFF8088) that can connect to HBA or additional SAS expanders (cascade.)

    With SAS disks, MPxIO is a real option: allowing for reads and writes to take different SAS paths. Not so for SATA - I know of no consumer SATA disk with a second SATA port.

    As for the 90MB/s average bandwidth of a desktop drive: you're not going to see that in a ZFS application. When ZIL writes happen without an SLOG device, they are written to the pool immediately looking much like small block, random writes. Later, when the transaction group commits, the same ZIL data is written again with the transaction group (but never re-read from the original ZIL pool write since it's still in ARC). For most SATA mechanisms I've tested, there is a disproportionate hit on read performance in the presence of these random writes (i.e. 10% random writes may result in 50%+ drop in sequential read performance).

    Likewise, (and this may be something to stress in a follow-up), the behavior of the ZFS transaction group promises to create a periodic burst of sequential write behavior when committing transactions groups. This has the effect of creating periods of very little activity - where only ZIL writes to the pool take place - followed by a large burst of writes (about every 20-30 seconds). This is where workload determines the amount of RAM/ARC space your ZFS device needs.

    In essence, you need 20-30 seconds of RAM. Writing target 90MB/s (sequential)? You need 2GB additional RAM to do that. Want to write 1200MB/s (assume SAS2 mirror limit)? You'll need 24GB of additional RAM to do that (not including OS footprint and other ARC space for DDT, MRU and MFU data). Also, the ARC is being used for read caching as well, so you'll want enough memory for the read demand as well.

    There are a lot of other reasons why your "mythical" desktop sequential limits will rarely be seen: variable block size, raid level (raidz/z2/z3/mirror) and metadata transactions. SLOG, L2ARC and lots of RAM can reduce the "pressure" on the disks, but there always seem to be enough pesky, random reads and writes to confound most SATA firmware from delivering its "average" rated performance. On average, I expect to see about 30-40% of "vendor specified average bandwidth" in real world applications without considerable tuning; and then, perhaps 75-80%.
  • dignus - Sunday, October 17, 2010 - link

    It's still early sunday morning over here, but I'm missing something. You have 26 disks in your setup, yet your mainboard has only 14 sata connectors. How are your other disks connected to the mainboard?
  • Mattbreitbach - Sunday, October 17, 2010 - link

    The 24 drives in the front of the enclosure are connected via a SAS expander. That allows you to add additional ports without having to have a separate cable for each individual drive.
  • sor - Sunday, February 20, 2011 - link

    I know this is old, but it wasn't mentioned that you can choose between gzip and lz type compression. The lz was particularly interesting to us because we hardly noticed the cpu increase, while performance improved slightly and we got almost as good compression as the fastest gzip option.
  • jwinsor566 - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Thanks guy's for an excellent post on your ZFS SAN/NAS testing. I am in the process of building my own as well. I was wondering if there has been any further testing or if you have invested in new hardware and ran the benchmarks again?

    Also Do you think this would be a good solution for Disk Backup? Would backup software make use of the ZIL you think when writing to the NAS/SAN?

  • shriganesh - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I have read many great articles at Anandtech. But this is the best so far! I loved the way you have presented it. It's very natural and you have mentioned most of the pit falls. It's a splendid article and keep more like these coming!

    PS: I wanted to congratulate the author for this great work. Just for thanking you, I joined Anandtech ;) Though I wanted to share a thought or two previously, I was just compelled enough to go through the boring process of signing up :D

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now