The tiny irritation of ZFS's '
zpool status' nagging you about upgrades
One of the tiny irritations of operating ZFS for a long time is
that eventually, running '
zpool status' on your pools would produce
a multi-line nag about upgrading them to the latest version of ZFS.
I assume that this was added to '
zpool status' output so that you
wouldn't be unaware of it, but the size of the message was far too
large for its actual importance. Back in the old days of Solaris
zpool status -x' even included pools that could be upgraded
(this was one of our Solaris 10 update 6 gotchas), but fortunately people have gotten more
sensible since then. Now it's only a multi-line message.
Perhaps you think I'm exaggerating. No, really, here is the message from the latest version of OpenZFS:
status: Some supported and requested features are not enabled on the pool. The pool can still be used, but some features are unavailable. action: Enable all features using 'zpool upgrade'. Once this is done, the pool may no longer be accessible by software that does not support the features. See zpool-features(7) for details.
That's five lines for what should be one line. When you have multiple pools on a system, as we do in our fileserver environment, it adds up fast.
There are various operational reasons why you might not want to upgrade pools right away. Historically we didn't want to upgrade pools until we were certain we were staying on the new OS and ZFS version, and then once we confident we were staying we weren't certain about the impact on our NFS servers. In theory pool upgrades should be transparent; in practice, who knows.
(Right now all of our fileserver pools are up to date in some sense, because they were freshly created on our current fileservers. But the ZFS version the fileservers are running is out of date, and when we upgrade them next year we'll run into this.)
Fortunately OpenZFS 2.1.0 provides a feature that lets you shut
this up, in the form of OpenZFS's support for partial upgrades. If you set the new '
property to what you already have, '
zpool status' won't nag you
zpool upgrade -v' will show you what you're missing).
A bit on ZFS's coming raidz expansion and ZFS DVAs
The ZFS news of the time interval is Ars Technica's report of raidz expansion potentially being added (via). More details and information about how it works are in the links in Matthew Ahrens' pull request, which as of yet hasn't landed in the master development version. I've previously written about ZFS DVAs and their effects on growing ZFS pools, in which I said that how DVA offsets are defined was by itself a good reason as to why you couldn't expand raidz vdevs (in addition to potential inefficiency). You might wonder how Ahrens' raidz expansion interacts with ZFS DVAs here, so that it can actually work.
As a quick summary, ZFS DVAs (Data Virtual Addresses, the ZFS equivalent of a block number) contain the byte offset of where in the entire vdev your block of data is found. In mirror vdevs (and plain disks), this byte offset is from the start of each disk. In raidz vdevs, it's striped sequentially across all disks; it starts with a chunk of disk 0, goes to a chunk of disk 1, and so on. One of the implications of this is that if you just add a disk to a raidz vdev and do nothing else, all of your striped sequential byte offsets change and you can no longer read your data.
How Ahrens' expansion deals with this is that it reflows all of the data on all of the existing drives to the new, wider raidz vdev layout, moving sectors around as necessary. Some of this reflowed data will wind up on the new drive (starting with the second sector of the first drive), but most of the data will wind up in other places on the existing drives. Both the Ars Technica article and Ahrens' slides from the 2021 FreeBSD Developer Summit have diagrams of this. The slides also share the detail that this is optimized to only copy the live data. This reflowing has the vital property that it preserves all of the DVA byte offsets, since it moves all data sectors from their old locations to where they should be in the new vdev layout.
(Thus, this raidz expansion is done without the long sought and so far mythical 'block pointer rewriting' that would allow general ZFS reshaping, including removing vdevs without the current layer of indirection.)
This copying is performed sector by sector and is blind to ZFS block boundaries. This means that raidz expansion doesn't verify checksums during the process because it doesn't know where they are. Since this expansion writes over the old data locations on your existing drives, I would definitely want to scrub your pool beforehand and have backups (to the extent that it's possible), just in case you hit previously latent disk errors during the expansion. And of course you should scrub the pool immediately after the expansion finishes.
As Ahrens' covers in the slides, this reflowing also doesn't expand the old blocks to be the full new width of the raidz vdev. As a result, they (still) have a higher parity overhead than newly written blocks would. To eliminate this overhead you need to explicitly force ZFS to rewrite all of the data in some way (and obviously this is impossible if you have snapshots that you can't delete and recreate).
Storing ZFS send streams is not a good backup method
One of the eternally popular ideas for people using ZFS is doing backups
by using '
zfs send' and storing the resulting send streams. Although
appealing, this idea is a mistake, because ZFS send streams do not
have the properties you want for a backup format.
A good backup format is designed for availability. No matter what happens, it should let you extract as much from it as possible, from both full backups and incremental backups. If your backup stream is damaged, you should still be able to find and restore as much as possible, both before and after the damage. If a full backup is missing or destroyed, you should still be able to recover something from whatever incrementals you have. This requires incremental backups to have more information in them than they specifically need, but that's a tradeoff you make for availability.
A better backup format should also be convenient to operate, and one big aspect of this is selective restores. A lot of the time you don't need to restore absolutely everything, you just want to get back one file or some files that you need because they got removed, damaged, or whatever. If you have to a complete restore (both full and incremental) in order get back a single file, you don't have a convenient backup format. Other nice things are, for example, being able to readily get an index of what is captured in any particular backup stream (full or incremental).
Incremental ZFS send streams do not have any of these properties and full ZFS send streams only have a few of them. Neither full nor incremental streams have any resilience against damage to the stream; a stream is either entirely intact or it's useless. Neither has selective restores or readily available indexes. Incremental streams are completely useless without everything they're based on. All of these issues will sooner or later cause you pain if you use ZFS streams as a backup format.
ZFS send streams are great at what they're for, which is replicating ZFS
filesystems from one ZFS pool to another in an environment where you can
immediately deal with any problems that come up (whether by retrying the
send of a corrupted stream, changing what it's based on, or whatever
you need to do). The further you pull '
zfs send' away from this happy
path, the more problems you're going to have.
(The design decisions of ZFS send streams make a great deal of sense for this purpose. As a replication format they're designed to be easy to generate, easy to receive, and compact, especially for incremental send streams. They have no internal redundancy or recovery from corruption because the best recovery is 'resend the stream to get a completely good one'.)
Some views and notes on ZFS deduplication today
I recently wrote an entry about a lingering sign of old hopes for ZFS deduplication, and got a number of good comments on it that I have reactions and views about. First off, Opk said:
I could be very wrong in my understanding of how zfs dedup works but I've often turned it on for the initial data population. So I turn it on, rsync or zfs send in my data and then I turn it off again. I don't care about memory usage during the initial setup of a system so I assume this is not doing much harm. [...]
How much potential harm this does depends on what you do with the data that was written with deduplication on. If you leave the data sitting there, this is relatively harmless. However, if you delete the data (including overwriting data in files 'in place'), then ZFS must update the DDT (deduplication table) to correctly maintain the reference count of each unique data block. If you don't have enough memory to hold all of the DDT, then this is going to require disk reads to page chunks of it in and out. The amount of reading and slowdown goes up as you delete more and more data at once, for example if you delete an entire snapshot or filesystem.
(This is a classical surprise issue with deduplication, going back to early days. People are disconcerted when operations like 'zfs destroy <snapshot>' sit there for ages, or at least run in the background for ages even if the command returns immediately.)
Brendan Long asked:
Have the massive price drops for SSD's since 2010 change your opinion on this at all? It seems like the performance hit is quite bad if you have to do random seeks on a spinning disk, but it's ok on SSD's, and you can get a 100 GB SSD for $20 these days.
I'm not sure if it's okay on SSDs, so here's my view. Reads aren't slowed by being deduplicated, but writes (and deletes) require a synchronous check of the DDT for every block, which means a synchronous SSD read IO if the necessary section of the DDT isn't in RAM. It's not clear to me what latency SSDs have for isolated synchronous reads, but my vaguely measured numbers suggest that we should assume on at least a couple of milliseconds per read.
I haven't read the ZFS code, so I don't know if it performs DDT checking
serially as it processes each block being written or deleted (which
would be a natural approach), or if it somehow batches the checks up to
issue them in parallel. If DDT checks are fully serial and you have to
go to SSD on each one, you're looking at a write or delete rate of at
most a thousand blocks a second. If you're dealing with 128 KB blocks
(the typical maximum ZFS
recordsize), that works out to about 125
MBytes a second. This is okay but not all that impressive for a SSD,
and it would mean that deleting large objects could still take quite
a while to complete.
(Deleting 100 GB might take over 13 minutes, for example.)
On the other hand, if we assume that a typical SATA 6 GB/s SSD has a sustained write bandwidth of 550 Mbytes/sec, you only need around 4,400 DDT checks a second in order to hit that data rate for writing out 128 KB ZFS blocks. In practice you're probably not going to get 550 Mbytes/sec of user level write bandwidth out of a deduplicated ZFS pool on a single SSD, because both the necessary DDT writes and the DDT reads will take up some of the bandwidth to and from the SSD (even if the DDT is entirely in RAM, it gets updated on writes and deletes and those updates have to be written back to the SSD).
(This also implies that 4,400 written out DDT blocks a second is about the maximum you can do on a single SSD, for deletes. But I expect that writing out updated DDT entries for deletes is batched and generally doesn't touch that many different blocks of the DDT.)
On the whole, I think that there are enough uncertainties about the performance of deduplicated ZFS pools even on SSDs that I wouldn't want to build one for general use. I'd say 'without a good amount of testing', but I'm not sure that testing would convince me that I wouldn't run into a corner case in ordinary use after long enough.
ZFS pool partial (selective) feature upgrades are coming in OpenZFS
I'm an active user of (Open)ZFS on Linux on
my personal machines (office workstation and home Linux machine), where
I deliberately run the very latest development versions. But if you ran
zpool status' on either machine, you would see a lot of:
status: Some supported and requested features are not enabled on the pool. The pool can still be used, but some features are unavailable. action: Enable all features using 'zpool upgrade'. Once this is done, the pool may no longer be accessible by software that does not support the features. See zpool-features(5) for details.
(This verbose message irks me for other reasons.)
The reason for this is exactly that I run the latest development
versions. Right now, if you run '
zpool upgrade' you get no choice
about what happens; your pools are upgraded to support absolutely
all of the features that the code you're running knows about. The
same thing happens by default when you create a pool (although you
can specify exact features if you know what you're doing). For
people like me, who have old pools but are running the very latest
development versions, this is dangerous. I don't want to enable ZFS
pool features that aren't enabled in any released version yet in
case I have to revert back to using a stable, released version of
The good news is that OpenZFS's development version just landed
a fix for this,
in fact a very general one. The simple version is that there's a
new ZFS pool property called '
compatibility'; if set, it limits
what features a pool will be created with or upgraded to. You can
set it to a wide variety of general choices,
which include things like 'OpenZFS 2.0 on Linux' and 'what Grub2
(As a side effect, looking at the files that defines these options will tell you what's supported, or believed to be supported, on various platforms.)
Since this is a ZFS pool property, I believe that the way to
selectively (or partially) upgrade an existing pool created with
no compatibility option set is to do '
zpool set compatibility=...'
to whatever before hand and then run '
zpool upgrade'. This is
somewhat underdocumented right now (from my perspective) and I
rather wish that '
zpool upgrade' itself could take what to upgrade
to (well, what to limit upgrades to) as an explicit argument, the
zpool create' does. I suppose that setting a pool property
(and then leaving it there) is safer than relying on never accidentally
running a '
zpool upgrade' with no restrictions.
Another useful side effect of the
compatibility pool property, at
least according to the documentation, is that apparently '
status' will no longer nag you if your pool supports all of the
features that are allowed by its
compatibility setting, even if that's
a very low one. This may finally get '
zpool status' to shut up about
this for me, someday.
(I won't be taking advantage of this feature to finally upgrade my pools to the OpenZFS 2.0 level until a bit more time has passed and other people have found any problems with it. The development version of ZFS is well tested, but I'm still cautious.)
This is a quality of life improvement that many OpenZFS users will never really notice, but for system administrators and people like me it's going to be great. Since one of the compatibility options is 'Grub2', it will probably also help people on Linux who want to use ZFS for their root filesystem.
PS: I don't know when (or if) this will be merged back into Illumos. I don't believe that OpenZFS is attempting to explicitly drive this; instead I believe they leave it up to the Illumos developers to pull in OpenZFS changes of interest. As far as Linux goes, I suspect that this won't be part of any 2.0.x update and will likely wait for 2.1.0, whenever that happens.
Thinking through what can go badly with databases on ZFS
Famously, if you're running a database with its storage on ZFS and
you care about performance, you need to tune various ZFS parameters
for the filesystem (or filesystems) that the database is on. You
especially need to tune the ZFS
recordsize property; generally
people will say that if you change only one thing, you should change
this to be either the same size as your database's block size or
perhaps twice its size. But this raises a question for a certain
sort of person, namely what goes badly when you leave ZFS's
recordsize alone and run a database anyway. I can't answer this
from experiments and experience (we've never tried to run performance
sensitive databases on our ZFS fileservers), but I can work through this based
on knowledge of how ZFS works. I'm going to assume SSD or NVMe
storage; if you're still running a database on spinning rust and
trying for performance, ZFS's
recordsize setting is the least of
The default ZFS
recordsize is 128 Kb. What this means is that once a file is 128 Kb or larger,
it's stored in logical blocks that are 128 Kb in size (this is the
size before compression, so the physical size on disk may vary). Within ZFS, both reads and writes
must be done to entire (logical) blocks at once, even if at the
user level you only want to read or write a small amount of data.
This 128 Kb logical block IO forces overheads on both database reads
and especially database writes.
For reads, ZFS must transfer up to 128 Kb from disk (although in a single IO transaction), checksum the entire (decompressed) 128 Kb, probably hold it in the ARC (ZFS's in kernel disk cache), and finally give the database the 8 Kb or 16 Kb chunk that it really wants. I suspect that what usually hurts the most here is the extra memory overhead (assuming that the database doesn't then go back and want another 8 Kb or 16 Kb chunk out of the same 128 Kb block, which is now ready in memory). SSDs and especially NVMe drives have high bandwidth and support a lot of operations per second, so the extra data transferred probably doesn't have a big effect there, although the extra data transferred, decompressed, and checksummed may increase your read IO latency a bit.
Things are worse for database writes. To update an 8 Kb or 16 Kb
chunk, ZFS must read the 128 Kb block into memory if it's not already
there (taking the read overheads, including latency), checksum and
likely compress the new version of the 128 Kb block, allocate new
disk space for it all, and write it. Importantly, the same read,
modify, and write process is required most of the time if you're
appending to a file, such as a database's write-ahead log. When the
fsync()s its data (either for its log or for the main
data files), ZFS may also write the full data into the ZFS Intent
Log. Because a
fsync() forces the disk to flush
data to durable storage and the time this takes usually depends on
how much data there is to flush, I think the increased data written
to the ZIL will increase
fsync() latency and thus transaction
(It's not clear to me if a partial write of a block in a file that
has hit the full
recordsize writes only the new user-level data
to the ZIL or if the ZIL includes the full block, probably out
of line but still forced to disk.)
On modern SSDs and NVMe drives, there's a limited internal drive cache
of fast storage for buffering writes before they have to be put on the
slower main flash. If your database has a high enough write volume, the
extra data that has to be written with a 128 Kb
recordsize might push
the drive out of that fast write storage and slow down all writes. I
suspect that most people don't have that much write traffic and that
this isn't a real concern; my impression is that people normally hit
this drive limit with sustained asynchronous writes.
PS: Appending a small amount of data to a file that is 128 Kb or larger usually requires the same read, modify, write cycle because the last block of a file is still 128 Kb even if the file doesn't entirely fill it up. You get to skip the overhead only when you're starting a new 128 Kb block; if you're appending in 16 Kb chunks, this is every 8th chunk.
PPS: I have some thoughts about the common recommendation for a
throughput on modern storage, but that needs another
entry. The short version is that what
throughput really does is
complicated and it may not be to your benefit today on devices where
random IO is free and write bandwidth is high.
(This entry was sparked by this Fediverse toot, although it doesn't in the least answer the toot's question.)
A lingering sign of old hopes for ZFS deduplication
Over on Twitter, I said:
It's funny-sad that ZFS dedup was considered such an important feature when it launched that 'zpool list' had a DEDUP field added, even for systems with no dedup ever enabled. Maybe someday zpool status will drop that field in the default output.
For people who have never seen it, here is '
zpool list' output
on a current (development) version of OpenZFS
; zpool list NAME SIZE ALLOC FREE CKPOINT EXPANDSZ FRAG CAP DEDUP HEALTH ALTROOT ssddata 596G 272G 324G - - 40% 45% 1.00x ONLINE -
DEDUP field is the ratio of space saved by deduplication,
expressed as a multiplier (from the allocated space after deduplication
to what it would be without deduplication). It's always present in
zpool list' output, and since almost all ZFS pools don't use
deduplication, it's almost always 1.00x.
It seems very likely that Sun and the Solaris ZFS developers had
great hope for ZFS deduplication when the feature was initially
launched. Certainly the feature was very attention getting and
superficially attractive; back a decade ago, people had heard of
it and would recommend it casually, although
actual Solaris developers were more nuanced.
It seems very likely that the presence of a
DEDUP field in the
zpool list' output is a product of an assumption that
ZFS deduplication would be commonly used and so showing the field
was both useful and important.
However, things did not turn out that way. ZFS deduplication is almost never used, because once people tried to use it for real they discovered that it was mostly toxic, primarily because of high memory requirements. Yet the DEDUP field lingers on in the default 'zpool list' output, and people like me can see it as a funny and sad reminder of the initial hopes for ZFS deduplication.
(OpenZFS could either remove it or, if possible, replace it with the overall compression ratio multiplier for the pool, since many pools these days turn on compression. You would still want to have DEDUP available as a field in some version of 'zpool list' output, since the information doesn't seem to be readily available anywhere else.)
PS: Since I looked it up, ZFS deduplication was introduced in Oracle Solaris 11 for people using Solaris, which came out in November of 2011. It was available earlier for people using OpenSolaris, Illumos, and derivatives. Wikipedia says that it was added to OpenSolaris toward the end of 2009 and first appeared in OpenSolaris build 128, released in early December of 2009.
The legibility of different versions of ZFS
I'll put the summary right up at the front: one of the refreshing things that I enjoy about OpenZFS on Linux is how comparatively legible and accessible some aspects of its operation are to me. Well, specifically how comparatively legible starting up ZFS on boot is. Now, there are two sides to that. On one side, the Linux setup to start ZFS is complicated. On the other side, this complexity has always existed in ZFS, it's just that on Solaris (and Illumos/OmniOS), the complexity was deliberately hidden away from you. You were not supposed to have to care about how ZFS started on Solaris because the deep integration of ZFS with the rest of the system should make it just work.
This was fine until the time when it didn't just work. We had some of those at some points, and because we had some of those (and as a general precaution), I wanted to understand the whole process more. When we were running Solaris and then OmniOS, I mostly failed. I never fully understood things like ZFS pool activation and iSCSI or boot time pool activation (also). I'm sure that these things are knowable, and I suspect that they are knowable even for people who aren't Illumos ZFS kernel developers, but I was never able to navigate through everything while we were still running OmniOS.
Given how we overlooked
it's quite possible that part of what is going on is that I'm more
familiar with Linux boot arcana than I am with Illumos boot arcana.
I certainly like systemd much more than SMF,
which left me more interested in learning systemd things than in
learning SMF ones. And OpenZFS on Linux has no more documentation
on the ZFS boot process in Linux than Illumos had for its ZFS boot
process the last time I looked, so you're at the mercy of third
party documentation like the Arch wiki. But for
whatever reasons, I've been more successful at figuring out the
Linux ZFS boot process than I ever was with the OmniOS one.
(Illumos also comes pre-set to have all of the ZFS things work while OpenZFS on Linux can leave you to configure things yourself, which is not exactly the greatest experience.)
I do wish that these things were documented (for Illumos and OpenZFS both). They don't have to be officially supported as 'how this will be for all time', but just knowing how things are supposed to work can be a great help when you run into problems. And beyond that, it's good to know more about how your systems operate under the surface. In the end there is no magic, only things that you don't know.
Some thoughts on how I still miss DTrace (and also mdb)
Although I'm generally happy with our Linux fileservers, every so often we run into an issue where I miss OmniOS's DTrace and mdb; DTrace for dynamic visibility into what the system was doing, and mdb for static inspection and tracing through kernel data structures. In theory Linux has equivalents of both of these. In practice this Linux future is unevenly distributed. It's likely that our Linux fileservers will have great visibility once we upgrade them to Ubuntu 22.04 in 2022 or 2023, but it's taking some time to get there. This is in stark contrast to Solaris, where DTrace (and mdb) were usable from the very beginnings of our ZFS fileservers, very shortly after Solaris 10 included DTrace at all.
It's my feeling that this difference is ultimately because of how Solaris was developed as a unitary whole by Sun, a single organization, in contrast to how Linux's performance and observability systems have been developed in many separated pieces by different groups. Since there was a single organization controlling all Solaris development, people within Sun were in a position to set overriding priorities and decide that DTrace was a good enough idea that it would be finished and shipped all at once in a ready to go state. Since Solaris was a unitary system, the kernel and user tools could ship together as a coordinated thing and the same people could develop both together.
(Similar things apply for mdb, which needs to move in step with the kernel.)
I do feel that the Linux approach has had some important advantages, but it's undeniable that it's been slower to produce actual results (and those results are unevenly distributed, depending on how up to date your version of Linux is and how rapidly it incorporated various things). My perception is that there's been a back and forth where people put forward needs and prototypes, the kernel adds facilities, people build tools that use and push those facilities, and the usefulness of these tools pushes the kernel forward. Some of these tools have wound up being superseded or abandoned, and the overall selection of tools (and facilities) isn't unified. Since the overall Linux system is not a unified thing under the control of one organization, no one in Linux could write an engineering white paper, build a prototype, or otherwise line up everyone behind one thing to get it done rapidly and out into the world all at once.
In a way, this is what I miss from DTrace and mdb. Solaris could move decisively, for better or worse (and to some extent Illumos still can). Not all of its decisive moves were wins (ask me what I feel about SMF), but there was a real power in its ability to make them, and DTrace is a great illustration of that.
PS: It feels possible that not making a public, supported interface
dtrace and the kernel was one of the things that allowed
DTrace as a whole to be shipped early, since it reduced the number
of public things that had to be carefully designed and tested. This
is another area where having a unitary system helps in several ways.
Even on SSDs, ongoing activity can slow down ZFS scrubs drastically
Back in the days of our OmniOS fileservers, which used HDs (spinning rust) across iSCSI, we wound up changing kernel tunables to speed up ZFS scrubs and saw a significant improvement. When we migrated to our current Linux fileservers with SSDs, I didn't bother including these tunables (or the Linux equivalent), because I expected that SSDs were fast enough that it didn't matter. Indeed, our SSD pools generally scrub like lightning.
Then, this weekend, a ZFS pool with 1.68 TB of space used took two days to scrub (48:15, to be precise). This is not something that happens normally; this size of pool usually scrubs much faster, on the order of a few hours. When I poked at it a bit none of the disks seemed unusually slow and there were no signs of other problems, it was just that the scrub was running slowly. However, looking at NFS client metrics in our metrics system suggested that there was continuous ongoing NFS activity to some of the filesystems in that pool.
Although I don't know for sure, this looks like a classical case of even a modest level of regular ZFS activity causing the ZFS scrub code to back off significantly on IO. Since this is on SSDs, this isn't really necessary (at least for us); we could almost certainly sustain both a more or less full speed scrub and our regular read IO (significant write IO might be another story, but that's because it has some potential performance effects on SSDs in general). However, with no tuning our current version of ZFS is sticking to conservative defaults.
In one sense, this isn't surprising, since it's how ZFS has traditionally reacted to IO during scrubs. In another sense, it is, because it's not something I expected to see affect us on SSDs; if I had expected to see it, I'd have carried forward our ZFS tunables to speed up scrubs.
(Now that I look at our logged data, it appears that ZFS scrubs on this pool have been slow for some time, although not 'two days' slow. They used to complete in a couple of hours, then suddenly jumped to over 24 hours. More investigation may be needed.)