Wandering Thoughts


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 your problems.

(Examples of tuning recommendations include this [PDF] (via) or Let's Encrypt's ZFS datastore for MariaDB (via).)

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 database 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 commit latency.

(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 logbias of 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.)

ZFSDatabasesWhatHappens written at 00:47:58; Add Comment


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 on Linux:

; zpool list
ssddata  596G   272G  324G        -         -   40%  45%  1.00x  ONLINE  -

The 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 default '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 default '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.

ZFSDedupLingeringSign written at 23:01:10; Add Comment


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 syseventadm, 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.

ZFSVersionsLegibility written at 22:30:48; Add Comment


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 between 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.

DTraceStillMiss written at 23:52:33; Add Comment


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.

(Our Linux fileservers use a ZFS version before sequential scrubs (also). It's possible that sequential scrub support would change this story.)

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.)

ZFSSSDActivitySlowsScrubs written at 22:48:14; Add Comment


Some thoughts on us overlooking Illumos's syseventadm

In a comment on my praise of ZFS on Linux's ZFS event daemon, Joshua M. Clulow noted that Illumos (and thus OmniOS) has an equivalent in syseventadm, which dates back to Solaris. I hadn't previously known about syseventadm, despite having run Solaris fileservers and OmniOS fileservers for the better part of a decade, and that gives me some tangled feelings.

I definitely wish I'd known about syseventadm while we were still using OmniOS (and even Solaris), because it would probably have simplified our life. Specifically, it probably would have simplified the life of our spares handling system (2, 3). At the least, running immediately when some sort of pool state change happened would have sped up its reaction to devices failing (instead, it ran every fifteen minutes or so from cron, creating a bit of time lag).

(On the whole it was probably good to be forced to make our spares system be state based instead of event based. State based systems are easier to make robust in the face of various sorts of issues, like dropped events.)

At the same time, that we didn't realize syseventadm existed is, in my mind, a sign of problems in how Illumos is organized and documented (which is something it largely inherited from Solaris). For instance, syseventadm is not cross referenced in any of the Fault Manager related manpages ( fmd, fmdump, fmadm, and so on). The fault management system is the obvious entry point for a sysadmin exploring this area on Illumos (partly because it dumps out messages on you), so some sort of cross reference would have led me to syseventadm. Nor does it come up much in discussions on the Internet, although if I'd asked specifically back in the days I might have had someone mention it to me.

(It got mentioned in this Serverfault question, for example.)

A related issue is that in order to understand what you can do with syseventadm, you have to read Illumos header files (cf). This isn't even mentioned in the syseventadm manpage, and the examples in the manpage are all for custom events generated by things from a hypothetical third party vendor MYCO instead of actual system events. Without a lot of context, there are not many clues that ZFS events show up in syseventadm in the first place for you to write a handler for them. It also seems clear that writing handlers is going to involve a lot of experimentation or reading the source to determine what data you get and how it's passed to you and so on.

(In general and speaking as a sysadmin, the documentation for syseventadm doesn't present itself as something that's for end sysadmins to use. If you have to read kernel headers to understand even part of what you can do, this is aimed at system programmers.)

On the whole I'm not terribly surprised that we and apparently other people missed the existence and usefulness of syseventadm, even if clearly there was some knowledge of it in the Illumos community. That we did miss it while ZFS on Linux's equivalent practically shoved itself in our face is an example of practical field usability (or lack thereof) in action.

At this point interested parties are probably best off writing articles about how to do things with syseventadm (especially ZFS things), and perhaps putting it in Illumos ZFS FAQs. Changing the structure of the Illumos documentation or rewriting the manpages probably has too little chance of good returns for the time invested; for the most part, the system documentation for Illumos is what it is.

OverlookingSyseventadm written at 00:21:02; Add Comment


In ZFS, your filesystem layout needs to reflect some of your administrative structure

One of the issues we sometimes run into with ZFS is that ZFS essentially requires you to reflect your administrative structure for allocating and reserving space in how you lay out ZFS filesystems and filesystem hierarchies. This is because in ZFS, all space management is handled through the hierarchy of filesystems (and perhaps in having multiple pools). If you want to make two separate amounts of space available to two separate sets of filesystems (or collectively reserved by them), either they must be in different pools or they must be under different dataset hierarchies within the pool.

(These hierarchies don't have to be visible to users, because you can mount ZFS filesystems under whatever names you want, but they exist in the dataset hierarchy in the pool itself and you'll periodically need to know them, because some commands require the full dataset name and don't work when given the mount point.)

That sounds abstract, so let me make it concrete. Simplifying only slightly, our filesystems here are visible to people as /h/NNN (for home directories) and /w/NNN (workdirs, for everything else). They come from some NFS server and live in some ZFS pool there (inside little container filesystems), but the NFS server and to some extent the pool is an implementation detail. Each research group has its own ZFS pool (or for big ones, more than one pool because one pool can only be so big), as do some individual professors. However, there are not infrequently cases where a professor in a group pool would like to buy extra space that is only for their students, and also this professor has several different filesystems in the pool (often a mixture of /h/NNN homedir filesystems and /w/NNN workdir ones).

This is theoretically possible in ZFS, but in order to implement it ZFS would force us to put all of a professor's filesystems under a sub-hierarchy in the pool. Instead of the current tank/h/100 and tank/w/200, they would have to be something like tank/prof/h/100 and tank/prof/w/200. The ZFS dataset structure is required to reflect the administrative structure of how people buy space. One of the corollaries of this is that you can basically only have a single administrative structure for how you allocate space, because a dataset can only be in one place in the ZFS hierarchy.

(So if two professors want to buy space separately for their filesystems but there's a filesystem shared between them (and they each want it to share in their space increase), you have a problem.)

If there were sub-groups of people who wanted to buy space collectively, we'd need an even more complicated dataset structure. Such sub-groups are not necessarily decided in advance, so we can't set up such a hierarchy when the filesystems are created; we'd likely wind up having to periodically modify the dataset hierarchy. Fortunately the manpages suggest that 'zfs rename' can be done without disrupting service to the filesystem, provided that the mountpoint doesn't change (which it wouldn't, since we force those to the /h/NNN and /w/NNN forms).

While our situation is relatively specific to how we sell space, people operating ZFS can run into the same sort of situation any time they want to allocate or control collective space usage among a group of filesystems. There are plenty of places where you might have projects that get so much space but want multiple filesystems, or groups (and subgroups) that should be given specific allocations or reservations.

PS: One reason not to expose these administrative groupings to users is that they can change. If you expose the administrative grouping in the user visible filesystem name and where a filesystem belongs shifts, everyone gets to change the name they use for it.

ZFSAdminVsFilesystemLayout written at 22:58:55; Add Comment


The unfortunate limitation in ZFS filesystem quotas and refquota

When ZFS was new, the only option it had for filesystems quotas was the quota property, which I had an issue with and which caused us practical problems in our first generation of ZFS fileservers because it covered the space used by snapshots as well as the regular user accessible filesystem. Later ZFS introduced the refquota property, which did not have that problem but in exchange doesn't apply to any descendant datasets (regardless of whether they're snapshots or regular filesystems). At one level this issue with refquota is fine, because we put quotas on filesystems to limit their maximum size to what our backup system can comfortably handle. At another level, this issue impacts how we operate.

All of this stems from a fundamental lack in ZFS quotas, which is ZFS's general quota system doesn't let you limit space used only by unprivileged operations. Writing into a filesystem is a normal everyday thing that doesn't require any special administrative privileges, while making ZFS snapshots (and clones) requires special administrative privileges (either from being root or from having had them specifically delegated to you). But you can't tell them apart in a hierarchy, because ZFS only you offers the binary choice of ignoring all space used by descendants (regardless of how it occurs) or ignoring none of it, sweeping up specially privileged operations like creating snapshots with ordinary activities like writing files.

This limitation affects our pool space limits, because we use them for two different purposes; restricting people to only the space that they've purchased and insuring that pools always have a safety margin of space. Since pools contain many filesystems, we must limit their total space usage using the quota property. But that means that any snapshots we make for administrative purposes consume space that's been purchased, and if we make too many of them we'll run the pool out of space for completely artificial reasons. It would be better to be able to have two quotas, one for the space that the group has purchased (which would limit only regular filesystem activity) and one for our pool safety margin (which would limit snapshots too).

(This wouldn't completely solve the problem, though, since snapshots still consume space and if we made too many of them we'd run a pool that should have free space out of even its safety margin. But it would sometimes make things easier.)

PS: I thought this had more of an impact on our operations and the features we can reasonable offer to people, but the more I think about it the more it doesn't. Partly this is because we don't make much use of snapshots, though, for various reasons that sort of boil down to 'the natural state of disks is usually full'. But that's for another entry.

ZFSHierarchyQuotaLack written at 22:17:27; Add Comment


How we guarantee there's always some free space in our ZFS pools

One of the things that we discovered fairly early on in our experience with ZFS (I think within the lifetime of the first generation Solaris fileservers) is that ZFS gets very unhappy if you let a pool get completely full. The situation has improved since then, but back in the days we couldn't even change ZFS properties, much less remove files as root. Being unable to change properties is a serious issue for us because NFS exports are controlled by ZFS properties, so if we had a full pool we couldn't modify filesystem exports to cut off access from client machines that were constantly filling up the filesystem.

(At one point we resorted to cutting off a machine at the firewall, which is a pretty drastic step. Going this far isn't necessary for machines that we run, but we also NFS export filesystems to machines that other trusted sysadmins run.)

To stop this from happening, we use pool-wide quotas. No matter how much space people have purchased in a pool or even if this is a system pool that we operate, we insist that it always have a minimum safety margin, enforced through a 'quota=' setting on the root of the pool. When people haven't purchased enough to use all of the pool's current allocated capacity, this safety margin is implicitly the space they haven't bought. Otherwise, we have two minimum margins. The explicit minimum margin is that our scripts that manage pool quotas always insist on a 10 MByte safety margin. The implicit minimum margin is that we normally only set pool quotas in full GB, so a pool can be left with several hundred MB of space between its real maximum capacity and the nearest full GB.

All of this pushes the problem back one level, which is determining what the pool's actual capacity is so we can know where this safety margin is. This is relatively straightforward for us because all of our pools use mirrored vdevs, which means that the size reported by 'zpool list' is a true value for the total usable space (people with raidz vdevs are on their own here). However, we must reduce this raw capacity a bit, because ZFS reserves 1/32nd of the pool for its own internal use. We must reserve at least 10 MB over and above this 1/32nd of the pool in order to actually have a safety margin.

(All of this knowledge and math is embodied into a local script, so that we never have to do these calculations by hand or even remember the details.)

PS: These days in theory you can change ZFS properties and even remove files when your pool is what ZFS will report as 100% full. But you need to be sure that you really are freeing up space when you do this, not using more because of things like snapshots. Very bad things happen to your pool if it gets genuinely full right up to ZFS's internal redline (which is past what ZFS will normally let you unless you trick it); you will probably have to back it up, destroy it, and recreate it to fully recover.

(This entry was sparked by a question from a commentator on yesterday's entry on how big our fileserver environment is.)

ZFSGuaranteeFreeSpace written at 22:51:20; Add Comment


Revisiting what the ZFS recordsize is and what it does

I'm currently reading Jim Salter's ZFS 101—Understanding ZFS storage and performance, and got to the section on ZFS's important recordsize property, where the article attempts to succinctly explain a complicated ZFS specific thing. ZFS recordsize is hard to explain because it's relatively unlike what other filesystems do, and looking back I've never put down a unified view of it in one place.

The simplest description is that ZFS recordsize is the (maximum) logical block size of a filesystem object (a file, a directory, a whatever). Files smaller than recordsize have a single logical block that's however large it needs to be (details here); files of recordsize or larger have some number of recordsize logical blocks. These logical blocks aren't necessarily that large in physical blocks (details here); they may be smaller, or even absent entirely (if you have some sort of compression on and all of the data was zeros), and under some circumstances the physical block can be fragmented (these are 'gang blocks').

(ZFS normally doesn't fragment the physical block that implements your logical block, for various good reasons including that one sequential read or write is generally faster than several of them.)

However, this logical block size has some important consequences because ZFS checksums are for a single logical block. Since ZFS always verifies the checksum when you read data, it must read the entire logical block even if you ask only for a part of it; otherwise it doesn't have all the data it needs to compute the checksum. Similarly, it has to read the entire logical block even when your program is only writing a bit of data to part of it, since it has to update the checksum for the whole block, which requires the rest of the block's data. Since ZFS is a copy on write system, it then rewrites the whole logical block (into however large a physical block it now requires), even if you only updated a little portion of it.

Another consequence is that since ZFS always writes (and reads) a full logical block, it also does its compression at the level of logical blocks (and if you use ZFS deduplication, that also happens on a per logical block basis). This means that a small recordsize will generally limit how much compression you can achieve, especially on disks with 4K sectors.

(Using a smaller maximum logical block size may increase the amount of data that you can deduplicate, but it will almost certainly increase the amount of RAM required to get decent performance from deduplication. ZFS deduplication's memory requirements for good performance are why you should probably avoid it; making them worse is not usually a good idea. Any sort of deduplication is expensive and you should use it only when you're absolutely sure it's worth it for your case.)

ZFSRecordsizeMeaning written at 23:35:22; Add Comment

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