The OmniOS version of SSH is kind of slow for bulk transfers

July 25, 2014

If you look at the manpage and so on, it's sort of obvious that the Illumos and thus OmniOS version of SSH is rather behind the times; Sun branched from OpenSSH years ago to add some features they felt were important and it has not really been resynchronized since then. It (and before it the Solaris version) also has transfer speeds that are kind of slow due to the SSH cipher et al overhead. I tested this years ago (I believe close to the beginning of our ZFS fileservers), but today I wound up retesting it to see if anything had changed from the relatively early days of Solaris 10.

My simple tests today were on essentially identical hardware (our new fileserver hardware) running OmniOS r151010j and CentOS 7. Because I was doing loopback tests with the server itself for simplicity, I had to restrict my OmniOS tests to the ciphers that the OmniOS SSH server is configured to accept by default; at the moment that is aes128-ctr, aes192-ctr, aes256-ctr, arcfour128, arcfour256, and arcfour. Out of this list, the AES ciphers run from 42 MBytes/sec down to 32 MBytes/sec while the arcfour ciphers mostly run around 126 MBytes/sec (with hmac-md5) to 130 Mbytes/sec (with hmac-sha1).

(OmniOS unfortunately doesn't have any of the umac-* MACs that I found to be significantly faster.)

This is actually an important result because aes128-ctr is the default cipher for clients on OmniOS. In other words, the default SSH setup on OmniOS is about a third of the speed that it could be. This could be very important if you're planning to do bulk data transfers over SSH (perhaps to migrate ZFS filesystems from old fileservers to new ones)

The good news is that this is faster than 1G Ethernet; the bad news is that this is not very impressive compared to what Linux can get on the same hardware. We can make two comparisons here to show how slow OmniOS is compared to Linux. First, on Linux the best result on the OmniOS ciphers and MACs is aes128-ctr with hmac-sha1 at 180 Mbytes/sec (aes128-ctr with hmac-md5 is around 175 MBytes/sec), and even the arcfour ciphers run about 5 Mbytes/sec faster than on OmniOS. If we open this up to the more extensive set of Linux ciphers and MACs, the champion is aes128-ctr with umac-64-etm at around 335 MBytes/sec and all of the aes GCM variants come in with impressive performances of 250 Mbytes/sec and up (umac-64-etm improves things a bit here but not as much as it does for aes128-ctr).

(I believe that one reason Linux is much faster on the AES ciphers is that the version of OpenSSH that Linux uses has tuned assembly for AES and possibly uses Intel's AES instructions.)

In summary, through a combination of missing optimizations and missing ciphers and MACs, OmniOS's normal version of OpenSSH is leaving more than half the performance it could be getting on the table.

(The 'good' news for us is that we are doing all transfers from our old fileservers over 1G Ethernet, so OmniOS's ssh speeds are not going to be the limiting factor. The bad news is that our old fileservers have significantly slower CPUs and as a result max out at about 55 Mbytes/sec with arcfour (and interestingly, hmac-md5 is better than hmac-sha1 on them).)

PS: If I thought that network performance was more of a limit than disk performance for our ZFS transfers from old fileservers to the new ones, I would investigate shuffling the data across the network without using SSH. I currently haven't seen any sign that this is the case; our 'zfs send | zfs recv' runs have all been slower than this. Still, it's an option that I may experiment with (and who knows, a slow network transfer may have been having knock-on effects).

Written on 25 July 2014.
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Last modified: Fri Jul 25 01:36:48 2014
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