Thoughts on when to replace disks in a ZFS pool

May 8, 2013

One of the morals that you can draw from our near miss that I described in yesterday's entry, where we might have lost a large pool if things had gone a bit differently, is that the right time to replace a disk with read errors is TODAY. Do not wait. Do not put it off because things are going okay and you see no ZFS-level errors after the dust settles. Replace it today because you never know what is going to happen to another disk tomorrow.

Well, maybe. Clearly the maximally cautious approach is to replace a disk any time it reports a hard read error (ie one that is seen at the ZFS layer) or SMART reports an error. But the problem with this for us is that we'd be replacing a lot of disks and at least some of them may be good (or at least perfectly workable). For read errors, our experience is that some but not all reported read errors are transient errors in that they don't happen again if you do something like (re)scrub the pool. And SMART error reports seem relatively uncorrelated with actual errors reported by the backend kernels or seen by ZFS.

In theory you could replace these potentially questionable disks, test them thoroughly, and return them to your spares pool if they pass your tests. In practice this would add more and more questionable disks to your spares pool and, well, do you really trust them completely? I wouldn't. This leaves either demoting them to some less important role (if you have one that can use a potentially significant number of disks, and maybe you do) or trying to return them to the vendor for a warranty claim (and I don't know if the vendor will take them back under that circumstance).

I don't have a good answer to this. Our current (new) approach is to replace disks that have persistent read errors. On the first read error we clear the error and schedule a pool scrub; if the disk then reports more read errors (during the scrub, before the scrub, or in the next while after the scrub), it gets replaced.

(This updates some of our past thinking on when to replace disks. The general discussion there is still valid.)

Written on 08 May 2013.
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Last modified: Wed May 8 22:24:52 2013
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