Why I like ZFS in general

July 30, 2014

Over time I've come around to really liking ZFS, not just in the context of our fileservers and our experiences with them but in general. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that when left to myself the data storage model I gravitate to is a changeable collection of filesystems without permanently fixed sizes that are layered on top of a chunk of mirrored storage. I believe I've been doing this since before I ran into ZFS because it's just the right and simple way: I don't have to try to predict how many filesystems I need in advance or how big they all have to be, and managing my mirrored storage in one big chunk instead of a chunk per filesystem is just easier. ZFS is far from the only implementation of this abstract model but it's an extremely simple and easy to use take on it, probably about as simple to use as you can get. And it's one set of software to deal with the whole stack of operations, instead of two or three.

(In Linux, for example, I do this with filesystems in LVM on top of software RAID mirrors. Each of these bits works well but there are three different sets of software involved and any number of multi-step operations to, say, start using larger replacement disks.)

The second is that as time goes by I've become increasingly concerned about both the possibility of quiet bitrot in data that I personally care about and the possibility of losing all of my data from a combination of a drive failure plus bad spots on the remaining drive. Noticing quiet bitrot takes filesystem checksums; recovering from various failure modes takes deep hooks into the RAID layer. ZFS has both and thus deals solidly with both failure possibilities, which is quite reassuring.

(ZFS also has its own fragilities, but let's pretend that software is perfect for the moment. And any theoretical fragilities have not bit me yet.)

As far as I know there is no practical competitor for ZFS in this space today (for simple single-machine setups), especially if you require it to be free or open source. The closest is btrfs but I've come to think that btrfs is doing it wrong on top of its immaturity.

Written on 30 July 2014.
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Last modified: Wed Jul 30 23:27:21 2014
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