[Beowulf] zfs

Skylar Thompson skylar.thompson at gmail.com
Sat Sep 14 17:47:57 PDT 2013

On 9/14/2013 3:52 PM, Andrew Holway wrote:
> Hello,
> Anyone using ZFS in production? Stories? challenges? Caveats?
> I've been spending a lot of time with zfs on freebsd and have found it
> thoroughly awesome.

We have a bunch of ZFS-based storage systems, all running Solaris, and 
falling into two classes:

* Sun/Oracle hardware - We have a dozen or so X4540s. Most of these run 
Solaris 10, one runs Solaris 11 before Oracle came out and said Solaris 
11 was /not/ supported on the X4540. Older versions of Solaris 10 had 
some hardware integration problems and nasty ZFS and networking bugs, 
but the latest patch cluster has solved all of those. Solaris 11 does 
have issues, though, with hardware integration. Another issue we've had 
is that Oracle is perpetually out of spare drives - the rumor is that 
the Seagate drives Sun shipped in the X4540s have manufacturing defects 
that shorten their service life considerably, and Oracle has struggled 
to get other drives certified for the systems. We've easily lost 40 
drives in our X4540s this year alone out of 500-600 total, all Seagate. 
We've had to wait six weeks for 1TB SATA replacements, on NBD contracts.

* Dell hardware - before we rolled our current consolidated storage, we 
had a number of labs needing to buy bulk storage urgently. We ended up 
buying Dell servers and drive trays, and running Solaris 11 with ZFS. 
We've had some challenges, but for the price it definitely has worked 
out. Until we updated to the latest Solaris 11 patch cluster, we had 
some difficulty identifying failed drives. We've also had trouble with 
networking drivers, and tracking down other hardware problems like 
failing NICs causing system hangs. There definitely isn't as much 
integration between Solaris and the hardware as with real Oracle 
hardware. The good news is that the moment you say "Solaris" to Dell 
support they just believe whatever you tell them, without having to run 
additional diagnostics. This makes hardware repair much faster than on 
Linux or Windows systems.

We considered running FreeBSD on some of these systems, but the lack of 
enterprise support made us somewhat leery (not that Oracle support is 
all that great). Definitely if you're going Solaris make sure to get the 
latest patch cluster. In addition to the hardware-specific bugs, we also 
ran into a ZFS bug that caused it to ignore media and transport errors 
for drives even when the hardware and fmadm are reporting faults, and 
another one that would cause scrubs to hang the system.

One thing I wish we had done was buy SSDs for at least some of these 
systems, particularly the ones with lots of tiny files. ZFS metadata 
overhead is pretty high, but separating out L2ARC/ZIL onto SSD would 
have made performance much better. Live and learn, I guess...


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