On file system benchmarks

I see this benchmark being quoted in multiple places, and there I see stuff like:

When carrying out more database benchmarking, but this time with PostgreSQL, XFS and Btrfs were too slow to even complete this test, even when it had been running for more than an hour for a single run. Between EXT3, EXT4, and NILFS2, the fastest file-system was EXT3 and then its successor, EXT4, was slightly behind that. Far behind the position of EXT4 were NILFS2 and then Btrfs and XFS.

There were few other benchmarks, e.g. SQLite showed ‘bad performance’ on XFS and Btrfs.

*clear throat*

Dear benchmarkers, don’t compare apples and oranges. If you see differences between benchmarks, do some very very tiny research, and use some intellect, that you, as primates, do have. If database tests are slowest on filesystems created by Oracle (who know some stuff about systems in general) or SGI (who, despite giving away their campus to Google, still have lots of expertise in the field), that can indicate, that your tests are probably flawed somewhere, at least for that test domain.

Now, probably you’ve heard about such thing as ‘data consistency’. That is something what database stack tries to ensure, sometimes at higher costs, like not trusting volatile caches, enforcing certain write orders, depending on acknowledgements by underlying hardware.

So, in this case it wasn’t “benchmarking file systems”, it was simply, benchmarking “consistency” against “no consistency”. But don’t worry, most benchmarks have such flaws – getting numbers but not understanding them makes results much more interesting, right?

Oh, and… thanks for few more misguided people.

On XFS write barriers

I’m very naive, when I have to trust software. I just can’t believe a filesystem may have a tunable that makes it 20x faster (or rather, doesn’t make it 20x slower). I expect it to work out of the box. So, I was pondering, why in my testing XFS on LVM flushes data ~20x faster than on a box where it talks directly to device. Though I have noticed some warnings before, people on #xfs pointed out that LVM doesn’t support write barriers.

So, as I had no idea what write barriers are, had to read up a bit on that. There is a very nice phrase in there regarding battery-backed write-behind caching:

Using write barriers in this instance is not warranted and will in fact lower performance. Therefore, it is recommended to turn off the barrier support and mount the filesystem with “nobarrier”.

No shit, 20x lower performance :) As usually, I was not the only one to spot that..

So, I just ran this:

mount -o remount,nobarrier /a

And InnoDB flushed pages at 80MB/s instead of 4MB/s.

Update (2009/03): 2.6.29 kernel will support write barriers for LVM too – so XFS performance degradation is very much expected at very very wide scope. Also ext4 uses write barriers by default too. This thing is getting huge.

Notes from land of I/O

A discussion on IRC sparkled some interest on how various I/O things work in Linux. I wrote small microbenchmarking program (where all configuration is in source file, and I/O modes can be changed by editing various places in code ;-), and started playing with performance.

The machine for this testing was RAID10 16disk box with 2.6.24 kernel, and I tried to understand how O_DIRECT works, and how fsync() works and ended up digging into some other stuff.

My notes for now are:

  • O_DIRECT serializes writes to a file on ext2, ext3, jfs, so I got at most 200-250w/s.
  • xfs allows parallel (and out-of-order, if that matters) DIO, so I got 1500-2700w/s (depending on file size – seek time changes.. :) of random I/O without write-behind caching. There are few outstanding bugs that lock this down back to 250w/s (#xfs@freenode: “yeah, we drop back to taking the i_mutex in teh case where we are writing beyond EOF or we have cached pages”, so
    posix_fadvise(fd, 0, filesize, POSIX_FADV_DONTNEED)


  • fsync(),sync(),fdatasync() wait if there are any writes, bad part – it can wait forever. Filesystems people say thats a bug – it shouldn’t wait for I/O that happened after sync being called. I tend to believe, as it causes stuff like InnoDB semaphore waits and such.

Of course, having write-behind caching at the controller (or disk, *shudder*) level allows filesystems to be lazy (and benchmarks are no longer that different), but having the upper layers work efficiently is quite important too, to avoid bottlenecks.

It is interesting, that write-behind caching isn’t needed that much anymore for random writes, once filesystem parallelizes I/O, even direct, nonbuffered one.

Anyway, now that I found some of I/O properties and issues, should probably start thinking how they apply to the upper layers like InnoDB.. :)