2012 Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory Management Summit

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Day 1

By  Jake Edge
April 3, 2012

Day one of the Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory Management Summit (LSFMMS) was held in San Francisco on April 1. What follows is a report on the combined and MM sessions from the day largely based on Mel Gorman's write-ups, with some editing and additions from my own notes. In addition, James Bottomley sat in on the Filesystem and Storage discussions and his (lightly edited) reports are included as well. The plenary session from day one, onruntime filesystem consistency checking, was covered in a separate article.


Fengguang Wu began by enumerating his work on improving the writeback situation and instrumenting the system to get better information on why writeback is initiated. James Bottomley quickly pointed out that we've talked about writeback for several years at LSFMMS and specifically asked where are we right now. Unfortunately many people spoke at the same time, some without microphones making it difficult to follow. They did focus on how and when sync takes place, what impact it has, and whether anyone should care about how dd benchmarks behave. The bulk of the comments focused on the fairness of dealing with multiple syncs coming from multiple sources. Ironically despite the clarity of the question, the discussion was vague. As concrete examples were not used by each audience member it could be only concluded that "on some filesystems for some workloads depending on what they do, writeback may do something bad".

Wu brought it back on topic by focusing on I/O-less dirty throttling and the complexities that it brings. However, the intention is to minimize seeks, and to provide less lock contention and low latency. He maintains that there were some impressive performance gains with some minor regressions. There are issues around integration with task/cgroup I/O controllers but considering the current state of I/O controllers, this was somewhat expected.

Bottomley asked about how much complexity this added; Dave Chinner pointed out that the complexity of the code was irrelevant because the focus should be on the complexity of the algorithm. Wu countered that the coverage of his testing was pretty comprehensive, covering a wide range of hardware, filesystems, and workloads.

For dirty reclaim, there is now a greater focus on pushing pageout work to the flusher threads with some effort to improve interactivity by focusing dirty reclaim on the tasks doing the dirtying. He stated that dirty pages reaching the end of the LRU are still a problem and suggested the creation of a dirty LRU list. With current kernels, dirty pages are skipped over by direct reclaimers, which increases CPU cost, making it a problem that varies between kernel versions. Moving them to a separate list unfortunately requires a page flag which is not readily available.

Memory control groups bring their own issues with writeback, particularly around flusher fairness. This is currently beyond control with only coarse options available such as limiting the number of operations that can be performed on a per-inode basis or limiting the amount of IO that can be submitted. There was mention of throttling based on the amount of IO a process completed but it was not clear how this would work in practice.

The final topic was on the block cgroup (blkcg) I/O controller and the different approaches to throttling based on I/O operations/second (IOPS) and access to disk time. Buffered writes are a problem, as is how they could possibly be handled via balance_dirty_pages(). A big issue with throttling buffered writes is still identifying the I/O owner and throttling them at the time the I/O is queued, which happens after the I/O owner has already executed a read() or write(). There was a request to clarify what the best approach might be but there were few responses. As months, if not years, of discussion on the lists imply, it is just not a straightforward topic and it was suggested that a spare slot be stolen to discuss it further (see the follow-up in the filesystem and storage sessions below).

At the end, Bottomley wanted an estimate of how close writeback was to being "done". After some hedging, Wu estimated that it was 70% complete.

Stable pages

The  problems surrounding stable pages were the next topic under discussion. As was noted by Ted Ts'o, making writing processes wait for writeback to complete on stable pages can lead to unexpected and rather long latencies, which may be unacceptable for some workloads. Stable pages are only really needed for some systems where things like checksums calculated on the page require that the page be unchanged when it actually gets written.

Sage Weil and Boaz Harrosh listed the three options for handling the problem. The first was to reissue the write for pages that have changed while they were undergoing writeback, but that can confuse some storage systems. Waiting on the writeback (which is what is currently done) or doing a copy-on-write (COW) of the page under writeback were the other two. The latter option was the initial focus of the discussion.

James Bottomley asked if the cost of COW-ing the pages had been benchmarked and Weil said that they hadn't been. Weil and Harrosh are interested in workloads that really require stable writes and whether they were truly affected by waiting for the writeback to complete. Weil noted that Ts'o can just turn off stable pages, which fixes his problem. Bottomley asked: could there just be a mount flag to turn off stable pages? Another way to approach that might be to have the underlying storage system inform the filesystem if it needed stable writes or not.

Since waiting on writeback for stable pages introduces a number of unexpected issues, there is a question of whether replacing it with something with a different set of issues is the right way to go. The COW proposal may lead to problems because it results in there being two pages for the same storage location floating around. In addition, there are concerns about what would happen for a file that gets truncated after its pages have been copied, and how to properly propagate that information.

It is unclear whether COW would be always be a win over waiting, so Bottomley suggested that the first step should be to get some reporting added into the stable writeback path to gather information on what workloads are being affected and what those effects are. After that, someone could flesh out a proposal on how to implement the COW solution that described how to work out the various problems and corner cases that were mentioned.

Memory vs. performance

While the topic name of Dan Magenheimer's slot, "Restricting Memory Usage with Equivalent Performance", was not of his choosing, that didn't deter him from presenting a problem for memory management developers to consider. He started by describing a graph of the performance of a workload as the amount of RAM available to it increases. Adding RAM reduces the amount of time the workload takes, to a certain point. After that point, adding more memory has no effect on the performance.

It is difficult or impossible to know the exact amount of RAM required to optimize the performance of a workload, he said. Two virtual machines on a single host are sharing the available memory, but one VM may need the additional memory that the other does not really need. Some kind of balance point between the workloads being handled by the two VMs needs to be found. Magenheimer has some ideas on ways to think about the problem that he described in the session.

He started with an analogy of two countries, one of which wants resources that the other has. Sometimes that means they go to war, especially in the past, but more recently economic solutions have been used rather than violence to allocate the resource. He wonders if a similar mechanism could be used in the kernel. There are a number of sessions in the memory management track that are all related to the resource allocation problem, he said, including memory control groups soft-limits, NUMA balancing, and ballooning.

The top-level question is how to determine how much memory an application actually needs vs. how much it wants. The idea is try to find the point where giving some memory to another application has a negligible performance impact on the giver while the other application can use it to increase its performance. Beyond tracking the size of the application, Magenheimer posited that one could use calculus and calculate the derivative of the size growth to gain an idea of the "velocity" of the workload. Rik van Riel noted that this information could be difficult to track when the system is thrashing, but Magenheimer thought that tracking refaults could help with that problem.

Ultimately, Magenheimer wants to apply these ideas to RAMster, which allows machines to share "unused" memory between them. RAMster would allow machines to negotiate storing pages for other machines. For example, in an eight machine system, seven machines could treat the remaining machine as a memory server, offloading some of their pages to that machine.

Workload size estimation might help, but the discussion returned to the old chestnut of trying to shrink memory to find at what point the workload starts "pushing" back by either refaulting or beginning to thrash. This would allow the issue to be expressed in terms of control theory. A crucial part of using control theory is having a feedback mechanism. By and large, virtual machines have almost non-existent feedback mechanisms for establishing the priority of different requests for resources. Further, performance analysis on resource usage is limited.

Glauber Costa pointed out that potentially some of this could be investigated using memory cgroups that vary in size to act as a type of feedback mechanism even if it lacked a global view of resource usage.

In the end, this session was a problem statement - what feedback mechanisms does a VM need to assess how much memory the workload on a particular machine requires? This is related to workload working set size estimation but that is sufficiently different from Magenheimer's requirement that they may not share that much in common.

Ballooning for transparent huge pages

Rik van Riel began by reminding the audience that transparent huge pages (THP) gave a large performance gain in virtual machines by virtue of the fact that VMs use nested page tables, which doubles the normal cost of translation. Huge pages, by requiring far fewer translations, can make much of the performance penalty associated with nested page tables go away.

Once ballooning enters the picture though it rains on the parade by fragmenting memory and reducing the number of huge pages that can be used. The obvious approach is to balloon in 2M contiguous chunks. However, this has its own problems because compaction can only do so much. If a guest must shrink its memory by half, it may use all the regions that are capable of being defragmented. This would reduce or eliminate the number of 2M huge pages that could be used.

Van Riel's solution requires that balloon pages become movable within the guest, which requires changes to both the balloon driver and potentially the hypervisor. However, no one in the audience saw a problem with this as such. Balloon pages are not particularly complicated, because they just have one reference. They need a new page mapping with a migration callback to release the reference to the page and the contents do not need to be copied so there is an optimization available there.

Once that is established, it would also be nice to keep balloon pages within the same 2M regions. Dan Magenheimer mentioned a user that has a similar type of problem, but that problem is very closely related to what CMA does. It was suggested that Van Riel may need something very similar to MIGRATE_CMA except where MIGRATE_CMA forbids unmovable pages within their pageblocks, balloon drivers would simply prefer that unmovable pages were not allocated. This would allow further concentration of balloon pages within 2M regions without using compaction aggressively.

There was no resistance to the idea in principle so one would expect that some sort of prototype will appear on the lists during the next year.

Finding holes for mmap()

Rik van Riel started a discussion on the problem of finding free virtual areas quickly during mmap()calls. Very simplistically, an mmap() requires a linear search of the virtual address space by virtual memory area (VMA) with some minor optimizations for caching holes and scan pointers. However, there are some workloads that use thousands of VMAs so this scan becomes expensive.

VMAs are already organized by a red-black tree (RB tree). Andrea Arcangeli had suggested that information about free areas near a VMA could be propagated up the RB tree toward the root. Essentially it would be an augmented RB tree that stores both allocated and free information. Van Riel was considering a simpler approach using a callback on a normal RB tree to store the hole size in the VMA. Using that, each RB node would know the total free space below it in an unsorted fashion.

That potentially introduces fragmentation as a problem but that is inconsequential to Van Riel in comparison to the problem where a hole of a particular alignment is required. Peter Zijlstra maintained that augmented trees should be usable to do this, but that was disputed by Van Riel who said that augmented RB tree users have significant implementation responsibilities so this detail needs further research.

Again, there was little resistance to the idea in principle but there are likely to be issues during review about exactly how it gets implemented.

AIO/DIO in the kernel

Dave Kleikamp talked about asynchronous I/O (AIO) and how it is currently used for user pages. He wants to be able to initiate AIO from within the kernel, so he wants to convert struct iov_iter to contain either an iovec or bio_vec and then convert the direct I/O path to operate on iov_iter. He maintains that this should be a straightforward conversion based on the fact that it is the generic code that does all the complicated things with the various structures.

He tested the API change by converting a loop device to set O_DIRECT and submit via AIO. This eliminated caching in the underlying filesystem and assured consistency of the mounted file.

He sent out patches a month ago but did not get much feedback and was looking to figure out why that was. He was soliciting input on the approach and how it might be improved but it seemed like many had either missed the patches or otherwise not read them. There might be greater attention in the future.

The question was asked whether it would be a compatible interface for swap-over-arbitrary-filesystem. The latest swap-over-NFS patches introduced an interface for pinning pages for kernel I/O but Dave's patches appear to go further. It would appear that swap-over-NFS could be adapted to use Dave's work.

Dueling NUMA migration schemes

Peter Zijlstra started the session by talking about his approach for improving performance on NUMA machines. Simplistically, it assigns processes to a home node that allocation policies will prefer to allocate from and load balancer policies to keep the threads near the memory it is using. System calls are introduced to allow assignment of thread groups and VMAs to nodes. Applications must be aware of the API to take advantage of it.

Once the decision has been made to migrate threads to a new node, their pages are unmapped and migrated as they are faulted, minimizing the number of pages to be migrated and correctly accounting for the cost of the migration to the process moving between nodes. As file pages may potentially be shared, the scheme focuses on anonymous pages. In general, the scheme is expected to work well for the case where the working set fits within a given NUMA node but be easier to implement than the hard binding support currently offered by the kernel. Preliminary tests indicate that it does what it is supposed to do for the cases it handles.

One key advantage Zijlstra cited for his approach was that he maintains information based on thread and VMA, which is predictable. In contrast, Andrea Arcangeli's approach requires storing information on a per-page basis and is much heavier in terms of memory consumption. There were few questions on the specifics of how it was implemented with comments from the room focusing instead on comparing Zijlstra and Arcangeli's approaches.

Hence, Arcangeli presented on AutoNUMA which consists of a number of components. The first is theknuma_scand component which is a page table walker that tracks the RSS usage of processes and the location of their pages. To track reference behavior, a NUMA page fault hinting component changes page table entries (PTEs) in an arrangement that is similar but not identical to PROT_NONE temporarily. Faults are then used to record what process is using a given page in memory. knuma_migrateN is a per-node thread that is responsible for migrating pages if a process should move to a new node. Two further components move threads near the memory they are using or alternatively, move memory to the CPU that is using it. Which option it takes depends on how memory is currently being used by the processes.

There are two types of data being maintained for decisions. sched_autonuma works on a task_struct basis and the data is collected by NUMA hinting page faults. The second is mm_autonuma which works on an mm_structbasis and gathers information on the working set size and the location of the pages it has mapped, which is generated by knuma_scand.[AutoNUMA workflow]

The details on how it decides whether to move threads or memory to different NUMA nodes is involved but Arcangeli expressed a high degree of confidence that it could make close to optimal decisions on where threads and memory should be located. Arcangeli's slide that describes the AutoNUMA workflow is shown at right.

When it happens, migration is based on per-node queues and care is taken to migrate pages at a steady rate to avoid bogging the machine down copying data. While Arcangeli acknowledged the overall concept was complicated, he asserted that it was relatively well-contained without spreading logic throughout the whole of MM.

As with Zijlstra's talk, there were few questions on the specifics of how it was implemented, implying that not many people in the room have reviewed the patches, so Arcangeli moved on to explaining the benchmarks he ran. The results of the benchmarks looked as if performance was within a few percent of manually binding memory and threads to local nodes. It was interesting to note that for one benchmark, specjbb, it was clear that how well AutoNUMA does varies, which shows its non-deterministic behavior. But its performance never dropped below the base performance. He explained that the variation could be partially explained by the fact that AutoNUMA currently does not migrate THP pages, instead it splits them and migrates the individual pages depending on khugepaged to collapse the huge pages again.

Zijlstra pointed out that, for some of the benchmarks that were presented, his approach potentially performed just as well without the algorithm complexity or memory overhead. He asserted this was particularly true for KVM-based workloads as long as the workload fits within a NUMA node. He pointed out that the history of memcg led to a situation where it had to be disabled by default in many situations because of the overhead and that AutoNUMA was vulnerable to the same problem.

When it got down to it, the discussed points were not massively different to discussions on the mailing list except perhaps in terms of tone. Unfortunately there was little discussion on was whether there was any compatibility between the two approaches and what logic could be shared. This was due to time limitations but future reviewers may have a clearer view of the high-level concepts.

Soft limits in memcg

Ying Han began by introducing soft reclaim and stated she wanted to find what blockers existed for merging parts of it. It has reached the point where it is getting sufficiently complicated that it is colliding with other aspects of the memory cgroup (memcg) work.

Right now, the implementation of soft limits allows memcgs to grow above a soft limit in the absence of global memory pressure. In the event of global memory pressure then memcgs get shrunk if they are above their soft limit. The results for shrinking are similar to hierarchical reclaim for hard limits. In a superficial way, this concept is similar to what Dan Magenheimer wanted for RAMSter except that it applies to cgroups instead of machines.

Rik van Riel pointed out that it is possible that a task can be fitting in a node and within its soft limit. If there are other cgroups on the same node, the aggregate soft limit can be above the node size and, in some cases, that cgroup should be shrunk even if it is below the soft limit. This has a quality-of-service impact; Han recognizes that this needs to be addressed. This is somewhat of an administrative issue. The total of all hard limits can exceed physical memory with the impact being that global reclaim shrinks cgroups before they hit their hard limit. This may be undesirable from an administrative point of view. For soft limits, it makes even less sense if the total soft limits exceed physical memory as it would be functionally similar to if the soft limits were not set at all.

The primary issue was to decide what to set the ratio to reclaim pages from cgroups at. If there is global memory pressure and all cgroups are under their soft limit then a situation potentially arises whereby reclaim is retried indefinitely without forward progress. Hugh Dickins pointed out that soft reclaim has no requirement that cgroups under their soft limit never be reclaimed. Instead, reclaim from such cgroups should simply be resisted and the question is how it should be resisted. This may require that all cgroups get scanned to discover that they are all under their soft limit and then require burning more CPU rescanning them. Throttling logic is required but ultimately this is not dissimilar to how kswapd or direct reclaimers get throttled when scanning too aggressively. As with many things, memcg is similar to the global case but the details are subtly different.

Even then, there was no real consensus on how much memory should be reclaimed from cgroups below their soft limit. There is an inherent fairness issue here that does not appear to have changed much between different discussions. Unfortunately, discussions related to soft reclaim are separated by a lot of time and people need to be reminded of the details. This meant that little forward progress was made on whether to merge soft reclaim or not but there were no specific objections during the session. Ultimately, this is still seen as being a little Google-specific particularly as some of the shrinking decisions were tuned based on Google workloads. New use-cases are needed to tune the shrinking decisions and to support the patches being merged.

Kernel interference

Christoph Lameter started by stating that each kernel upgrade resulted in slowdowns for his target applications (which are for high-speed trading). This generates a lot of resistance to kernels being upgraded on their platform. The primary sources of interference were from faults, reclaim, inter-processor interrupts, kernel threads, and user-space daemons. Any one of these can create latency, sometimes to a degree that is catastrophic to their application. For example, if reclaim causes an additional minor fault to be incurred, it is in fact a major problem for their application.

The reason this happens is due to some trends. Kernels are simply more complex with more causes of interference leaving less processor time available to the user. Other trends which affect them are larger memory sizes leading to longer reclaim as well as more processors meaning that for-all-cpu loops take longer.

One possible measure would be to isolate OS activities to a subset of CPUs possibly including interrupt handling. Andi Kleen pointed out that even with CPU isolation, if unrelated processes are sharing the same socket, they can interfere with each other. Lameter maintained that while this was true such isolation was still of benefit to them.

For some of the examples brought up, there are people working on the issues but they are still works in progress and have not been merged. The fact of the matter is that the situation is less than ideal with kernels today. This is forcing them into a situation where they fully isolated some CPUs and bypass the OS as much as possible, which turns Linux into a glorified boot loader. It would be in the interest of the community to reduce such motivations by watching the kernel overhead, he said.

Filesystem and storage sessions

Copy offload

Frederick Knight, who is the NetApp T10 (SCSI) standards guy, began by describing copy offload, which is a method for allowing SCSI devices to copy ranges of blocks without involving the host operating system. Copy offload is designed to be a lot faster for large files because wire speed is no longer the limiting factor. In fact, in spite of the attention now, offloaded copy has been in SCSI standards in some form or other since the SCSI-1 days. EXTENDED COPY (abbreviated as XCOPY) takes two descriptors for the source and destination and a range of blocks. It is then implemented in a push model (source sends the blocks to the target) or a pull model (target pulls from source) depending on which device receives the XCOPY command. There's no requirement that the source and target use SCSI protocols to effect the copy (they may use an internal bus if they're in the same housing) but should there be a failure, they're required to report errors as if they had used SCSI commands.

A far more complex command set is TOKEN based copy. The idea here is that the token contains a ROD (Representation of Data) which allows arrays to give you an identifier for what may be a snapshot. A token represents a device and a range of sectors which the device guarantees to be stable. However, if the device does not support snapshotting and the region gets overwritten (or in fact, for any other reason), it may decline to accept the token and mark it invalid. This, unfortunately, means you have no real idea of the token lifetime, and every time the token goes invalid, you have to do the data transfer by other means (or renew the token and try again).

There was a lot of debate on how exactly we'd make use of this feature and whether tokens would be exposed to user space. They're supposed to be cryptographically secure, but a lot of participants expressed doubt on this and certainly anyone breaking a token effectively has access to all of your data.

NFS and CIFS are starting to consider token-based copy commands, and the token format would be standardized, which would allow copies from a SCSI disk token into an NFS/CIFS volume.

Copy offload implementation

The first point made by Hannes Reinecke is that identification of source and target for tokens is a nightmare if everything is done in user space. Obviously, there is a need to flush the source range before constructing the token, then we can possibly use FIEMAP to get the sectors. Chris Mason pointed out this wouldn't work for Btrfs and after further discussion the concept of a ref-counted FIETOKEN operation emerged instead.

Consideration then moved to hiding the token in some type of reflink() and splice()-like system calls. There was a lot more debate on the mechanics of this, including whether the token should be exposed to user space (unfortunately, yes, since NFS and CIFS would need it). Discussion wrapped up with the thought that we really needed to understand the user-space use cases of this technology.

RAID unification

pNFS is beginning to require complex RAID-ed objects which require advanced RAID topologies. This means that pNFS implementations need an advanced, generic, composable RAID engine that can implement any topology in a single compute operation. MD was rejected because composition requires layering within the MD system and that means you can't do advanced topologies in a single operation.

This proposal was essentially for a new interface that would unify all the existing RAID systems by throwing them away and writing a new one. Ted Ts'o pointed out that filesystems making use of this engine don't want to understand how to reconstruct the data, so the implementation should "just work" for the degraded case. If we go this route, we definitely need to ensure that all existing RAID implementations work as well as they currently do.

The action summary was to start with MD and then look at Btrfs. Since we don't really want new administrative interfaces exposed to users, any new implementation should be usable by the existing LVM RAID interfaces.


Dave Chinner reminded everyone that the methodology behind xfstest is "golden output matching". That means that all XFS tests produce output which is then filtered (to remove extraneous differences like timestamps or, rather, to fill them in with X's) and the success or failure indicated by seeing if the results differ from the expected golden result file. This means that the test itself shouldn't process output.

Almost every current filesystem is covered by xfstest in some form and all the code in XFS is tested at 75-80% coverage. (Dave said we needed to run the code coverage tools to determine what the code coverage of the tests in other filesystems actually is). Ext4, XFS and Btrfs regularly have the xfstest suite run as part of their development cycle.

Xfstest consists of ~280 tests which run in 45-60 minutes (depending on disk speed and processing power). Of these tests, about 100 are filesystem-independent. One of the problems is that the tests are highly dependent on the output format of tools, so, if that changes, the test reports false failures. On the other hand, it is easily fixed by constructing a new golden output file for the tests.

One of the maintenance nightmares is that the tests are numbered rather than named (which means everyone who writes a new test adds it as number 281 and Dave has to renumber). This should be fixed by naming tests instead. The test space should also become hierarchical (grouping by function) rather than the current flat scheme. Keeping a matrix of test results over time allows far better data mining and makes it easier to dig down and correlate reasons for intermittent failures, Chinner said.

Flushing and I/O back pressure

This was a breakout session to discuss some thoughts that arose during the general writeback session (reported above).

The main concept is that writeback limits are trying to limit the amount of time (or IOPS, etc.) spent in writeback. However, the flusher threads are currently unlimited because we have no way to charge the I/O they do to the actual tasks. Also, we have problems accounting for metadata (filesystems with journal threads) and there are I/O priority inversion problems (can't have high priority task blocked because of halted writeout on a low priority one which is being charged for it).

There are three problems:

  • Problems between CFQ and block flusher. This should now be solved by tagging I/O with the originating cgroup.

  • CFQ throws all I/O into a single queue (Jens Axboe thinks this isn't a problem).

  • Metadata ordering causes priority inversion.

On the last, the thought was that we could use transaction reservations as an indicator for whether we had to complete the entire transaction (or just throttle it entirely) regardless of the writeback limits which would avoid the priority inversions caused by incomplete writeout of transactions. For dirty data pages, we should hook writeback throttling into balance_dirty_pages(). For the administrator, the system needs to be simple, so there needs to be a single writeback "knob" to adjust.

Another problem is that we can throttle a process which uses buffered I/O but not if it uses AIO or direct I/O (DIO), so we need to come up with a throttle that works for all I/O.

Day 2

By  Jake Edge
April 4, 2012

Day two of the Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory Management Summit was much like its predecessor, but with fewer combined sessions. It was held in San Francisco on April 2. Below is a look at the combined sessions as well as those in the Memory Management track that is largely based on write-ups from Mel Gorman as well as some additions from my notes. In addition, James Bottomley has written up the Filesystem and Storage track.

Flash media

Steven Sprouse was invited to the summit to talk about flash media. He is the director of NAND systems architecture at SanDisk, and his group is concerned with consumer flash products - for things like mobile devices, rather than enterprise storage applications, which is handled by a different group. But, he said, most of what he would be talking about is generic to most flash technologies.

The important measure of flash for SanDisk is called "lifetime terabyte writes", which is calculated by the following formula:

    physical capacity * write endurance
            write amplification
Physical capacity is increasing, but write endurance is decreasing (mostly due to cost issues). Write amplification is a measure of the actual amount of writing that must be done because the device has to copy data based on its erase block size. Write amplification is a function of the usage of the device, its block size, over-provisioning, and the usage of the trim command (to tell the device what blocks are no longer being used). Block sizes (which are the biggest concern for write amplification) are getting bigger for flash devices, resulting in higher write amplification.

The write endurance is measured in data retention years. As the cells in the flash get cycled, the amount of time that data will last is reduced. If 10,000 cycles are specified for the device, that doesn't mean they die at that point, just that they may no longer hold data for the required amount of time. There is also a temperature factor and most of the devices he works with have a maximum operating temperature of 45-50°C. Someone asked about read endurance, and Sprouse said that reads do affect endurance but didn't give any more details.

James Bottomley asked if there were reasons that filesystems should start looking at storing long-lived and short-lived data separately and not mixing the two. Sprouse said that may eventually be needed. He said there is a trend toward hybrid architectures that have small amounts of high-endurance (i.e. can handle many more write cycles) flash and much larger amounts of low-endurance flash. Filesystems may want to take advantage of that by storing things like the journal in the high-endurance portion, and more stable OS files in the low-endurance area. Or storing hot data on high-endurance and cold data on low-endurance. How that will be specified is not determined, however.

The specs for a given device are based on the worst-case flash cell, but the average cell will perform much better than that worst case. If you cycle all of the cells in a device the same number of times, one of the pages might well only last 364 days, rather than the one year in the spec. Those values are determined by the device being "cycled, read, and baked", he said. The latter is the temperature testing that is done.

Sprouse likened DRAM and SRAM to paper that has been written on in pencil. If a word is wrong, it can be erased without affecting the surrounding words. Flash is like writing in pen; it can't be erased, so a one-word mistake requires that the entire page be copied. That is the source of write amplification. From the host side, there may be a 512K write, but if that data resides in a 2048K block on the flash, the other three 512K chunks need to be copied which, makes for a write amplification factor of four. In 2004, flash devices were like writing on a small Post-it pad that could only fit four words, but in 2012, it is like writing on a piece of paper the size of a large table. The cost for a one-word change has gone way up.

In order for filesystems to optimize their operation for the geometry of the flash, there needs to be a way to get that geometry information. Christoph Hellwig pointed out that Linux developers have been asking for five years for ways to get that information without success. Sprouse admitted that was a problem and that exposing that information may need to happen. There is also the possibility of filesystems tagging the data they are writing to give the device the information necessary to make the right decision.

Sprouse posed a question about the definition of a "random" write. A 1G write would be considered sequential by most, while 4K writes would be random, but what about sizes in between? Bottomley said that anything beyond 128K is sequential for Linux, while Hellwig said that anything up to 64M is random. But the "right" answer was: "tell me what the erase block size is". For flash, random writes are anything smaller than the erase block size. In the past writing in 128K chunks would have been reasonable, he said, but today each write of that size may make the flash copy several megabytes of data.

One way to minimize write amplification is to group data that is going to become obsolete at roughly the same time. Obsolete can mean that the data is overwritten or that it is thrown away via a trim or discard command. The filesystem should strive to avoid having cold data get copied because it is accidentally mixed in with hot data. As an example, Ted Ts'o mentioned package files (from an RPM or Debian package), which are likely to be obsoleted at the same time (by a package update or removal). Some kind of interface so that user space can communicate that information would be required.

In making those decisions, the focus should be on the hottest files (those changing most frequently) rather than the coldest files, Sprouse said. If the device could somehow know what the logical block addresses associated with each file are, that would help it make better decisions. As an example, if a flash device has four dies, and four files are being written, those files could be written in parallel across the dies. That has the effect of being fast for writing, but is much slower when updating one of the files. Alternatively, each could be written serially, which is slower, but will result in much less copying if one file is updated. Data must be moved around under the hood, Sprouse said, and if the flash knows that a set of rewrites are all associated with a single file, it could reorganize the data appropriately when it does the update.

There are a number of things that a filesystem could communicate to the device that would help it make better decisions. Which blocks relate to the same file, and which are related by function, like files in a /tmp directory that will be invalid after the next boot, or are OS installation files or browser cache files. Filesystems could also mark data that will be read frequently or written frequently. Flash vendors need to provide a way for the host to determine the geometry of a device like its page size, block size, and stripe size.

Those are all areas where OS developers and flash vendors could cooperate, he said. Another that he mentioned was to provide some way for the host to communicate how much time has elapsed since the last power off. Flash devices are still "operating" even when they powered off, because they continue to hold the data that was stored. You could think of flash as DRAM with a refresh rate of one year, for example. If the flash knows that it has been off for six months it could make better decisions for data retention.

Some in the audience advocated an interface to the raw flash, rather than going through the flash translation layer (FTL). Ric Wheeler disagreed, saying that we don't want filesystems to have to know about the low-level details of flash handling. Ts'o agreed and noted that new technologies may come along that invalidate all of the work that would have been put in for an FTL-less filesystem. Chris Mason also pointed out that flash manufacturers want to be able to put a sticker on the devices saying that it will store data for some fixed amount of time. They will not be able (or willing) to do that if it requires the OS to do the right thing to achieve that.

One thing that Mason would like to see is some feedback on hints that filesystems may end up providing to these devices. One of his complaints is that there is no feedback mechanism for the trim command, so that filesystem developers can't see what benefits using trim provides. Sprouse said that trim has huge benefits, but Mason wants to know whether Linux is effective at trimming. He would like to see ways to determine whether particular trim strategies are better or worse and, by extension, how any other hints provided by filesystems are performing.

Bottomley asked if flash vendors could provide a list of the information they are willing to provide about the internals of a given device. With that list, filesystem developers could say which would be useful. Many of these "secrets" about the internals of flash devices are not so secret, as Ts'o pointed out that Arnd Bergmann has done timing attacks to suss out these details, which he has published. Even if there are standards that provide ways for hosts to query these devices for geometry and other information, that won't necessarily solve the problem. As someone in the audience pointed out, getting things like that into a standard does not force the vendors to correctly fill in the data.

Wheeler asked if it would help for the attendees' "corporate overlords" to officially ask for that kind of cooperation from the vendors. There were representatives many large flash-buying companies at the summit, so that might be a way to apply some pressure. Sprouse said that like most companies, there are different factions within SanDisk (and presumably other flash companies). His group sees the benefit of close cooperation with OS developers, but others see the inner workings as "secret sauce".

It is clear there are plenty of ways for the OS and these devices to cooperate, which would result in better usage and endurance. But there is plenty of work to do on both sides before that happens.

Device mapper and Bcache

Kent Overstreet discussed the Bcache project, which creates an SSD-based cache for other (slower) block devices. He began by pointing out that the device mapper (DM) stores much of the information that Bcache would need in user space. Basically, the level of pain required to extract the necessary information from DM meant that they bypassed it entirely.

It was more or less acknowledged that, because Bcache is sufficiently well established in terms of performance, that may imply that DM should provide an API it can use. Basically, if a flash cache is to be implemented in kernel, basing it upon Bcache would be preferable. It would also be preferred if any such cache was configured via an established interface such as DM; this is the core issue that is often bashed around.

It was pointed out that Bcache also required some block-layer changes to split BIOs in some cases, depending on the contents of the btree, which would have been difficult to communicate via DM. This reinforces the original point that adapting Bcache to DM would require a larger number of changes than expected. There was some confusion on exactly how Bcache was implemented and what the requirements are but the Bcache developers were not against adding DM support as such. They were just indifferent to DM because their needs were already been served.

In different variations, the point was made that the community is behind the curve in terms of caching on flash and that some sort of decision is needed. This did not prevent the discussion being pulled in numerous different directions that brought up a large number of potential issues with any possible approach. The semi-conclusion was the community "has to do something" but what that was reached no real conclusion. There was a vague message that a generic caching storage layer was required that would be based on SSD initially but exactly at which layer this should exist as was unclear.

Memory hotplug

Hiroyuki Kamezawa discussed the problem of hot unplugging full NUMA nodes on Intel "Ivy Bridge"-based platforms. There are certain structures that are allocated on a node that cannot be reclaimed before unplug such as pgdat. The basic approach is to declare these nodes as fully ZONE_MOVABLE and allocate needed support structures off-node. The nodes this policy affects can be set via kernel parameters.

An alternative is to boot only one node and, later, hotplug the remaining nodes, marking them ZONE_MOVABLEas they are brought up. Unfortunately, there is an enumeration problem with this. The mapping of physical CPUs to NUMA nodes is not constant because altering a BIOS setting such as HT may change that mapping. For similar reasons, the NUMA node ID may change if DIMMs change slots. Hence, the problem is that the physical node IDs and node IDs as reported by the kernel are not the same between boots. If, on a four-node machine they boot nodes zero and one and hotplug node two, the physical addresses might vary and this is problematic when deciding which node to remove or even when deciding where to place containers.

To overcome this, they need some sort of translation layer that virtualizes the CPU and node ID numbers to keep the mappings consistent between boots. There is more than one use case for this, but the problem mentioned regarding companies that have very restrictive licensing based on CPU IDs was not a very popular one. To avoid going down a political rathole, that use case was acknowledged, but the conversation moved on as there are enough other reasons to provide the translation layer.

It was suggested that perhaps only one CPU and node be activated a boot and to bring up the remaining nodes after udev is active. udev could be used to create symbolic links mapping virtual CPU IDs to physical CPU IDs and similarly symbolic link virtual node IDs to the underlying physical IDs in sysfs. A further step might be to rename CPU IDs and node IDs at runtime to match what udev discovers similar to the way network devices can be renamed, but that may be unnecessary.

Conceivably, an alternative would be that the kernel could be informed what the mapping from virtual IDs to physical IDs should be (based on what's used by management software) and rename the sysfs directories accordingly, but that would be functionally equivalent. It was also suggested that this should be managed by the hardware but that is probably optimistic and would not work for older hardware.

Unfortunately, there was no real conclusion on whether such a scheme could be made work or if it would suit Kamezawa's requirements.

Stalled MM patches

Dan Magenheimer started by discussing whether frontswap should be merged. It got stalled, he said, due to bad timing as he passed a line where there was an increased emphasis on review and testing. To address this he gave an overview of transcendent memory and its components such as the cleancache and frontswap front-ends and the zcache, RAMster, Xen, and KVM backends. Many of these components have been merged, with RAMster being the most recent addition, but frontswap is noticeable by its absence despite the fact that some products ship with it.

He presented the results of a benchmark run based on the old reliable parallel kernel build with increasing numbers of parallel compiles until it started hitting swap. He showed the performance difference when zcache was enabled. The figures seemed to imply that the overhead of the schemes was minimal until there was memory pressure but when zcache was enabled, performance could in fact improve due to more efficient use of RAM and reduced file and swap I/O. He referred people to the list where more figures are available.

He followed up by presenting the figures when the RAMster backend was used. The point was made that using RAMster might show an improvement on the target workload while regressing the performance of the machine that RAMster was taking resources from. Magenheimer acknowledged this but felt that was sufficient evidence justifying frontswap's existence to have it merged.

Andrew Morton suggested posting it again with notes on what products are shipping with it already. He asked how many people had done a detailed review and was discouraged that apparently no one had. On further pushing it turned out that Andrea Arcangeli had looked at it and while he saw some problems he also thought it was been significantly improved in recent times. Rik van Riel's problem was that frontswap's API was synchronous but Magenheimer believes that some of these concerns have been alleviated in recent updates. Morton said that if this gets merged, it will affect everyone and insisted that people review it. It seems probable that more review will be forthcoming this time around as people in the room did feel that the frontswap+zcache combination, in particular, would be usable by KVM.

Kyungmin Park than talked about the contiguous memory allocator (CMA) and how it has gone through several versions with review but without being merged. Morton said that he had almost merged it a few times but then a new version would come out. He said to post it again and he'll merge that.

Mel Gorman then brought up swap over NFS, which has also stalled. He acknowledged that the patches are complex, and the feedback has been that the feature isn't really needed. But, he maintained, that's not true, it is used by some and, in fact, ships with SUSE Linux. Red Hat does not, but he has had queries from at least one engineer there about the status of the patches.

Gorman's basic question was whether the MM developers were willing to deal with the complexity of swap over NFS. The network people have "stopped screaming" at him, which is not quite the same thing as being happy with the patches, but Gorman thinks progress has been made there. In addition, there are several other "swap over network filesystem" patches floating around, all of which will require much of the same infrastructure that swap over NFS requires.

Morton said that the code needs to be posted again and "we need to promise to look at it". Hopefully that will result in comments on whether it is suitable in its current state or, if not, what has to be done to make it acceptable.

Issues with mmap_sem

While implementing a page table walker for estimating work set size, Michel Lespinasse found a number of cases where mmap_sem hold time for writes caused significant problems. Despite the topic title ("Working Set Estimation"), he focused on enumerating the worst mmap_sem hold times, such as when a mapped file is accessed and the atime must be updated or when a threaded application is scanning files and hammeringmmap_sem. The user visible effects of this can be embarrassing. For example, ps can stall for long periods of time if a process is stalled on mmap_sem which makes it difficult to debug a machine that is responding poorly.

There was some discussion on how mmap_sem could be changed to alleviate some of these problems. The proposed option was to tag a task_struct before entering a filesystem to access a page. If the filesystem needs to block and the task_struct was tagged, it would release the mmap_sem and retry the full fault from start after the filesystem returns control. Currently the only fault handler that does this properly is x86. The implementation was described as being ugly so he would like people to look at it and see how it could be improved. Hugh Dickins agreed that it was ugly and wants an alternative. He suggested that maybe we want an extension of pte_same to cover pte_same_vma_same() but it was not deeply considered. One possibility would be to have a sequence counter on the mm_struct and observing if it changed.

Andrea Arcangeli pointed out that just dropping the mmap_sem may not help as it still gets hammered by multiple threads and instead the focus should be on avoiding blocking when holding mmap_sem for writing because it is an exclusive lock. Lespinasse felt that this was only a particular problem for mlockall() so there may be some promise for dropping mmap_sem for any blocking and recovering afterward.

Dickins felt that at some point in the past that there was a time when mmap_sem was dropped for writes and just a read semaphore held under some circumstances. He suggested doing some archeology of the commits to confirm if the kernel ever did that and, if so, what were the reasons it was dropped.

The final decision for Lespinasse was to post the patch that expands task_struct with information that would allow the mmap_sem to be dropped before doing a blocking operation. Peter Zijlstra has concerns that this might have some scheduler impact and Andi Kleen was concerned that it did nothing for hold times in other cases. It was suggested that the patch be posted with a micro-benchmark that demonstrates the problem and what impact the patch has on it. People that feel that there are better alternatives can then evaluate different patches with the same metrics.

Page flags

Hugh Dickins credited Johannes Weiner's work on reducing the size of mem_cgroup and highlighted Hiroyuki Kamezawa's further work. He asserted that mem_cgroup is now sufficiently small that it should be merged with page_cgroup. He then moved on to page flag availability and pointed out that there currently should be plenty of flags available on 64-bit systems. Andrew Morton pointed out that some architectures have stolen some of those flags already and that should be verified. Regardless of that potential problem it was noted that, due to some slab alignment patches, there is a hole in struct page and there is a race to make use of that space by expanding page flags.

The discussion was side-tracked by bringing up the problem of virtual memory area (VMA) flag availability. There were some hiccups with making VMA flags 64-bit in the past but thanks to work by Konstantin Khlebnikov, this is likely to be resolved in the near future.

Dickins covered a number of different uses of flags in the memory cgroup (memcg) and where they might be stored but pointed out that memcg was not the primary target. His primary concern was that some patches are contorting themselves to avoid using a page flag. He asserted that the overhead of this complexity is now higher than the memory savings from having a smaller struct page. As keeping struct page very small was originally for 32-bit server class systems (which are now becoming rare) he felt that we should just expand page flags. Morton pointed out that we are going to have to expand page flags eventually and now is as good as time as any.

Unfortunately numerous issues were raised about 32-bit systems that would be impacted by such a change and it was impossible to get consensus on whether struct page should be expanded or not. For example, it was pointed out that embedded CPUs with cache lines of 32 bytes benefit from the current arrangement. Instead it looks like further tricks may be investigated for prolonging the current situation such as reducing the number of NUMA nodes that can be supported on 32-bit systems.

Statistics for memcg

Johannes Weiner wanted to discuss the memcg statistics and what should be gathered. His problem is that he had very little traction on the list and felt maybe it would be better if he explained the situation in person.

The most important statistics he requires are related to memcg hierarchical reclaim. The simple case is just the root group and the basic case is one child that is reclaimed by either hitting its hard limit or due to global reclaim. It gets further complicated when there is an additional child and this is the minimum case of interest. In the hierarchy, cgroups might be arranged as follows:

        cgroup A
            cgroup B

The problem is that if cgroup B is being reclaimed then it should be possible to identify whether the reclaim is due to internal or external pressure. Internal pressure would be due to cgroup B hitting its hard limit. External pressure would be due to either cgroup A hitting its hard limit or global reclaim.

He wants to report pairs of counters for internal and external reclaims. By walking cgroup tree, the statistics for external pressure can be calculated. By looking at the external figures for each cgroup in user space it can be determined exactly where external pressure originated from for any cgroup. The alternative is needing one group of counters per parent which is unwieldy. Just tracking counters about the parent would be complicated if the group were migrated.

The storage requirements are just for the current cgroup. When reporting to user space a tree walk is necessary so it costs computationally but the information will always be coherent even if memcg changes location in the tree. There was some dispute on what file exactly should expose this information but that was a relatively minor problem.

The point of the session was for people to understand how he wants to report statistics and why it is a sensible choice. It seemed that people in the room had a clearer view of his approach and future review might be more straightforward.

Development tree for memcg

Michal Hocko stood up to discuss the current state of the memcg devel tree. After the introduction of the topic, Andrew Morton asked why it was not based on linux-next which Hocko said was a moving target. This potentially leads to a rebases. Morton did not really get why the tree was needed but the memcg maintainers said the motivation was develop against a stable point in time without having to wrestle with craziness in linux-next.

Morton wanted the memcg stuff to be a client of the -mm tree. That is a client of linux-next but Andrew feels he could manage the issues as long as the memcg developers were willing to deal with rebases which they were. Morton is confident he can find a way to compromise without the creation of a new tree. In the event of conflicts, he said that those conflicts should be resolved sooner rather than later.

Morton made a separate point of how long is it going to take to finish memcg. It's one file, how much more can there be to do? Peter Zijlstra pointed out that much of the complexity is due to changing semantics and continual churn. The rate of change is slowing but it still happens.

The conclusion is that Morton will work on extracting the memcg stuff from his view of the linux-mm tree into the memcg devel tree on a regular basis to give them a known base to work against for new features. Some people in the room commented that they missed the mmotm tree as it used to form a relatively stable tree to develop against. There might be some effort in the future to revive something mmotm-like while still basing it on linux-next.

MM scalability

Andi Kleen talked a bit about some of the scalability issues he has run into. These are issues that have showed up in both micro and macro benchmarks. He gave the example of the VMA links for very large processes that fork causing chains that are thousands of VMAs long. TLB flushing is another problem where pages being reclaimed are resulting in an IPI for each page; he feels these operations need to be batched. Andrea Arcangeli pointed out that batching may be awkward because pages are being reclaimed in LRU, not MM, order and batching may be problematic. It could just send an IPI when a bunch of pages are gathered or be able to build lists of pages for multiple MMs.

Another issue on whether clearing the access bit should result in a TLB flush or not. There were disagreements in the room as to whether this would be safe. It potentially affects reclaim but the length of time a page lives on the inactive LRU list should be enough to ensure that the process gets scheduled and flushes the TLB. Relying on that was considered problematic but alternative solutions such as deferring the flush and then sending a global broadcast would interfere with other efforts to reduce IPI traffic. Just avoiding the flush for clearing the access should be fine in the vast majority of cases so chances are a patch will appear on the list for discussion.

Kleen next raised an issue with drain_pages(), which has severe lock contention problem when releasing the pages back to the zone list as well as causing a large number of IPIs to be sent.

His final issue was that swap clustering in general seems to be broken and that the expected clustering of virtual address to contiguous areas in swap is not happening. This was something 2.4 was easily able to do because of how it scanned page tables but it's less effective now. However, there have been recent patches related to swap performance so that particular issue needs to be re-evaluated.

The clear point that shone through is that there are new scalability issues that are going to be higher priority as large machines become cheaper and that the community should be pro-active dealing with them.


Pavel Emelyanov briefly introduced how Parallels systems potentially create hundreds of containers on a system that are all effectively clones of a template. In this case, it is preferred that the file cache be shared between containers to limit the memory usage so as to maximize the number of containers that can be supported. In the past, they used a unionfs approach but as the number of containers increased so did the response time. This was not a linear increase and could be severe on loaded machines. If reclaim kicked in, then performance would collapse.

Their proposal is to extend cleancache to store the template files and share them between containers. Functionally this is de-duplication and, superficially, kernel samepage merging (KSM) would suit their requirements. However, there were a large number of reasons why KSM was not suitable, primarily because it would not be of reliable benefit but also because it would not work for file pages.

Dan Magenheimer pointed out that Xen de-duplicates data through use of a backend to cleancache and that they should create a new backend instead of extending cleancache which would be cleaner. It was suggested that when they submit the patches that they be very clear why KSM is not suitable to avoid the patches being dismissed by the casual observer.

What remains to be done for checkpoint/restore in user space?

Pavel Emelyanov talked about a project he started about six months ago to address some of the issues encountered by previous checkpoint implementations, mostly by trying to move it into user space. This was not without issue because there is still some assistance needed from the kernel. For example, kernel assistance was required to figure out if a page is really shared or not. A second issue mentioned was that given a UNIX socket, it cannot be discovered from userspace what its peer is.

They currently have two major issues. The first is with "stable memory management". Applications create big mappings but they do not access every single page in it and writing the full VMA to a disk file is a waste of time and space. They need to discover which pages have been touched. There is a system call for memory residency but it cannot identify that an address is valid but swapped out for example. For private mappings, it cannot distinguish between a COW page and one that is based on what is on disk. kpagemap also gives insufficient information because information such as virtual address to page frame number (PFN) is missing.

The second major problem is that, if an inode is being watched with inotify, extracting exact information about the watched inode is difficult. James Bottomley suggested using a debugfs interface. A second proposal was to extend the /proc interface in some manner. The audience in the room was insufficiently familiar with the issue to give full feedback so the suggestion was just to extend /proc in some manner, post the patch and see what falls out as people analyze the problem more closely. There was some surprise from Bottomley that people would suggest extending /proc but for the purpose of discussion it would not cause any harm.

Filesystem and Storage sessions

High IOPS and SCSI/Block

Roland Dreier began by noting that people writing block drivers have only two choices: A full request-based driver, or using make_request(). The former is far too heavyweight with a single very hot lock (the queue lock) and a full-fledged elevator. The latter is way too low down in the stack and bypasses many of the useful block functions, so Dreier wanted a third way that takes the best of both. Jens Axboe proposed using his multi-queue work which essentially makes the block queue per-CPU (and thus lockless) coupled with a lightweight elevator. Axboe has been sitting on these patches for a while but promised to dust them off and submit them. Dreier agreed this would probably be fine for his purposes.

Shyam Iyer previewed Dell's vision for where NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express - basically PCIe cards with fast flash on them) were going. Currently the interface is disk-like, with all the semantics and overhead that implies, but ultimately Dell sees the device as having a pure memory interface using apertures over the PCIe bus. Many people in the room pointed out that while a memory-mapped interface may be appealing from the speed point of view, it wouldn't work if the device still had the error characteristics of a disk, because error handling in the memory space is much less forgiving. Memory doesn't do any software error recovery and every failure to deliver data instantly is a hard failure resulting in a machine check, so the device would have to do all recovery itself and only signal a failure to deliver data as a last resort.

LBA hinting and new storage commands

Frederick Knight began by previewing the current T10 thoughts on handling shingle drives: devices which vastly increase storage density by overlapping disk tracks. They can increase storage radically but at the expense of having to write a band at a time (a band is a set of overlapping [shingled] tracks). The committee has three thoughts on handling them:

  • Transparent: just make it look like a normal disk

  • Banding: Make the host manage the geometry (back to the old IDE driver days) and expose new SCSI commands for handling bands

  • Transparent with Hints: make it look like a normal disks but develop new SCSI commands to hint both ways between device and host what the data is and device characteristics are to try to optimize data placement

The room quickly decided that only the first and last were viable options, so the slides on the new banding commands were skipped.

In the possible hint-based architecture, there would be static and dynamic hints. Static would be from device to host signalling which indicated geometry preferences by LBA range, while dynamic would be from the host to device indicating the data characteristics on a write which would allow the device to do more intelligent placement.

It was also pointed out that shingled drives have very similar characteristics to SSDs if you consider a band to be equivalent to an erase block.

The problem with the dynamic hinting architecture is that the proposal would repurpose the current group field in the WRITE command to contain the hint, but there would only be six bits available. Unfortunately, virtually every member of the SCSI committee has their own idea about what should be hinted (all the way from sequential vs random in a 32-level sliding scale, write and read frequency and latency, boot time preload, ...) and this lead to orders of magnitude more hints than fit into six bits, so the hint would be an index into a mode page which described what it means in detail. The room pointed out unanimously that the massive complexity in the description of the hints meant that we would never have any real hope of using them correctly since not even device manufacturers would agree exactly what they wanted. Martin Petersen proposed identifying a simple set of five or so hints and forcing at least array vendors to adhere to them when the LUN was in Linux mode.

Storage manager

Lukáš Czerner gave a description of the current state of his storage manager command-line tool, which, apart from having some difficulty creating XFS volumes was working nicely and should take a lot of the annoying administrative complexity out of creating LVM volumes for mounted devices.

Trim, unmap, and write same

Martin Petersen began by lamenting that in the ATA TRIM command, T13 only left two bytes for the trim range, meaning that, with one sector of ranges, we could trim at most 32MB of disk in one operation. The other problem is that the current architecture of the block layer only allows us to trim contiguous ranges. Since TRIM is unqueued and filesystems can only send single ranges inline, trimming is currently a huge performance hit. Christoph Hellwig had constructed a prototype with XFS which showed that if we could do multi-range trims inline, performance could come back to within 1% of what it was without sending trim.

Discussion then focused on what had to happen to the block layer to send multi-range commands (it was pointed out that it isn't just trim: scatter/gather SCSI commands with multiple ranges are also on the horizon). Jens Axboe initially favored the idea of allowing a single BIO to carry multiple ranges, whereas Petersen had a prototype using linked BIOs for the range. After discussion it was decided that linked BIOs was a better way forward for the initial prototype.

SR-IOV and FC sysfs

SR-IOV (Single Root I/O virtualization) is designed to take the hypervisor out of storage virtualization by allowing a guest to have a physical presence on the storage fabric. The specific problem is that each guest needs a world wide name (WWN) as their unique address on the fabric. It was agreed that we could use some extended host interface for setting WWNs but that we shouldn't expose this to the guest. The other thought was around naming of virtual functions when they attach to hosts. In the network world, virtual function (vf) network devices appear as eth<phys>-<virt> so should we do the same for SCSI? The answer was categorically that without any good justification for this naming scheme: "hell no."

The final problem discussed was that when the vf is created in the host, the driver automatically binds to it, so it has to be unbound before passing the virtual function to the guest. Hannes Reinecke pointed out that binding could simply be prevented using the standard sysfs interfaces. James Bottomley would prefer that the driver simply refuse to bind to vf devices in the host.

Robert Love noted that the first iteration of Fibre Channel attributes was out for review. All feedback from Greg Kroah-Hartman has been incorporated so he asked for others to look at it (Bottomley said he'd get round to it now that Kroah-Hartman is happy).

Unit attention handling

How should we report "unit attentions" (UAs - basically SCSI errors reported by storage devices) to userspace? Three choices were proposed:

  • netlink - which works but is only one way

  • blktrace using debugfs - needs a tool to extract data

  • using structured logging - feasible only in the current merge window since the structured logging patch is now in 3.4-rc1

There was a lot of discussion, but it was agreed that the in-kernel handling should be done by a notifier chain to which drivers and other entities could subscribe, and the push to user space would happen at the other end, probably via either netlink or structured logging.

[ I would like to thank LWN subscribers for funding that allowed me to attend the summit. Big thanks are also due to Mel Gorman and James Bottomley for their major contributions to the summit coverage. ]

Group photo

Thanks to Alasdair Kergon for making his photograph of the 2012 Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory Management summit available.

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