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Block alignment is critical

Block alignment is an important topic that is often overlooked in storage. I read a blog entry by Robin Harris a couple months back about the importance of block alignment with the new 4KB  drives. I was curious to test the theory on one of the new 4KB drives, but I did not have one on hand. That got me thinking about Solid State Disk (SSD) devices. If filesystem misalignment hurts traditional spinning disk performance, how would it impact SSD performance. In short, it is ugly.

Here is a chart showing the difference between aligned and misaligned random read operations to a Sun F20 card. I guess it is officially an Oracle F20 card.

Oracle F20 - Aligned vs. Misaligned Oracle F20 - Aligned vs. Misaligned

With only a couple threads, the flash module can deliver about 50% more random 4KB read operations. As the thread count increases, the module is able to deliver over 9x the number of operations if properly aligned. It is worth noting that the card is delivering those aligned reads at less that 1ms while the misaligned operations average over 7ms of latency. 9x the operations at 85% less latency makes this an issue worth paying attention to. (My test was done on Solaris and here is an article about how to solve the block alignment issue for Solaris x64 volumes.)

I have seen a significant increase in block alignment issues with clients recently. Some arrays and some operating systems make is easier to align filesystems than others, but a new variable has crept in over the last few years. VMware on block devices means that VMFS adds another layer of abstraction to the process. Now it is important to be sure the virtual machine filesystems are aligned in addition to the root operating system/hypervisor filesystem.

Server virtualization has been the catalyst for many IT organizations to centralize more of their storage. Unfortunately, centralized storage does not come at the same $/GB as the mirrored drives in the server. It is much more expensive. Block misalignment can make the new storage even more expensive by making it less efficient. If the filesystems are misaligned, then it makes the array cache far less efficient. When that misaligned data is read from or written to disk, the drives are forced to do additional operations that would not be required for an aligned operation. It can quickly turn a fast storage array into a very average system. Most of the storage manufacturers can provide you with a best practices doc to help you avoid these issues. Ask them for a whitepaper about block alignment issues with virtual machines.

Originally posted at http://ctistrategy.com

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    Jesse St. Laurent's blog. My thoughts on technology trends. - Blog - Block alignment is critical
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    Jesse St. Laurent's blog. My thoughts on technology trends. - Blog - Block alignment is critical

Reader Comments (1)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Aneel, Aneel and sfoskett, Phil. Phil said: RT @SFoskett: [Shared] Block alignment is critical http://bit.ly/b9EGbl <-- take it from a coder, ALIGN YOUR DAMN OPS PEOPLE! ALIGN!! [...]

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