SATA on Nutanix. Some experimental data.

The question of  why  Nutanix uses SATA drive comes up sometimes, especially from customers who have experienced very poor performance using SATA on traditional arrays.

I can understand this anxiety.  In my time at NetApp we exclusively used SAS or FC-AL drives in performance test work.  At the time there was a huge difference in performance between SCSI and SATA.  Even a few short years ago, FC typically spun at 15K RPM whereas SATA was stuck at about a 5K RPM, so experiencing 3X the rotational delay.

These days SAS and SATA are both available in 7200 RPM configurations, and these are the type we use in standard Nutanix nodes.  In fact the SATA drives that we use are marketed by Seagate as “Nearline SAS”  or NL-SAS.   Mainly to differentiate them from the consumer grade SATA drives that are found in cheap laptops.  There are hundreds of SAS Vs SATA articles on the web, so I won’t go over the theoretical/historical arguments.

SATA in Hybrid/Tiered Storage

In a Nutanix cluster the “heavy lifting” of IO is mainly done by the SSD’s – leaving the SATA drives to service the few remaining IO’s that miss the SSD tier.  Under moderate load, the SATA spindles do pretty well, and since the SATA  $/GB is only 60% of SAS.  SATA seems like a good choice for mostly-cold data.

Let’s Experiment.

From a performance perspective,  I decided to run a few experiments to see just how well SATA performs.  In the test, the  SATA drives are Nutanix standard drives “ST91000640NS” (Seagate, priced around $150).  The comparable SAS drives are the same form-factor (2.5 Inch)  “AL13SEB900” (Toshiba, priced at about $250 USD).  These drives spin at 10K RPM.  Both drives hold around 1TB.

There are three experiments per drive type to reveal the impact of seek-times.  This is achieved using the “filesize” parameter of fio – which determines the LBA range to read.  One thing to note, is that I use a queue-depth of one.  Therefore IOPs can be calculated as simply 1/Response-Time (converted to seconds).

Random Distribution. SATA Vs SAS

Working Set Size 7.2K RPM SATA Response Time (ms) 10K RPM SAS Response Time (ms)
1G 5.5 4
100G 7.5 4.5
1000G 12.5 7

Zipf Distribution SATA Only.

Working Set Size Response Time (ms)
1000G 8.5

Somewhat intuitively as the workingset (seek) gets larger, the difference between “Real SAS” and “NL-SAS/SATA” gets wider.  This is intuitive because with a 1G working-set,  the seek-time is close to zero, and so only the rotational delay (based on RPM) is a factor.  In fact the difference in response time is the same as the difference in rotational speed (1:1.3).

Also  (just for fun) I used the “random_distribution=zipf” function in fio to test the response time when reading across the entire range of the disk – but with a “hotspot” (zipf) rather than a uniform random read – which is pretty unrealistic.

In the “realistic” case – reading across the entire disk on the SATA drives shipped with Nutanix nodes is capable of 8.5 ms response time at 125 IOPS per spindle.

 Conclusion

The performance difference between SAS and SATA is often over-stated.  At moderate loads SATA performs well enough for most use-cases.  Even when delivering fully random IO over the entirety of the disk – SATA can deliver 8K in less than 15ms.  Using a more realistic (not 100% random) access pattern the response time is  < 10ms.

For a properly sized Nutanix implementation, the intent is to service most IO from Flash. It’s OK to generate some work on HDD from time-to-time even on SATA.

Multiple devices/jobs in fio

If your underlying filesystem/devices have different response times (e.g. some devices are cached – or are on SSD) and others are on spinning disk, then the behavior of fio can be quite different depending on how the fio config file is specified.  Typically there are two approaches

1) Have a single “job” that has multiple devices

2) Make each device a “job”

With a single job, the iodepth parameter will be the total iodepth for the job (not per device) .  If multiple jobs are used (with one device per job) then the iodepth value is per device.

Option 1 (a single job) results in [roughly] equal IO across disks regardless of response time.  This is like  having a volume manager or RAID device, in that the overall oprate is limited by the slowest device.

For example, notice that even though the wait/response times are quite uneven (ranging from 0.8 ms to 1.5ms) the r/s rate is quite even.  You will notice though the that queue size is very variable so as to achieve similar throughput in the face of uneven response times.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.34.55 PM

To get this sort of behavior use the following fio syntax. We allow fio to use up to 128 outstanding IO’s to distribute amongst the 8 “files” or in this case “devices”. In order to maintain the maximum throughput for the overall job, the devices with slower response times have more outstanding IO’s than the devices with faster response times.

The second option, give an uneven throughput because each device is linked to a separate job, and so is completely independent.  The  iodepth parameter is specific to each device, so every device has 16 outstanding IO’s.  The throughput (r/s) is directly tied to the response time of the specific device that it is working on.  So response times that are 10x faster generate throughput that is 10x faster.  For simulating real workloads this is probably not what you want.

For instance when sizing workingset and cache, the disks that have better throughput may dominate the cache.

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