Help, my Thin Provisioning is not working

On many occasions I've seen posts from storage administrator who mapped some luns to hosts and on the first use the entire pool got whacked with all bells and whistles going off. (Yes, we can control bells and whistles.:-))


The administrator did nothing wrong however he should have communicated with the server admin what the luns were for and how they were going to be used. As I mentioned in my previous post around Thin Provisioning is that the array doesn't really know what's going on from a host perspective. It know, due to HMO (port group settings) which type of host is connected and adjusts some internal knobs to accommodate for the commands from that particular host or application.
What it does not know is how that application is using the array.

Remember that a storage array just knows about reads and writes (besides the special commands specific for management).

In normal occasions a lun is mapped and on the host this lun is then formatted to a specific filesystem. Some filesystems use only the first couple of sectors of a disk to outline mapping of the blocks so if the application want to write a chuck of data the filesystem creates the inode, registers the mapping in the filesystem table in the beginning of the disk and away we go.

When we look at the disk from this perspective when formatted it looks like this:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
|************   |            |               |             |            |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Only the first sector is written and the rest is still empty.

The same would happen if this lun was mapped out of a thin provisioned pool. Only the first couple of sectors on the virtual disk would be written, and therefore only the page occupying these sectors, would be marked as used in the pool, and the rest would still be empty and thus the array would not allocate them to this particular lun.

So far all is well.

The problem begins when the same lun is formatted with a filesystem which does interleaved formatting. The concept here is that the filesystem mapping table is spread over the entire disk which might improve performance if you do this on a single physical disk.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

|**          | **           | **           | **            | **           | **
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On writes the chances that you're able to update the mapping table, create the inodes and write the data in one stroke is fairly good.

Now compare the interleaved method to the one I described before and you will be able to figure out why this is really rendering This Provisioning useless. Since the chance is near 100% that all pages from that pool will be "touched" at least once, the entire page will be marked as used in that pool even though the net written data is next to nothing.

No you might think: "OK, I choose a filesystem which is TP friendly and I'm sorted".

Well, not quite. Server administrator very often like to have their own "storage management tool" in the likes of volume managers. This allows them to virtualise  "physical" luns mapped out of an array to a single entity in their systems.
The problem with this is that it will behave the same as the TP unfriendly filesystem with that difference that it's not the filesystems doing the interleaving of metadata but now it's the volumemanagers doing the same thing.

In both cases a TP pool will fill up pretty quickly without having an application write a single bit.

All storage vendors have whitepapers and instructions available how to plan for all these occasions. If you don't want to run into surprises I suggest you have a look at them.

Regards,
Erwin van Londen

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About Erwin van Londen

Master Technical Analyst at Hitachi Data Systems
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