Read I/O starvation with writeback RAID controller

From: Martin Svec
Date: Wed Feb 20 2013 - 10:44:24 EST


I've noticed read I/O starvation problems of LIO iSCSI target when
used on top of writeback-enabled HW RAID controller (PERC H700 with
1GB cache). For intensive mixed read-write workload in virtualized
environments, writes are able to consume over 95% of the IOPS
throughput and cause starvation of reads.

After a number of tests it seems to me it's a general issue of block
layer I/O scheduling when running on top of a writeback device. If
there is a write-intensive task, all writes go to the writeback cache
with near-zero latency. This allows writer to quickly saturate the
device with thousands of writes while using only a minimal fraction of
queue depth. However, non-cached reads depend on spinning drive
latencies which are orders of magnitude higher than writeback cache
latencies, and so readers cannot submit so many requests per second as
writers. Consequently, I guess the controller has totally wrong view
of the incoming workload pattern, tries to satisfy the write flood
first and the net result is inacceptable starvation of reads, with
latencies up to hundreds of milliseconds.

A simple fio test with 1TiB block device where one thread does 4k
random sync writes with iodepth=32 and one thread does 4k random reads
with iodepth=32 shows that instead of the theoretical 50:50 IOPS
ratio, the block device runs with 95:5 ratio in favor of writes. In
fact, the imbalance is so high that even write iodepth=2 is enaugh to
achieve the same numbers.

Real workloads that tend to exhibit this problem are: initial zeroing
of a virtual machine disk, virtual machine migration, virtual machine
cloning, intensive swapping of one virtual machine etc.

I tried to set WCE=1 on target iblock device, played with queue
depths, tested all three I/O schedulers and their parameters,
controller's parameters, but with no luck. To achieve reasonably good
fairness, the only solution is to set nr_requests to 1 or disable
controller's writeback cache at all -- at the expense of degraded
overall performance :-(

Regarding nr_requests, there's obvious relation between iodepths and
read starvation: if (nr_requests >= workload iodepth) then starvation
surely occurs. Lowering nr_requests below this threshold slowly starts
improving fairness and for every rd+wr iodepths pair, there exists
sufficiently low nr_requests value at which IOPS ratio is finally
balanced according to rd:wr iodepth ratio. Unfortunately it means
there is no minimal nr_requests value suitable for all workloads. For
iodepths around 2 to 8, only nr_requests=1 provides fair load balancing.

Is this a known problem? Does anybody find block layer parameters that
elliminate this problem for iscsi-target storage in mixed random
read-write environments like virtualization? Or should I start writing
my own I/O scheduler? ;-)

Update: I've just found (Read
starvation by sync writes), where Jan Kara describes identical
symptoms. But setting nr_requests=10000 doesn't help in my case.
CC'ing LKML too (I'm not LKML subscriber).



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