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UPDATE 12/12/2010:

I noticed that this post is the first hit when you google for 'zil_disable' so I thought it was worth mentioning that 'zil_disable' has been replaced with a per-filesystem option in recent versions of ZFS. On snv 140 or later (which includes OI and the new Solaris Express), disabling the Zil is now done with the zfs 'sync' property! The original post remains below, but that mechanism is thankfully now obsolete.

I've been fighting a major performance issue with NFS over ZFS for a while now. It hasn't been a deal breaker or anything - everything I want to do over NFS has been working adequately - but I've noticed that my performance is subpar.

I didn't realize just *how* subpar until I started dealing with small files. Large files were generally OK - writing/reading a single large file via NFS would be about 80% as fast as with local storage. Since most of my mythtv operations are, obviously, with large files, this wasn't a big deal.

I noticed the problem with small files when I started migrating home directories to ZFS. Copying over the 85 MB ~mythtv directory took, according to time, 3m37.114s! What the hell is that about?

I then performed the same operation with rsync over ssh, which gave me a more reasonable result of 0m17.847s. That's almost 12 times faster!

I googled around a bit - well, more like a lot - and finally found out about zil_disable. Turns out that by adding 'set zfs:zil_disable=1' to /etc/system you can *dramatically* improve NFS performance on ZFS.

This is vaguely similar to turning on 'async' for Linux's NFSv3 server, but it impacts *all* filesystem operations, not only NFS. Effectively, NFS clients frequently request commit operations which inform the server to immediately write changes to stable storage. This happens at least on every file close over NFS, and the server itself forces a write to storage whenever metadata is modified. You can imagine then why there's such a huge impact when dealing with thousands of files - each single operation requires a flush of the cache and a write to disk.

After disabling the zil, I re-ran the same copy operation and achieved dramatically improved results:

mingus ~ # time cp -r ~mythtv /nfs/pvr/test/

real 0m18.265s
user 0m0.076s
sys 0m1.740s

Now that's more like it!

I've also noticed a moderate improvement with large files - both over NFS *and* locally.

I guess I'm actually a little surprised that the base configuration of the system would result in such horrid performance. I'm willing to make some trade-offs of performance for data consistency, but reading the blog mentioned above the risks seem tiny compared to the benefits of an order of magnitude performance increase.


Cal @ Tue Mar 03 17:50:33 -0500 2009

GREAT article. I've been battling Sun support for almost 5 months to get this information! After several escalations I reached the right person to point me in the right direction. This page needs a better Google PageRank!

Dave @ Tue May 05 09:54:56 -0400 2009

Bad Idea...

The /etc/system parameter, zil_disable=1 disables synchronous writes to NFS file systems. As with all asynchronous writes, if there is a failure transient, the possibility of data loss exists. It has been observed that there may be file system performance improvement, but this is at the expense of data integrity. zil_disable is an undocumented feature and will be abandoned in future releases of ZFS. For this reason, designs should not incorporate the use of this feature.

See http://blogs.sun.com/erickustarz/entry/zil_disable for more information.

Jeremy @ Tue May 05 11:56:09 -0400 2009

I'm surprised to see recent activity on this post.

Cal: glad I could help. There's not a lot of information on this in the wild, so I considered myself pretty lucky to stumble upon some.

Dave: You'll notice I linked to that entry already in my post, and I'm not going to claim to you that this is 100% safe to use in all cases. The important consideration here is that:

1) the ZFS filesystem itself will NOT be compromised due to zil disable
2) the NFS client may have its view corrupted in the event of a NFS server failure. As Eric Kustarz mentioned in his original entry:

Disabling the ZIL can cause corruption for NFS clients in the case where a reply to the client is done before the server crashes, and the server crashes before the data is commited to stable storage. If you can't live with this, then don't turn off the ZIL.

Now that really should be a pretty rare occurance (NFS server crash while a write is pending), but disabling the zil introduces the possibility of corrupting the client's state in such an event.

As he says... if you can't live with it, don't turn off the zil! :)

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