Accelerated ALBA as read cache

read cache performanceWith the Fargo release we introduce a new architecture which moves the read cache from the Volume Driver to the ALBA backend. I already explained the new backend concepts in a previous blog post but I would also like to shed some light on the various reasons why we took the decision to move the read cache to ALBA. An overview:


Performance is absolutely the main reason why we decided to move the read cache layer to ALBA. It allows us to remove a big performance bottleneck: locks. When the Volume Driver was in charge of the read cache, we used a hash based upon the volume ID and the LBA to find where the data was stored on the SSD of the Storage Router. When new data was added to the cache – on every write – old data in the cache had to be overwritten. In order to evict data from the cache a linked list was used to track the LRU (Least Recently Used) data. Consequently we had to lock the whole SSD for a while. The lock was required as the hash table (volume ID + LBA) and the linked list had to be updated simultaneously. This write lock also causes delay for read requests as the lock prevents data to be safely read. Basically, in order to increase the performance we had to move towards a lockless read cache where data isn’t updated in place.
This is where ALBA comes in. The ALBA backend doesn’t update data in place but uses a log-structured approach where data is always appended. As ALBA stores chunks of the SCOs, writes are consecutive and large in size. This greatly improves the write bandwidth to the SSDs. ALBA also allows to align cores with the ASD processes and underlying SSDs. By making the whole all-flash ALBA backend core aligned, the overhead of process switching can be minimised. Basically all operations on flash are now asynchronous, core aligned and lockless. All these changes allow Open vStorage to be the fastest distributed block store.

Lower impact of an SSD failure

By moving the read cache to the ALBA backend the impact of an SSD failure is much lower. ALBA allows to perform erasure coding across all SSDs of all nodes in the rack or datacenter. This means the read cache is now distributed and the impact of an SSD failure is limited as only a fraction of the cache is lost. So in case a single SSD fails, there is no reason to go the HDD based capacity backend as the reads can still be fulfilled based upon other fragments of the data which are still cached.

Always hot cache

While Open vStorage has always been capable of supporting live migration, we noticed that with previous versions of the architecture the migrate wasn’t always successful due to the cold cache on the new host. By using the new distributed cache approach, we now have have an always hot cache even in case of (live) migrations.

We hope the above reasons proof that we took the right decision by moving the read cache to ALBA backend. Want to see how you configure the ALBA read cache, check out this GeoScale demo.