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    Common Questions on Clustered File Systems

    November 18th, 2016

    More than 350 people have already seen our SNIA Ethernet Storage Forum (ESF) webcast “Clustered File Systems: No Limits.” Our presenters, James Coomer and Jerry Lotto, did a great job explaining what clustered file systems are, key considerations, choices and performance. As we expected, there were plenty of questions, so as promised, here are answers to them all.

    Q: Parallel NFS (pNFS) has been in development/standard effort for a long time, and I believe pNFS is not in the Linux kernel it appears pNFS is yet to be prime time.

    A: pNFS has been in Linux for over a decade! Clients and server are widely available, and you should look at the SNIA White Paper “An Updated Overview of NFSv4; NFSv4.0, NFSv4.1, pNFS, and NFSv4.2” for more information on the current state of play.

    Q: Why the emphasis on parallel I/O? Any single storage server can feed results at link capacity, so you do not need multiple storage servers to feed a client at full speed. Isn’t the more critical issue the bottleneck on access to metadata for a single directory or file? Federated NAS bottlenecks updates for each directory behind a single master server?

    A: Any one storage server can usually saturate one client, but often there are multiple hungry clients making requests simultaneously. Using parallel I/O allows multiple servers to feed multiple high-bandwidth clients across a narrow or wide set of data. This smooths out the I/O load on the servers in a near-perfect manner regardless of the number of clients performing I/O. It is absolutely true that metadata serving can become a bottleneck, so parallel file systems use cached and/or distributed metadata to overcome this and again, every client takes part in that interaction and shares some responsibility for managing communicating metadata updates.

    Q: Can any application access parallel file system (i.e. through an agent in the driver level)? Or does it require specific code within the application?

    A: Native access to a parallel file system requires a specific client or agent in the host, but many parallel file systems allow any client to access the data through a NAS protocol gateway. No changes are needed to applications to use a parallel file system – These parallel file systems are mounted as a POSIX compliant file system and therefore adhere to basically the same standards as an NFS mount for example.

    Q: Are parallel file system clients compatible with scale-out NAS servers?

    A: Nearly all scale-out NAS servers speak a standard NAS protocol like NFS or SMB. Clients running a parallel file system client can also access NAS via these standard protocols. Exceptions to this may possibly (but none that we know of) occur for scale-out NAS servers that support a modified NFS/SMB protocol or a custom NAS client which might conceivably conflict with the parallel file system client when installed on an OS.

    Q: Of course I am biased, but I am fond of the AFS (Andrew File System) Family of File Systems.   There is OpenAFS, but there is also what we are doing at AuriStor extending beyond the core AFS global namespace model (security functionality, and performance)

    A: AFS is another distributed file system which supports large scale deployments, native clients for many platforms, and strong security features. It also uses local caching of files to improve performance. It uses a weakly consistent file locking system so multiple clients can access the same file simultaneously but they cannot both update the same file at the same time. OpenAFS is an open-source implementation of AFS. Auristor (formerly Your File System, Inc.) is a startup providing a commercial parallel file system that is compatible with AFS.

    Q: I am more familiar with Veritas Cluster File System, could you please do a quick compare with Lustre or GPFS?

    A: The Veritas Cluster File System (formerly VxCFS, now part of Veritas InfoScale) is a distributed file system that runs on Linux and popular flavors of Unix. It supports up to 64 nodes and allows multiple nodes to share the same back-end storage hardware. Comparing it to Lustre and GPFS is beyond the scope of this webinar, but in basic terms, parallel file systems can offer far greater scalability and bandwidth for example, through the use of optimized RDMA clients for high performance networks.

    Q: Why do file apps need shared access to data, but block apps do not?

    A: Traditionally block storage did not offer shared access to data (except when used as shared back-end storage for a clustered file system), while apps that needed shared access to data usually chose to use a NAS protocol such as SMB or NFS. So in many cases file-based apps use file sharing protocols because they need shared access to data from multiple clients. (In other cases file-based applications do not require sharing but the storage administrators believe it’s easier to manage or less expensive than networked block storage.)

    Q: Do Lustre and GPFS have SMB Direct support?

    A: Not today. SMB Direct is an option to use RDMA and multi-channel with the SMB 3 protocol. Both Lustre and GPFS support the ability to export a file system via NFS or SMB, but generally they do not support SMB Direct yet. Both Lustre and GPFS support RDMA access through their clients.

    How to the clients avoid doing simultaneous writes to the same file?

    A: Some parallel file systems allow this by letting different clients write to different parts of the same file. Others do not allow this. In either case, distributed file locking is used to prevent two clients from writing simultaneously to the same part of a file (or to the same file if it’s not allowed).

    Q: How can you say that the application “does not have to worry about” how the clustered file system serializes writes? Doesn’t this require continuous end-to-end connectivity?

    A: When the application writes data it generally writes to a POSIX-compliant file system and does not need to worry about how the parallel file system serializes, distributes, or protects the data because this is virtualized (managed) by the file system. It usually does require continuous end-to-end connectivity from the clients to the servers, though in some cases caching could allow for brief gaps in connectivity and in some systems not every client needs to have network connectivity to every server. There are multiple mechanisms within parallel file systems to manage the various cases of clients/servers disappearing from the network, temporarily or permanently (whilst for example holding a lock).

    Q: How does a parallel file system handle the sequences of write on a same file? Just append one by one? What if a client modified a line?

    A: This is the biggest challenge for and reason to use a parallel file system.  Beneath the covers, coherency is maintained by Spectrum Scale using a token management server process which issues locks for object requests.  Similar functionality is implemented in Lustre using a distributed lock manager.  These objects are most commonly blocks within files rather than entire files, but this is application controlled.  The end result is a POSIX-compliant interface that scales to thousands of clients.

    Q: What does FPO stand for?

    A: File Placement Optimizer – a shared-nothing architecture and licensing model for IBM Spectrum Scale (aka GPFS). Learn more here.

    Q: Is there a concept in parallel file systems for “auto-tuning” yet? Seems like the early days of SAN management and tuning…

    A: Default tuning values are optimized for general purpose workloads, but the whole purpose of tuning parameters is to adjust away from those defaults to optimize the file system for a particular application workload or fil esystem architecture.  Both IBM and OpenSFS with the support of Intel have published extensive documentation on best practices for optimization and tuning for either file system.  We are not aware of any work on “automating” that process but there has been recent work (e.g. in spectrum scale) to simplify the tuning process.

    Q: Which is better as interconnect between disk and servers, shared access or share-nothing?

    A: The use of shared access in the interconnect between disks and servers is limited to providing HA functionality in Lustre or Spectrum Scale, the ability to service I/O requests to a storage device if the server which has primary responsibility for that device is not available.  This usually involves multiple server-attached external storage which can add cost to building the file system.  The alternative approach to HA is to replicate blocks of data to different disks on different servers, cutting back on the usable capacity of the file system.  If HA is not a requirement, a share-nothing architecture will generally involve less hardware and therefore be less expensive to build.

    If you have more questions, please comment on this blog. And I encourage you to check out the SNIA ESF webcast library for educational, vendor-neutral content on Ethernet networked storage topics

    NFS FAQ – Test Your Knowledge

    April 7th, 2016

    How would you rate your NFS knowledge? That’s the question Alex McDonald and I asked our audience at our recent live Webcast, “What is NFS?.” From those who considered themselves to be an NFS expert to those who thought NFS was a bit of a mystery, we got some great questions. As promised, here are answers to all of them. If you think of additional questions, please comment in this blog and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    Q. I hope you touch on dNFS in your presentation

    A. Oracle Direct NFS (dNFS) is a client built into Oracle’s database system that Oracle claims provides faster and more scalable access to NFS servers. As it’s proprietary, SNIA doesn’t really have much to say about it; we’re vendor neutral, and it’s not the only proprietary NFS client out there. But you can read more here if you wish at the Oracle site.

    Q. Will you be talking about pNFS?

    A. We did a series of NFS presentations that covered pNFS a little while ago. You can find them here.

    Q. What is the difference between SMB vs. CIFS? And what is SAMBA? Is it a type of SMB protocol?

    A. It’s best explained in this tutorial that covers SMB. Samba is the open source implementation of SMB for Linux. Information on Samba can be found here.

    Q. Will you touch upon how file permissions are maintained when users come from an SMB or a non-SMB connection? What are best practices?

    A. Although NFS and SMB share some common terminology for security (ACLs or Access Control Lists) the implementations are different. The ACL security model in SMB is richer than the NFS file security model. I touched on some of those differences during the Webcast, but my advice is; don’t expect the two security domains of SMB (or Samba, the open source equivalent) and NFS to perfectly overlap. Where possible, try to avoid the requirement, but if you do need the ability to file share, talk to your NFS server supplier. A Google search on “nfs smb mixed mode” will also bring up tips and best practices.

    Q. How do you tune and benchmark NFSv4?

    A. That’s a topic in its own right! This paper gives an overview and how-to of benchmarking NFS; but it doesn’t explain what you might do to tune the system. It’s too difficult to give generic advice here, except to say that vendors should be relied on to provide their experience. If it’s a commercial solution, they will have lots of experience based on a wide variety of use cases and workloads.

    Q. Is using NFS to provide block storage a common use case?

    A. No, it’s still fairly unusual. The most common use case is for files in directories. Object and block support are relatively new, and there are more NFS “personalities” being developed, see our ESF Webcast on NFSv4.2 for more information. 

    Q. Can you comment about file locking issues over NFS?

    A. Locking is needed by NFS to maintain file consistency in the face of multiple readers and writers. Locking in NVSv3 was difficult to manage; if a server failed or clients went AWOL, then the lock manager would be left with potentially thousands of stale locks. They often required manual purging. NFSv4 simplifies that by being a stateful protocol, and by integrating the lock management functions and employing timeouts and state, it can manage client and server recovery much more gracefully. Locks are, in the main, automatically released or refreshed after a failure.

     Q. Where do things like AFS come into play? Above NFS? Below NFS? Something completely different?

    A. AFS is another distributed file system, but it is not POSIX compliant. It influenced but is not directly related to NFS. Its use is relatively small; SMB and NFS dominate. Wikipedia has a good overview.

    Q. As you said NFSv4 can hide some of the directories when exporting to clients. Can this operation hide different folders for different clients?

    A. Yes. It’s possible to maintain completely different exports to expose or hide whatever directories on the server you wish. The pseudo file system is built separately for each server export. So you can have export X with subdirectories A B and C; or export Y with subdirectories B and C only.

    Q. Similar to DFS-N and DFS-R in combination, if a user moves to a different location, does NFS have a similar methodology?

    A. I’m not sure what DFS-N and DFS-R do in terms of location transparency. NFS can be set up such that if you can contact a particular server, and if you have the correct permissions, you should be able to see the same exports regardless of where the client is running.

    Q. Which daemons should be running on server side and client side for accessing filesystem over NFS?

    A. This is NFS server and client specific. You need to look at the documentation that comes with each.

    Q. Regarding VMware 6.0. Why use NFS over FC?

    A. Good question but you’ll need to speak to VMware to get that question answered. It depends on the application, your infrastructure, your costs, and the workload.

    New White Paper: An Updated Overview of NFSv4

    October 20th, 2015

    Maybe you’ve asked yourself recently; “Hmm, I wonder what’s new in NFSv4?” Maybe (and more likely) you haven’t; but you should.

    During the last few years, NFSv4 has become the version of choice for many users, and there are lots of great reasons for making the transition from NFSv3 to NFSv4. Not the least of which is that it’s a relatively straightforward transition.

    But there’s more; NFSv4 offers features unavailable in NFSv3. Parallelization, better security, WAN awareness and many other features make it suitable as a file protocol for the next generation of applications. As a proof point, lately we’ve seen new clients of NFSv4 servers beyond the standard Linux client, including support in VMware’s vSphere for virtual machine datastores accessible via NFSv4.

    In this updated white paper, An Updated Overview of NFSv4, we explain how NFSv4 is better suited to a wide range of datacenter and high performance compute (HPC) uses than its predecessor NFSv3, as well as providing resources for migrating from v3 to v4.

    You’ll learn:

    • How NFSv4 overcomes statelessness issues associated with NFSv3
    • Advantages and features of NFSv4.1 & NFSv4.2
    • What parallel NFS (pNFS) and layouts do
    • How NFSv4 supports performant WAN access

    We believe this document makes the argument that users should, at the very least, be evaluating and deploying NFSv4 for use in new projects; and ideally, should be using it wholesale in their existing environments. The information in this white paper is meant to be comprehensive and educational and we hope you find it helpful.

    If you have questions or comments after reading this white paper, please comment on this blog and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    NFS 4.2 Q&A

    May 28th, 2015

    We received several great questions at our What’s New in NFS 4.2 Webcast. We did not have time to answer them all, so here is a complete Q&A from the live event. If you missed it, it’s now available on demand.

    Q. Are there commercial Linux or windows distributions available which have adopted pNFS?

    A. Yes. RedHat RHEL6.2, Suse SLES 11.3 and Ubuntu 14.10 all support the pNFS capable client. There aren’t any pNFS servers on Linux so far; but commercial systems such as NetApp (file pNFS), EMC (block pNFS), Panasas (object pNFS) and maybe others support pNFS servers. Microsoft Windows has no client or server support for pNFS.

    Q. Are we able to prevent it from going back to NFS v3 if we want to ensure file lock management?

    A. An NFSv4 mount (mount -t nfs4) won’t fall back to an nfs3 mount. See man mount for details.

    Q. Can pNFS metadata servers forward clients to other metadata servers?

    A. No, not currently.

    Q. Can pNfs provide a way similar to synchronous writes? So data’s instantly safe in at least 2 locations?

    A. No; that kind of replication is a feature of the data servers. It’s not covered by the NFSv4.1 or pNFS specification.

    Q. Does hole punching depend on underlying file system in server?

    A. If the underlying server supports it, then hole punching will be supported. The client & server do this silently; a user of the mount isn’t aware that it’s happening.

    Q. How are Ethernet Trunks formed? By the OS or by the NFS client or NFS Server or other?

    A. Currently, they’re not! Although trunking is specified and is optional, there are no servers that support it.

    Q. How do you think vVols could impact NFS and VMware’s use of NFS?

    A. VMware has committed to supporting NFSv4.1 and there is currently support in vSphere 6. vVols adds another opportunity for clients to inform the server with IO hints; it is an area of active development.

    Q. In pNFS, does the callback call to the client must come from the original-called-to metadata server?

    A. Yes, the callback originates from the MDS.

    Q. Is hole punched in block units?

    A. That depends on the server.

    Q. Is there any functionality like SMB continuous availability?

    A. Since it’s a function of the server, and much of the server’s capabilities are unspecified in NFSv4, the answer is – it depends. It’s a question for the vendor of your server.

    Q. NFS has historically not been used in large HPC cluster environments for cluster-wide storage, for performance reasons. Do you see these changes as potentially improving this situation?

    A. Yes. There’s much work being done on the performance side, and the cluster parallelism that pNFS brings will have it outperform NFSv3 once clients employ more of its capabilities.

    Q. Speaking of the Amazon adoption for NFSv4.0. Do you have insight / guess on why Amazon did not select NFSv4.1, which has a lot more performance / scalability advantages over NFSv4.0?

    A. No, none at all.

    SUSE Announces NFSv4.1 and pNFS Support

    November 6th, 2013

    SUSE, founded in 1992, provides an enterprise ready Linux distribution in the form of SLES; the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. As of late last month (October 22, 2013), SUSE announced that SLES 11 with service pack 3 now supports the Linux client for NFSv4.1 and pNFS client. This major distribution joins RedHat’s RHEL (RedHat Enterprise Linux) 6.4 in supporting enterprise quality Linux distributions with support for files based NFSv4.1 and pNFS.

    For the adventurous, block and object pNFS support is available in the upstream kernel. Most regularly maintained distributions based on a Linux 3.1 or better kernel (if not all distributions now – check with the supplier of the distribution if you’re unsure) should provide the files, block and object compliant client directly in the download.

    The future of pNFS looks very exciting. We now have a fully pNFS compliant Linux client, and a number of commercial files, blocks and object servers. Remember that although pNFS block and object support is available, currently these distributions support only the pNFS files layout. For those users not needing pNFS with block or objects support and requiring enterprise quality support, SUSE and RedHat are an excellent solution.

    pNFS and Future NFSv4.2 Features

    April 30th, 2013

    In this third and final blog post on NFS (see previous blog posts Why NFSv4.1 and pNFS are Better than NFSv3 Could Ever Be and The Advantages of NFSv4.1) I’ll cover pNFS (parallel NFS), an optional feature of NFSv4.1 that improves the bandwidth available for NFS protocol access, and some of the proposed features of NFSv4.2 – some of which are already implemented in commercially available servers, but will be standardized with the ratification of NFSv4.2 (for details, see the IETF NFSv4.2 draft documents).

    Finally, I’ll point out where you can get NFSv4.1 clients with support for pNFS today.

    Parallel NFS (pNFS) and Layouts

    Parallel NFS (pNFS) represents a major step forward in the development of NFS. Ratified in January 2010 and described in RFC-5661, pNFS depends on the NFS client understanding how a clustered filesystem stripes and manages data. It’s not an attribute of the data, but an arrangement between the server and the client, so data can still be accessed via non-pNFS and other file access protocols.  pNFS benefits workloads with many small files, or very large files, especially those run on compute clusters requiring simultaneous, parallel access to data.

     NFS 3 image 1

    Clients request information about data layout from a Metadata Server (MDS), and get returned layouts that describe the location of the data. (Although often shown as separate, the MDS may or may not be standalone nodes in the storage system depending on a particular storage vendor’s hardware architecture.) The data may be on many data servers, and is accessed directly by the client over multiple paths. Layouts can be recalled by the server, as in the case for delegations, if there are multiple conflicting client requests. 

    By allowing the aggregation of bandwidth, pNFS relieves performance issues that are associated with point-to-point connections. With pNFS, clients access data servers directly and in parallel, ensuring that no single storage node is a bottleneck. pNFS also ensures that data can be better load balanced to meet the needs of the client.

    The pNFS specification also accommodates support for multiple layouts, defining the protocol used between clients and data servers. Currently, three layouts are specified; files as supported by NFSv4, objects based on the Object-based Storage Device Commands (OSD) standard (INCITS T10) approved in 2004, and block layouts (either FC or iSCSI access). The layout choice in any given architecture is expected to make a difference in performance and functionality. For example, pNFS object based implementations may perform RAID parity calculations in software on the client, to allow RAID performance to scale with the number of clients and to ensure end-to-end data integrity across the network to the data servers.

    So although pNFS is new to the NFS standard, the experience of users with proprietary precursor protocols to pNFS shows that high bandwidth access to data with pNFS will be of considerable benefit.

    Potential performance of pNFS is definitely superior to that of NFSv3 for similar configurations of storage, network and server. The management is definitely easier, as NFSv3 automounter maps and hand-created load balancing schemes are eliminated; and by providing a standardized interface, pNFS ensures fewer issues in supporting multi-vendor NFS server environments.

    Some Proposed NFSv4.2 features

    NFSv4.2 promises many features that end-users have been requesting, and that makes NFS more relevant as not only an “every day” protocol, but one that has application beyond the data center. As the requirements document for NFSv4.2 puts it, there are requirements for: 

    • High efficiency and utilization of resources such as, capacity, network bandwidth, and processors.
    • Solid state flash storage which promises faster throughput and lower latency than magnetic disk drives and lower cost than dynamic random access memory.

    Server Side Copy

    Server-Side Copy (SSC) removes one leg of a copy operation. Instead of reading entire files or even directories of files from one server through the client, and then writing them out to another, SSC permits the destination server to communicate directly to the source server without client involvement, and removes the limitations on server to client bandwidth and the possible congestion it may cause.

    Application Data Blocks (ADB)

    ADB allows definition of the format of a file; for example, a VM image or a database. This feature will allow initialization of data stores; a single operation from the client can create a 300GB database or a VM image on the server.

    Guaranteed Space Reservation & Hole Punching

    As storage demands continue to increase, various efficiency techniques can be employed to give the appearance of a large virtual pool of storage on a much smaller storage system.  Thin provisioning, (where space appears available and reserved, but is not committed) is commonplace, but often problematic to manage in fast growing environments. The guaranteed space reservation feature in NFSv4.2 will ensure that, regardless of the thin provisioning policies, individual files will always have space available for their maximum extent.

     NFS 3 image 2

    While such guarantees are a reassurance for the end-user, they don’t help the storage administrator in his or her desire to fully utilize all his available storage. In support of better storage efficiencies, NFSv4.2 will introduce support for sparse files. Commonly called “hole punching”, deleted and unused parts of files are returned to the storage system’s free space pool.

    Obtaining Servers and Clients

    With this background on the features of NFS, there is considerable interest in the end-user community for NFSv4.1 support from both servers and clients. Many Network Attached Storage (NAS) vendors now support NFSv4, and in the last 12 months, there has been a flurry of activity and many developments in server support of NFSv4.1 and pNFS.

    For NFS server vendors, there are NFSv4.1 and files based, block based and object based implementations of pNFS available; refer to the vendor websites, where you will get the latest up-to-date information.

    On the client side, there is RedHat Enterprise Linux 6.4 that includes full support for NFSv4.1 and pNFS (see www.redhat.com), Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2 with NFSv4.1 and pNFS based on the 3.0 Linux kernel (see www.suse.com), and Fedora available at fedoraproject.org.


    NFSv4.1 includes features intended to enable its use in global wide area networks (WANs).  These advantages include:

    • Firewall-friendly single port operations
    • Advanced and aggressive cache management features
    • Internationalization support
    • Replication and migration facilities
    • Optional cryptography quality security, with access control facilities that are compatible across UNIX® and Windows®
    • Support for parallelism and data striping

    The goal for NFSv4.1 and beyond is to define how you get to storage, not what your storage looks like. That has meant inevitable changes. Unlike earlier versions of NFS, the NFSv4 protocol integrates file locking, strong security, operation coalescing, and delegation capabilities to enhance client performance for data sharing applications on high-bandwidth networks.

    NFSv4.1 servers and clients provide even more functionality such as wide striping of data to enhance performance.  NFSv4.2 and beyond promise further enhancements to the standard that increase its applicability to today’s application requirements. It is due to be ratified in August 2012, and we can expect to see server and client implementations that provide NFSv4.2 features soon after this; in some cases, the features are already being shipped now as vendor specific enhancements. 

    With careful planning, migration to NFSv4.1 (and NFSv4.2 when it becomes generally available) from prior versions can be accomplished without modification to applications or the supporting operational infrastructure, for a wide range of applications; home directories, HPC storage servers, backup jobs and a variety of other applications.

    FOOTNOTE: Parts of this blog were originally published in Usenix ;login: February 2012 under the title The Background to NFSv4.1. Used with permission.


    Why NFSv4.1 and pNFS are Better than NFSv3 Could Ever Be

    December 18th, 2012

    NFSv4 has been a standard file sharing protocol since 2003, but has not been widely adopted; party because NFSv3 was “just good enough”. Yet, NFSv4 improves on NFSv3 in many important ways; and NFSv4.1 is a further improvement on that. In this post, I explain the how NFSv4.1 is better suited to a wide range of datacenter and HPC use than its predecessor NFSv3 and NFSv4, as well as providing resources for migrating from NFSv3 to NFSv4.1. And, most importantly, I make the argument that users should, at the very least, be evaluating and deploying NFSv4.1 for use in new projects; and ideally, should be using it wholesale in their existing environments.

    The background to NFSv4.1
    NFSv2 (specified in RFC-1813, but never an Internet standard) and its popular successor NFSv3 was first released in 1995 by Sun. NFSv3 has proved a popular and robust protocol over the 15 years it has been in use, and with wide adoption it soon eclipsed some of the early competitive UNIX-based filesystem protocols such as DFS and AFS. NFSv3 was extensively adopted by storage vendors and OS implementers beyond Sun’s Solaris; it was available on an extensive list of systems, including IBM’s AIX, HP’s HP-UX, Linux and FreeBSD. Even non-UNIX systems adopted NFSv3; Mac OS, OpenVMS, Microsoft Windows, Novell NetWare, and IBM’s AS/400 systems. In recognition of the advantages of interoperability and standardization, Sun relinquished control of future NFS standards work, and work leading to NFSv4 was by agreement between Sun and the Internet Society (ISOC), and is undertaken under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

    In April 2003, the Network File System (NFS) version 4 Protocol was ratified as an Internet standard, described in RFC-3530, which superseded NFSv3. This was the first open filesystem and networking protocol from the IETF. NFSv4 introduces the concept of state to ameliorate some of the less desirable features of NFSv3, and other enhancements to improved usability, management and performance.

    But shortly following its release, an Internet draft written by Garth Gibson and Peter Corbett outlined several problems with NFSv4; specifically, that of limited bandwidth and scalability, since NFSv4 like NFSv3 requires that access is to a single server. NFSv4.1 (as described in RFC-5661, ratified in January 2010) was developed to overcome these limitations, and new features such as parallel NFS (pNFS) were standardized to address these issues.

    Now NFSv4.2 is now moving towards ratification. In a change to the original IETF NFSv4 development work, where each revision took a significant amount of time to develop and ratify, the workgroup charter was modified to ensure that there would be no large standards documents that took years to develop, such as RFC-5661, and that additions to the standard would be an on-going yearly process. With these changes in the processes leading to standardization, features that will be ratified in NFSv4.2 (expected in early 2013) are available from many vendors and suppliers now.

    Adoption of NFSv4.1
    Every so often, I and others in the industry run Birds-of-a-Feather (BoFs) on the availability of NFSv4.1 clients and servers, and on the adoption of NFSv4.1 and pNFS. At our latest BoF at LISA ’12 in San Diego in December 2012, many of the attendees agreed; it’s time to move to NFSv4.1.

    While there have been many advances and improvements to NFS, many users have elected to continue with NFSv3. NFSv4.1 is a mature and stable protocol with many advantages in its own right over its predecessors NFSv3 and NFSv2, yet adoption remains slow. Adequate for some purposes, NFSv3 is a familiar and well understood protocol; but with the demands being placed on storage by exponentially increasing data and compute growth, NFSv3 has become increasingly difficult to deploy and manage.

    In essence, NFSv3 suffers from problems associated with statelessness. While some protocols such as HTTP and other RESTful APIs see benefit from not associating state with transactions – it considerably simplifies application development if no transaction from client to server depends on another transaction – in the NFS case, statelessness has led, amongst other downsides, to performance and lock management issues.

    NFSv4.1 and parallel NFS (pNFS) address well-known NFSv3 “workarounds” that are used to obtain high bandwidth access; users that employ (usually very complicated) NFSv3 automounter maps and modify them to manage load balancing should find pNFS provides comparable performance that is significantly easier to manage.

    So what’s the problem with NFSv3?
    Extending the use of NFS across the WAN is difficult with NFSv3. Firewalls typically filter traffic based on well-known port numbers, but if the NFSv3 client is inside a firewalled network, and the server is outside the network, the firewall needs to know what ports the portmapper, mountd and nfsd servers are listening on. As a result of this promiscuous use of ports, the multiplicity of “moving parts” and a justifiable wariness on the part of network administrators to punch random holes through firewalls, NFSv3 is not practical to use in a WAN environment. By contrast, NFSv4 integrates many of these functions, and mandates that all traffic (now exclusively TCP) uses the single well-known port 2049.

    Plus, NFSv3 is very chatty for WAN usage; and there may be many messages sent between the client and the server to undertake simple activities, such as finding, opening, reading and closing a file. NFSv4 can compound these operations into a single RPC (Remote Procedure Call) and reduce considerably the back-and-forth traffic across the network. The end result is reduced latency.

    One of the most annoying NFSv3 “features” has been its handling of locks. Although NFSv3 is stateless, the essential addition of lock management (NLM) to prevent file corruption by competing clients means NFSv3 application recovery is slowed considerably. Very often stale locks have to be manually released, and the lock management is handled external to the protocol. NFSv4’s built-in lock leasing, lock timeouts, and client-server negotiation on recovery simplifies management considerably.

    In a change from NFSv3, these locking and delegation features make NFSv4 stateful, but the simplicity of the original design is retained through well-defined recovery semantics in the face of client and server failures and network partitions. These are just some of the benefits that make NFSv4.1 desirable as a modern datacenter protocol, and for use in HPC, database and highly virtualized applications.
    NFSv3 is extremely difficult to parallelise, and often takes some vendor-specific “pixie dust” to accomplish. In contrast, pNFS with NFSv4.1brings parallelization directly into the protocol; it allows many streams of data to multiple servers simultaneously, and it supports files as per usual, along with block and object support through an extensible layout mechanism. The management is definitely easier, as NFSv3 automounter maps and hand-created load-balancing schemes are eliminated and, by providing a standardized interface, pNFS ensures fewer issues in supporting multi-vendor NFS server environments.

    Next post; the Advantages of NFSv4.1

    FOOTNOTE: Parts of this blog were originally published in Usenix ;login: February 2012 under the title The Background to NFSv4.1. Used with permission.

    pNFS Advances

    December 12th, 2012

    Building an industry standard is a series of incremental steps – from the original concept through ratification, followed by education and promotion, and ultimately to the development of an ecosystem of solutions. For a number of years the SNIA Ethernet Storage Forum (ESF) has been successfully advocating and promoting the NFSv4.1 standard and pNFS extensions.

    Today, we welcome the open-pnfs.org community in its goal of extending the work of the SNIA ESF in promoting pNFS and NFSv4.1. Open-pNFS adds to the progression from standard to solution, by focusing and highlighting the commercial products coming to market and the maturation of the ecosystem.