Tag Archives: Work

SSDs: A gift and a curse

Post Syndicated from Laurie Denness original https://laur.ie/blog/2015/06/ssds-a-gift-and-a-curse/

Artur Bergman, founder of a CDN exclusively powered by super fast SSDs, has made many compelling cases over the years to use them. He was definitely ahead of the curve here, but he’s right. Nowadays, they’re denser, 100x faster and as competitively priced as hard disks in most server configurations.

At Etsy, we’ve been trying to get on this bandwagon for the last 5 years too. It’s got a lot better value for money in the last year, so we’ve gone from “dipping our toes in the water” to “ORDER EVERYTHING WITH SSDs!” pretty rapidly.

This isn’t a post about how great SSDs are though: Seriously, they’re amazing. The new Dell R630 allows for 24x 960GB 1.8″ SSDs in a 1U chassis. That’s 19TB usable ludicrously fast, sub millisecond latency storage after RAID6, that will blow away anything you can get on spinning rust, use less power, and is actually reasonably priced per GB.

Picture of Dell R630, 24x 960GB SSDs in 1U chassis
Plus, they look amazing.

So if this post isn’t “GO BUY ALL THE SSDs NOW”, what is it? Well, it’s a cautionary tale that it’s not all unicorns and IOPs.

The problem(s) with SSDs

When SSDs first started to come out, people were concerned that these drives “only” handled a certain number of operations or data during their lifetime, and they’d be changing SSDs far more frequently than conventional spinning rust. Actually, that’s totally not the case and we haven’t experienced that at all. We have thousands of SSDs, and we’ve lost maybe one or two to old age, and it probably wasn’t wear related.

Spoiler alert: SSD firmware is buggy

When was the last time your hard disk failed because the firmware did something whacky? Well, Seagate had a pretty famous case back in 2009 where the drives may not ever power on again if you power them off. Whoops.

But the majority of times, the issue is the physical hardware… The infamous “spinning rust” that is in the drive.

So, SSDs solve this forever right? No moving parts.. Measured mean time to failure of hundreds of years before the memory wears out? Perfect!

Here’s the run down of the firmware issues we’ve had over 5 or so years:


Okay, bad start, we’ve actually had no issues with Intel. This seems to be common across other companies we’ve spoken to. We started putting single 160GB in our web servers about 4 years ago, because it gave us low power, fast, reliable storage and the space requirements for web servers and utility boxes was low anyway. No more waiting for the metal to seize up! We have SSDs that have long outlived the servers.


Outside of the 160GB Intel drives, our search (Solr) stack was the first to benefit from denser, fast storage. Search indexes were getting big; too big for memory. In addition, getting them off disk and serving search results to users was limited by the random disk latency.

Rather than many expensive, relatively fast but low capacity spinning rust drives in a RAID array, we opted for OCZ Talos 960GB disks. These weren’t too bad; we had a spate of initial failures in what seemed like a bad batch, but we were able to learn from this and make the app more resilient to failures.

However, they had poor SMART info (none) so predicting failures was hard.

Unfortunately, the company later went bankrupt, and Toshiba rescued them from the dead. They were unavailable for long enough that we simply ditched them and moved on.


We briefly tried running third party SSDs on our older (HP) Graphite boxes… This was a quick, fairly cheap win as it got us a tonne of performance for relatively little money (back then we needed much less Graphite storage). This worked fine until the drives started to fail.

Unfortunately, HP have proprietary RAID controllers, and they don’t support SMART. Or rather, they refuse to talk to non-HP drives using off the shelf technology, they have their own methods.

Slot an unsupported disk or SSD into the controller, and you have no idea how that drive is performing or failing. We quickly learnt this after running for a while on these boxes, and performance randomly tanked. The SSDs underlying the RAID array seemed to be dying and slowing down, and we had no way of knowing which one (or ones), or how to fix it. Presumably the drives were not being issued TRIM commands either.

When we had to purchase a new box for our primary database this left us with no choice: We have to pay HP for SSDs. 960GB SSDs direct from HP, properly supported, cost us around $7000 each. Yes, each. We had to buy 4 of them to get the storage we needed.

On the upside, they do have fancy detailed stats (like wear levelling) exposed via the controller and ILO, and none have failed yet almost 3 years on (in fact, they’re all showing 99% health). You get what you pay for, luckily.


Samsung saved the day and picked up from OCZ with a ludicrously cheap 960GB offering, the 840 EVO. A consumer drive, so very limited warranty, but for the price (~$400-500) you got great IOPS and they were reliable. They had better SMART info, and seemed to play nicely with our hardware.

We have a lot of these drives:

[~/chef-repo (master)] $ knife search node block_device_sda_model:'Samsung' -a block_device.sda.model

117 items found

That’s 117 hosts with those drives, most of them have 6 each, and doesn’t include hosts that have them behind RAID controllers (for example, our Graphite boxes). In particular, they’ve been awesome for our ELK logging cluster

Then BB6Q happened…

I hinted that we used these for Graphite. They worked great! Who wouldn’t want thousands and thousands of IOPs for relatively little money? Buying SSDs from OEMs is still expensive, and they give you those darn fancy “enterprise” level drives. Pfft. Redundancy at the app level, right?

We had started buying Dell, who use a rebranded LSI RAID controller so they happily talked to the drives including providing full SMART info. We had 16 of those Samsung drives behind the Dell controller giving us 7.3TB of super fast storage.

Given the already proven pattern, we ordered the same spec box for a Ganglia hardware refresh. And they didn’t work. The RAID controller hung on startup trying to initialise the drives, so long that the Boot ROM was never loaded so it was impossible to boot from an array created using them.

What had changed?! A quick

"MegaCli -AdpAllInfo -a0 | diff"

on the two boxes, revealed: The firmware on the drive had changed. (shout out to those of you who know the MegaCli parameters by heart now…)

Weeks of debugging and back and forth with both Dell (who were very nice given these drives were unsupported) and Samsung revealed there were definitely firmware issues with this particular BB6Q release.

It was soon released publicly, that not only did this new firmware somehow break compatibility with Dell RAID controllers (by accident), but they also had a crippling performance bug… They got slower and slower over time, because they had messed up their block allocation algorithm.

In the end, behind LSI controllers, it was the controller sending particular ATA commands to the drives that would make them hang and not respond.. And so the RAID controller would have to wait for it to time out.

Samsung put out a firmware updater and “fixer” tool for this, but it needed to move your data around so only ran on Windows with NTFS.

With hundreds of these things that are in production and working, but have a crippling performance issue, we had to figure out how they would get flashed. An awesome contractor for Samsung agreed that if we drove over batches of drives (luckily, they are incredibly close to our datacenter) they would flash them and return them the next day.

This story has a relatively happy ending then; our drives are getting fixed, and we’re still buying their drives; now the 960GB 850 PRO model, as they remain a great value for money high performance drive.

Talking with other companies, we’re not alone with Samsung issues like this, even the 840 PRO has some issues that require hard power cycles to fix. But the price is hard to beat, especially now the 850 range is looking more solid.


LiteOn were famously known for making CD writers back when CD writers were new and exciting.

But they’re also a chosen OEM partner of Dell’s for their official “value” SSDs. Value is a relative term here, but they’re infinitely cheaper than HP’s offerings, enterprise level, fully supported and for all that, “only” twice the price of Samsung (~$940)

We decided to buy new SSD based database boxes, because SSDs were too hard to resist for these use cases; crazy performance and at 1TB capacity, not too much more expensive per GB than spinning rust. We had to buy many many 15,000rpm drives to even get near the performance, and they were expensive at 300GB capacity. We could spend a bit more money and save power, rack space, and get more disk space and IOPs.

For similar reasons to HP, we thought best to pay the premium for a fully supported solution, especially as Samsung had just caused all these issue with their firmware issues.

With that in mind, we ordered some R630’s hot off the production line with 960GB LiteOn’s, tested performance, and it was great: 30,000 random write IOPs across 4 SSDs in RAID6, (5.5 TB useable space).

We put them live, and they promptly blew up spectacularly. (Yes, we had a postmortem about this). The RAID controller claimed that two drives had died simultaneously, with another being reset by the adapter. Did we really get two disks to die at once?

This took months of working closely with Dell to figure out. Replacement of drives, backplane, and then the whole box, but the problem persisted. Just a few short hours of intense IO, especially on a box with only 4 SSDs would cause them to flip out. And in the mean time, we’d ordered 50+ of these boxes with varying amounts of SSDs installed, having tested so well initially.

Eventually it transpires that, like most good problems, it was a combination of many factors that caused these issues. The SSDs were having extended garbage collection periods, exacerbated by a smaller amount of SSDs with higher IO, in RAID6. This caused the controller to kick the drive out of the array… and unfortunately due to the write levelling across the drives, at least two of them were garbage collecting at the same time, destroying the array integrity.

The fix was no small deal; Dell and LiteOn together identified and fixed weaknesses in their RAID controller, the backplane and the SSD firmware. It was great to see the companies working together rather than just pointing fingers here, and the fixes for all sizes except 960GB was out within a month.

The story here continues for us though; the 960GB drive remains unsolved, as it caused more issues, and we had almost exclusively purchased those. For systems that weren’t fully loaded, Dell kindly provided us with 800GB replacements and extra drives to make up the space. For the rest, because the stress across the 22 drives means garbage collection isn’t as intense, so they remain operating until a firmware fix.


I’m hesitant to recommend any one particular brand, because I’m sure as with the hard disk phenomenon (Law where each person has their preferred brand that they’ve never had issues with but everyone else has), people’s experiences will have varied.

We should probably collect some real data on this as an industry and share it around; I’ve always been of the mindset that we’re weirdly secretive sometimes of what hardware/software we use but we should share, so if anyone wants to contribute let me know.

But: you can probably continue to buy Intel and Samsung, depending on your use case/budget, and as usual, own your own availability and add resiliency to your apps and hardware, because things always fail in ways you can’t imagine.

systemd: Using ExecStop to depool nodes for fun and profit

Post Syndicated from Laurie Denness original https://laur.ie/blog/2015/02/systemd-using-execstop-to-depool-nodes-for-fun-and-profit/

Preface: There is a tonne of drama about systemd on the internets; it won’t take you long to find it, if you’re curious. Despite that, I’m largely a fan and focusing on all the cool stuff I can finally do as an ops person without basically re-writing crappy bash scripts for a living (cough sys-v init) 

Process Supervision

Without going into the basics about systemd too much (I quite enjoy this post as an intro), you tell systemd to run your executable using the “ExecStart” part of the config, and it will go and run that command and make sure it keeps running. Wonderful! In this case, we wanted to keep HHVM running all the time, so we told systemd to do it, in 3 lines. Waaaay easier than sys-v init.


By default when you tell systemd to stop a process, and you haven’t told it how to stop the process, it’s just going to gracefully kill the process and any other processes it spawned.

However, there is also the ExecStop configuration option that will be executed before systemd kills your processes, adding a new “deactivating” step to the process. It takes any executable name (or many) as an argument, so you can abuse this to do literally anything as cleanup before your processes get killed.

Systemd will also continue to do it’s regular killing of processes if by the end of running your ExecStop script the processes are not all dead.

Load balancer health checks

We have a load balancer that uses a bunch of health checks to ensure that the node that it’s asking to do work can actually still do work before it sends it there.

One of these is hitting an HTTP endpoint we set up, let’s call it “status.php” which just contains the text “Status:OK”. This way, if the server dies, or PHP breaks, or Apache breaks, that node will be automatically depooled and we don’t serve garbage to the user. Yay!

Example: automatic depooling using ExecStop

Armed with my new ExecStop super power, I realised we were able to let the load balancer know this node was no longer available before killing the process.

I wrote a simple bash script that:

  • Moves the status.php file to status.php.disabled
  • Starts pinging the built in HHVM “load” endpoint (which tells you how many requests are in flight in HHVM) to see if the load has hit 0
  • if the curl to the “load” endpoint fails, we try again after 1 second
  • If we hit 30 seconds and the load isn’t 0 or we still can’t reach the endpoint, we just carry on anyway; something is wrong.
  • Once the load is “0”, we can continue
  • use `pidof` to kill the HHVM process
  • Move status.php.disabled back to status.php

And now, i can reference this in our HHVM systemd unit file:

Description=HHVM HipHop Virtual Machine (FCGI)

ExecStart=/usr/bin/hhvm -c <snip>

Now when I call service hhvm stop, it takes 6-10 seconds for the stop to complete, because the traffic is gracefully removed.


Another thing I personally love about systemd, is the increase visibility the operator gets about what’s going on. In sys-v, if you’re lucky, someone put a “status” action in their bash script and it might tell you if the pid exists.

In systemd, you get a tonne of information about what’s going on; the processes that have been launched (including child processes), the PIDs, logs associated with that process, and in the case of something like Apache, the process can report information back:

Apache systemd status output showing requests per second

In this case, our ExecStop script output gets shown when you look at the status output of systemd:

[[email protected] ~]# systemctl status hhvm -l
hhvm.service - HHVM HipHop Virtual Machine (FCGI)
   Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/hhvm.service; enabled)
   Active: inactive (dead) since Tue 2015-02-17 22:00:52 UTC; 48s ago
  Process: 23889 ExecStop=/usr/local/bin/hhvm_stop.sh (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
  Process: 37601 ExecStart=/usr/bin/hhvm <snip> (code=killed, signal=TERM)
  Main PID: 37601 (code=killed, signal=TERM)

Feb 17 22:00:45 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Moving status.php to status.php.disabled
Feb 17 22:00:47 hhvm01 hvm_stop.sh[23889]: Waiting another second (currently up to 8) because the load is still 16
Feb 17 22:00:48 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Waiting another second (currently up to 9) because the load is still 10
Feb 17 22:00:49 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Waiting another second (currently up to 10) because the load is still 10
Feb 17 22:00:50 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Load was 0 after 11 seconds, now we can kill HHVM.
Feb 17 22:00:50 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Killing HHVM
Feb 17 22:00:52 hhvm01 hhvm_stop.sh[23889]: Flipping status.php.disabled to status.php
Feb 17 22:00:52 hhvm01 systemd[1]: Stopped HHVM HipHop Virtual Machine (FCGI).

Now all the information about what happened during the ExecStop process is captured for debugging later! No more having no idea what happened during the shut down.

When the script is in the process of running, the systemd status output will show as “deactivating” so you know it’s still ongoing.



This is just one example of how you might use/abuse the ExecStop to do work before killing processes. Whilst this was technically possible before, IMO the ease of use and the added introspection means this is actually feasible for production systems.

I’ve gisted a copy of the script here, if you want to steal it and modify it for your own use.

Hadoop and Ganglia 3.1

Post Syndicated from Laurie Denness original https://laur.ie/blog/2011/03/hadoop-and-ganglia-3-1/

A quick note to anyone setting up a new Hadoop cluster and hoping to quickly use the built in Ganglia metrics collection (which you should! If it moves, graph it!): This works out of the box with Ganglia 3.0, but the protocol changed with Ganglia 3.1.

The official GangliaMetrics pages talks about this, and talks about patching (which is already available if you use the Cloudera releases) but doesn’t go into more detail than that. I recently set up a new cluster, and remembered there was something I had to change in the default config to make it work out of the box… After inquiring (and finding the comment I left in my old config file!) I remembered, you must change the default class to have “31” (e.g. Ganglia 3.1) on the end.

For example, the default config file: (Replacing @[email protected] with your multicast address)

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

Is changed to this:

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

[email protected]@:8649

Restart the cluster, and the graphs will appear under each host in the Ganglia interface.

There is a LOT of detail in these graphs, with metrics ranging from DFS (things like bytes written, and how many operations were transferred from other nodes) to the JVM (monitor those heap memory sizes!)

This is probably old news to most people I’m sure, but I have a rule that if I didn’t find it within 30 minutes, maybe this will help someone in the same boat as me 🙂