A FreeNAS Compression Tale

David vs Goliath Credit: Miguel Robledo of https://www.artstation.com/miguel_robledo

David vs Goliath

It was an underdog tale worthy of the biblical book of Samuel. When I first caught wind of how FreeNAS™ compression prowess was going against NetApp® compression and deduplication in one use case, I had to find out more. And the results in this use case was quite impressive considering that FreeNAS™ (now known as TrueNAS® CORE) is the free, open source storage operating system and NetApp® Data ONTAP, is the industry leading, enterprise, “king of the hill” storage data management software.

Certainly a David vs Goliath story.

Compression in FreeNAS

Ah, Compression! That technology that is often hidden, hardly seen and often forgotten.

Compression is a feature within FreeNAS™ that seldom gets the attention. It works, and certainly is a mature form of data footprint reduction (DFR) technology, along with data deduplication. It is switched on by default, and is the setting when creating a dataset, as shown below:

Dataset creation with Compression (lz4) turned on

The default compression algorithm is lz4 which is fast but poor in compression ratio compared to gzip and bzip2. However, lz4 uses less CPU cycles to perform its compression and decompression processing, and thus the impact on FreeNAS™ and TrueNAS® is very low.

NetApp® ONTAP, if I am not wrong, uses lzopro as default – a commercial and optimized version of the open source LZO compression library. In addition, NetApp also has their data deduplication technology as well, something OpenZFS has to improve upon in the future.

The DFR report

This brings us to the use case at one of iXsystems™ customers in Taiwan. The data to be reduced are mostly log files at the end user, and the version of FreeNAS™ is 11.2u7. There are, of course, many factors that affect the data reduction ratio, but in this case of 4 scenarios,  the end user has been running this in production for over 2 months. The results:

FreeNAS vs NetApp Data Footprint Reduction

In 2 of the 4 scenarios, FreeNAS™ performed admirably with just the default lz4 compression alone, compared to NetApp® which was running both their inline compression and deduplication.

The intention to post this report is not to show that FreeNAS™ is better in every case. It won’t be, and there are superior data footprint reduction tech out there which can outperform it. But I would expect potential and existing end users to leverage on the compression capability of FreeNAS™ which is getting better all the time.

A better compression algorithm

Followers of OpenZFS are aware of the changing of times with OpenZFS version 2.0. One exciting update is the introduction of the zstd compression algorithm into OpenZFS late last year, and is already in TrueNAS® CORE and Enterprise version 12.x.

What is zstd? zstd is a fast compression algorithm that aims to be as efficient (or better) than gzip, but with better speed closer to lz4, relatively. For a long time, the gzip compression algorithm, from levels 1-9, has been serving very good compression ratio compared to many compression algorithms, lz4 included.

However, the efficiency came at a higher processing price and thus took a longer time. At the other end, lz4 is fast and lightweight, but its reduction ratio efficiency is very poor. zstd intends to be the in-between of gzip and lz4. In the latest results published by Facebook’s github page,

zstd performance benchmark against other compression algorithms

For comparison, zstd (level -1) performed very well against zlib, the data compression library in gzip. It was made known there are 22 levels of compression in zstd but I do not know how many levels are accepted in the OpenZFS development.

At the same time, compression takes advantage of multi-core processing, and actually can speed up disk I/O response because the original dataset to be processed is smaller after the compression reduction.

While TrueNAS® still defaults lz4 compression as of now, you can probably change the default compression with a command

# zfs set compression=zstd-6 pool/dataset

Your choice

TrueNAS® and FreeNAS™ support multiple compression algorithms. lz4, gzip and now zstd. That gives the administrator a choice to assign the right compression algorithm based on processing power, storage savings, and time to get the best out of the data stored in the datasets.

As far as the David vs Goliath tale goes, this real life use case was indeed a good one to share.

 

VAST Data must be something special

[Preamble: I have been invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Tech Field Day for Storage Field Day 18 from Feb 27-Mar 1, 2019 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel and accommodation were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

Vast Data coming out bash!

The delegates of Storage Field Days were always the lucky bunch. We have witnessed several storage technology companies coming out of stealth at these Tech Field Days. The recent ones in memory for me were Excelero and Hammerspace. But to have one where the venerable storage doyen, Mr. Howard Marks, Vast Data new tech evangelist, to introduce the deep dive of Vast Data technology was something special.

For those who knew Howard, he is fiercely independent, very storage technology smart, opinionated and not easily impressed. As a storage technology connoisseur myself, I believe Howard must have seen something special in Vast Data. They must be doing something extremely unique and impressive that someone like Howard could not resist, and made him jump to the vendor side. This sets the tone of my blog.

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NFO for DFR

It has not caused severe pain yet but it will. Storage is cheap but as capacity grows, it will eventually hit a limit that makes storage difficult to maintain from a cost perspective.

I wrote about the lack of attention of primary storage deduplication solutions in the local industry. Perhaps deduplication has matured to a point that it has become a no-brainer or perhaps customers are already getting sick and tired of the word “dedupe”. Either way, we should not be distracted from the fact that data footprint reduction (DFR) in a generic sense or storage efficiency as a fancy marketing term, must be applied somewhere to slow down the purchase of storage capacity.

Storage is getting fatter, and storage vendors’ revenue is getting fatter along with it. While this is good for the pockets of vendors, the customers have to face higher costs associated with

  • Power, Cooling and Floorspace
  • Administration and management
  • Bandwidth
  • Resource utilization

All these are not prudent storage management practices, because fat storage is bad, just like human beings getting fatter. Similarly, storage must go on a diet and deduplication is one of the few solutions out there. However, I have spoken out that deduplication is just shrinking the container that holds the bits of data, completely unaware of what the content is. Deduplication does not shrink the data itself, and if the occurrence of the data is high, deduplication does not help in reducing the storage capacity. There is no advantage unless the data footprint reduction (DFR) technology is content aware. (Note that I am using DFS as a generic term rather than data deduplication. The reason is obvious.)

That is why data deduplication technologies does not work well with seismic files or encoded video files, because the files are already highly optimized. But there is a technology that can look deeper into such unstructured files and produce storage capacity reduction with specific algorithms for specific type of files and file objects. That technology, I believe, is the truest form of data footprint reduction and it is called Native Format Optimization (NFO).

I want to relate an old story I had experienced when I brought an EMC BURA (Back Up Recovery & Archive – a precursor to its present BRS division) senior manager to see a highly respected technical manager in Schlumberger in Malaysia a few years back. Schlumberger is the world’s largest oilfield services company and provides seismic analysis and interpretation software and seismic files are highly encoded and compressed.

As usual, the senior manager being a typical sales guy started blabbering how great Data Domain (this was just after the EMC acquisition) was, and how it can dedupe any kind of files giving 20:1 (exaggerated to 500:1 to certain text files), even for seismic files. I was signalling to the EMC senior manager to stop his bullsh*t, but he went on and on. In the end, the Schlumberger technical manager politely told the EMC senior manager to shut up, because he has little understand of what seismic files are like.

Now, back to Native Format Optimization (NFO) technology. In a nutshell, NFO plays trick with our human visual system. The goal is to reduce the size of unstructured files without reducing the visual quality of the images (text, texture, colour, resolution, depth, hue, contrast, etc) of the files. 

Have a look at these 2 files. One is optimized with NFO and one is un-optimized. Can you tell the difference?

 

The human visual system is known to be:

  • Less sensitive to high frequency of colour variation
  • More sensitive to brightness than colour variation
  • Less sensitive to background colour in lower resolution
  • More sensitive to a picture’s motion than picture’s texture

Therefore, the eyes perceive an image based on mostly the lowest quality baseline. I got this information from George Crump’s Storage Switzerland’s article.

Because NFO is already in its native form, the files does not need to be rehydrated like deduped files.

The capacity reduction savings is tremendous and because NFO approach is content aware, the benefits translates to higher cost savings in

  • Reduction of power, cooling and floorspace
  • Reduction in data management and administration tasks, especially backup
  • Improved bandwidth and improved disaster recovery
  • Higher performance
  • Delayed storage capacity purchase
  • many more

After Ocarina acquisition by Dell in 2010, a search on the web revealed that probably only one vendor in Europe has boldly continued to enhance NFO technology in their products. The company is balesio and you can read about their NFO technology here.