OpenZFS dRAID has risen!

We await the 3rd iteration of TrueNAS® SCALE 23.10 codenamed Cobia. 23.10 means October 2023, and we are within weeks of its announcement.

One of the best features I have been waiting for is dRAID or distributed RAID. I have written about it dRAID a couple of years back. It was announced in 2021, in OpenZFS 2.1, but we have not seen an commercial implementation of dRAID … until iXsystems™ TrueNAS® SCALE 23.10. Why am I so excited?

I have followed the technology since Isaac Huang presented dRAID at the OpenZFS Summit in 2015. Through the years ahead, I have seen Isaac presenting dRAID at the summits, and with each iteration, dRAID got closer and closer to be developed into OpenZFS. It was not until 2021, in OpenZFS 2.1 when dRAID became part of filesystem. And now, dRAID is finally in the TrueNAS® SCALE offering.

Knowing RAID resilvering

RAID rebuilding or reconstruction is a painful and potentially risky process. In OpenZFS and ZFS speak, this process is called resilvering. In simple laymen terms, when a drive (or drives) failed in a parity-based RAID volume (eg. RAID-Z1 or RAID-Z2 vdev), the data which was previously in the failed drive is recreated in the newly integrated spare drive. The structural integrity of the RAID volume (and the storage pool) is preserved but the data that was lost is painstakingly remade through the mathematical algorithm of the parity function of the RAID volume.

When hard disk drives were small in capacity like 2TB or less, the RAID resilvering process was probably faster to complete, returning the parity RAID volume to a normal, online state. But today, drives are 22TB and higher, leaving the traditional RAID resilvering process to take days and even weeks. This leads the RAID volume vulnerable to another possible drive failure, weakening the integrity of the RAID volume. Even worse, most of modern day storage arrays have many disk drives, into the thousands even. And yes, solid state drives would probably be faster in the resilvering, but the same mechanics pretty much apply in OpenZFS.

At the same time, the spare drives are assigned physically and designated to the OpenZFS storage pool, and are not part of the vdev until the resilvering process kicks in.

Yes, this is pretty much a physical process that takes time, computing resources and patience. Note the operative word of “physical” here.

dRAID resilvering

dRAID speeds up the RAID resilvering process several folds, returning the RAID volume (or vdev) much faster than traditional OpenZFS RAID resilvering process. It uses a logical (as opposed to physical) RAID layout concept and uses “logical spare drives”. Thus, there will be many spares “blocks” distributed across the entire dRAID zpool, as shown in the diagram below.

Traditional RAID vdev vs dRAID vdev

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RAIDZ expansion and dRAID excellent OpenZFS adventure

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is the foundation of almost every enterprise storage array in existence. Thus a technology change to a RAID implementation is a big deal. In recent weeks, we have witnessed not one, but two seismic development updates to the volume management RAID subsystem of the OpenZFS open source storage platform.

OpenZFS logo

For the uninformed, ZFS is one of the rarities in the storage industry which combines the volume manager and the file system as one. Unlike traditional volume management, ZFS merges both the physical data storage representations (eg. Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives) and the logical data structures (eg. RAID stripe, mirror, Z1, Z2, Z3) together with a highly reliable file system that scales. For a storage practitioner like me, working with ZFS is that there is always a “I get it!” moment every time, because the beauty is there are both elegances of power and simplicity rolled into one.

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