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1.4. GFS2 Node Locking

In order to get the best performance from a GFS2 file system, it is very important to understand some of the basic theory of its operation. A single node file system is implemented alongside a cache, the purpose of which is to eliminate latency of disk accesses when using frequently requested data. In Linux the page cache (and historically the buffer cache) provide this caching function.
With GFS2, each node has its own page cache which may contain some portion of the on-disk data. GFS2 uses a locking mechanism called glocks (pronounced gee-locks) to maintain the integrity of the cache between nodes. The glock subsystem provides a cache management function which is implemented using the distributed lock manager (DLM) as the underlying communication layer.
The glocks provide protection for the cache on a per-inode basis, so there is one lock per inode which is used for controlling the caching layer. If that glock is granted in shared mode (DLM lock mode: PR) then the data under that glock may be cached upon one or more nodes at the same time, so that all the nodes may have local access to the data.
If the glock is granted in exclusive mode (DLM lock mode: EX) then only a single node may cache the data under that glock. This mode is used by all operations which modify the data (such as the write system call).
If another node requests a glock which cannot be granted immediately, then the DLM sends a message to the node or nodes which currently hold the glocks blocking the new request to ask them to drop their locks. Dropping glocks can be (by the standards of most file system operations) a long process. Dropping a shared glock requires only that the cache be invalidated, which is relatively quick and proportional to the amount of cached data.
Dropping an exclusive glock requires a log flush, and writing back any changed data to disk, followed by the invalidation as per the shared glock.
The different between a single node file system and GFS2 then, is that a single node file system has a single cache and GFS2 has a separate cache on each node. In both cases, latency to access to cached data is of a similar order of magnitude, but the latency to access uncached data is much greater in GFS2 if another node has previously cached that same data.


Due to the way in which GFS2's caching is implemented the best performance is obtained when either of the following takes place:
  • An inode is used in a read only fashion across all nodes
  • An inode is written or modified from a single node only.
Note that inserting and removing entries from a directory during file creation and deletion counts as writing to the directory inode.
It is possible to break this rule provided that it is broken relatively infrequently. Ignoring this rule too often will result in a severe performance penalty.
If you mmap() a file on GFS2 with a read/write mapping, but only read from it, this only counts as a read. On GFS though, it counts as a write, so GFS2 is much more scalable with mmap() I/O.
If you do not set the noatime mount parameter, then reads will also result in writes to update the file timestamps. We recommend that all GFS2 users should mount with noatime unless they have a specific requirement for atime.

1.4.1. Performance Tuning With GFS2

It is usually possible to alter the way in which a troublesome application stores its data in order to gain a considerable performance advantage.
A typical example of a troublesome application is an email server. These are often laid out with a spool directory containing files for each user (mbox), or with a directory for each user containing a file for each message (maildir). When requests arrive over IMAP, the ideal arrangement is to give each user an affinity to a particular node. That way their requests to view and delete email messages will tend to be served from the cache on that one node. Obviously if that node fails, then the session can be restarted on a different node.
When mail arrives via SMTP, then again the individual nodes can be set up so as to pass a certain user's mail to a particular node by default. If the default node is not up, then the message can be saved directly into the user's mail spool by the receiving node. Again this design is intended to keep particular sets of files cached on just one node in the normal case, but to allow direct access in the case of node failure.
This setup allows the best use of GFS2's page cache and also makes failures transparent to the application, whether imap or smtp.
Backup is often another tricky area. Again, if it is possible it is greatly preferable to back up the working set of each node directly from the node which is caching that particular set of inodes. If you have a backup script which runs at a regular point in time, and that seems to coincide with a spike in the response time of an application running on GFS2, then there is a good chance that the cluster may not be making the most efficient use of the page cache.
Obviously, if you are in the (enviable) position of being able to stop the application in order to perform a backup, then this won't be a problem. On the other hand, if a backup is run from just one node, then after it has completed a large portion of the file system will be cached on that node, with a performance penalty for subsequent accesses from other nodes. This can be mitigated to a certain extent by dropping the VFS page cache on the backup node after the backup has completed with following command:
echo -n 3 >/proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
However this is not as good a solution as taking care to ensure the working set on each node is either shared, mostly read only across the cluster, or accessed largely from a single node.

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