[openstack-dev] [tc] supporting Go

Samuel Merritt sam at swiftstack.com
Tue May 10 19:56:38 UTC 2016

On 5/9/16 5:21 PM, Robert Collins wrote:
> On 10 May 2016 at 10:54, John Dickinson <me at not.mn> wrote:
>> On 9 May 2016, at 13:16, Gregory Haynes wrote:
>>> This is a bit of an aside but I am sure others are wondering the same
>>> thing - Is there some info (specs/etherpad/ML thread/etc) that has more
>>> details on the bottleneck you're running in to? Given that the only
>>> clients of your service are the public facing DNS servers I am now even
>>> more surprised that you're hitting a python-inherent bottleneck.
>> In Swift's case, the summary is that it's hard[0] to write a network
>> service in Python that shuffles data between the network and a block
>> device (hard drive) and effectively utilizes all of the hardware
>> available. So far, we've done very well by fork()'ing child processes,
> ...
>> Initial results from a golang reimplementation of the object server in
>> Python are very positive[1]. We're not proposing to rewrite Swift
>> entirely in Golang. Specifically, we're looking at improving object
>> replication time in Swift. This service must discover what data is on
>> a drive, talk to other servers in the cluster about what they have,
>> and coordinate any data sync process that's needed.
>> [0] Hard, not impossible. Of course, given enough time, we can do
>>  anything in a Turing-complete language, right? But we're not talking
>>  about possible, we're talking about efficient tools for the job at
>>  hand.
> ...
> I'm glad you're finding you can get good results in (presumably)
> clean, understandable code.
> Given go's historically poor perfornance with multiple cores
> (https://golang.org/doc/faq#Why_GOMAXPROCS) I'm going to presume the
> major advantage is in the CSP programming model - something that
> Twisted does very well: and frustratingly we've had numerous
> discussions from folk in the Twisted world who see the pain we have
> and want to help, but as a community we've consistently stayed with
> eventlet, which has a threaded programming model - and threaded models
> are poorly suited for the case here.

At its core, the problem is that filesystem IO can take a surprisingly 
long time, during which the calling thread/process is blocked, and 
there's no good asynchronous alternative.

Some background:

With Eventlet, when your greenthread tries to read from a socket and the 
socket is not readable, then recvfrom() returns -1/EWOULDBLOCK; then, 
the Eventlet hub steps in, unschedules your greenthread, finds an 
unblocked one, and lets it proceed. It's pretty good at servicing a 
bunch of concurrent connections and keeping the CPU busy.

On the other hand, when the socket is readable, then recvfrom() returns 
quickly (a few microseconds). The calling process was technically 
blocked, but the syscall is so fast that it hardly matters.

Now, when your greenthread tries to read from a file, that read() call 
doesn't return until the data is in your process's memory. This can take 
a surprisingly long time. If the data isn't in buffer cache and the 
kernel has to go fetch it from a spinning disk, then you're looking at a 
seek time of ~7 ms, and that's assuming there are no other pending 
requests for the disk.

There's no EWOULDBLOCK when reading from a plain file, either. If the 
file pointer isn't at EOF, then the calling process blocks until the 
kernel fetches data for it.

Back to Swift:

The Swift object server basically does two things: it either reads from 
a disk and writes to a socket or vice versa. There's a little HTTP 
parsing in there, but the vast majority of the work is shuffling bytes 
between network and disk. One Swift object server can service many 
clients simultaneously.

The problem is those pauses due to read(). If your process is servicing 
hundreds of clients reading from and writing to dozens of disks (in, 
say, a 48-disk 4U server), then all those little 7 ms waits are pretty 
bad for throughput. Now, a lot of the time, the kernel does some 
readahead so your read() calls can quickly return data from buffer 
cache, but there are still lots of little hitches.

But wait: it gets worse. Sometimes a disk gets slow. Maybe it's got a 
lot of pending IO requests, maybe its filesystem is getting close to 
full, or maybe the disk hardware is just starting to get flaky. For 
whatever reason, IO to this disk starts taking a lot longer than 7 ms on 
average; think dozens or hundreds of milliseconds. Now, every time your 
process tries to read from this disk, all other work stops for quite a 
long time. The net effect is that the object server's throughput 
plummets while it spends most of its time blocked on IO from that one 
slow disk.

Now, of course there's things we can do. The obvious one is to use a 
couple of IO threads per disk and push the blocking syscalls out 
there... and, in fact, Swift did that. In commit b491549, the object 
server gained a small threadpool for each disk[1] and started doing its 
IO there.

This worked pretty well for avoiding the slow-disk problem. Requests 
that touched the slow disk would back up, but requests for the other 
disks in the server would proceed at a normal pace. Good, right?

The problem was all the threadpool overhead. Remember, a significant 
fraction of the time, write() and read() only touch buffer cache, so the 
syscalls are very fast. Adding in the threadpool overhead in Python 
slowed those down. Yes, if you were hit with a 7 ms read penalty, the 
threadpool saved you, but if you were reading from buffercache then you 
just paid a big cost for no gain.

On some object-server nodes where the CPUs were already fully-utilized, 
people saw a 25% drop in throughput when using the Python threadpools. 
It's not worth that performance loss just to gain protection from slow 

The second thing Swift tried was to run separate object-server processes 
for each disk [2]. This also mitigates slow disks, but it avoids the 
threadpool overhead. The downside here is that dense nodes end up with 
lots of processes; for example, a 48-disk node with 2 object servers per 
disk will end up with about 96 object-server processes running. While 
these processes aren't particularly RAM-heavy, that's still a decent 
chunk of memory that could have been holding directories in buffer cache.

Aside: there's a few other things we looked at but rejected. Using Linux 
AIO (kernel AIO, not POSIX libaio) would let the object server have many 
pending IOs cheaply, but it only works in O_DIRECT mode, so there's no 
buffer cache. We also looked at the readv2() syscall to let us perform 
buffer-cache-only reads in the main thread and use a blocking read() 
syscall in a threadpool, but unfortunately readv2() and preadv2() only 
hit Linux in March 2016, so people running such ancient software as 
Ubuntu Xenial Xerus [3] can't use it.

Now, the Go runtime is really good at making blocking syscalls in 
dedicated threads. Basically, there are $GOMAXPROCS threads actually 
running goroutines, and a bunch of syscall threads that are used to 
make blocking system calls. This lets a single Go object server process 
have many outstanding IOs on many disks without blocking the whole 
process. Further, since it's a single process, we can easily get 
slow-disk mitigation by limiting the number of concurrent requests per disk.

It's better than anything we've come up with in Python. It's a single 
process, freeing up RAM for caching directories; slow-disk mitigation is 
really easy to build; and all that blocking-syscall stuff is handled by 
the language runtime.

[1] configurable size, including 0 for those who didn't want it

[2] technically per IP/port pair in the ring, but intended to be used 
with one port per disk, getting you N servers per disk; see commit df134df

[3] released a whole three weeks ago

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