The Linux RAID-1, 4, 5 Code

by Gadi Oxman

Using RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) is a popular way of improving system I/O performance and reliability. There are different levels of disk arrays that cover the whole range of possibilities for improving system I/O performance and increased reliability.

This report describes the current implementation of the RAID driver in the kernel, as well as the changes we made to the kernel to support new disk-array configurations that provide higher reliability.

The Multiple Devices (MD) Driver

The MD driver is used to group together a collection of block devices into a single, larger block device. Usually, a set of SCSI and IDE devices are configured into a single MD device. As found in the Linux 2.0 kernel, it is designed to re-map sector/device tuples into new sector/devices tuples in two different modes (personalities): linear (append mode) and striping (RAID-0 mode).

Linear mode is just a way of concatenating the contents of two smaller block devices into a larger device. This can be used to join together several small disks to create a larger disk. The size of the new disk is the sum of the smaller ones. For example, suppose we have two disks with 300 sectors each; after we configure them as linear MD devices, we have a new MD device that has 600 sectors: the sectors 0 to 299 of the device are mapped to the first disk and the sectors 300 to 599 are mapped to the second disk.

RAID-0 mode (also known as striping) is more interesting. This mode of operation writes the information to the device while distributing the information over the disks that are part of the disk array. Unlike linear mode, this is not just a concatenation of the disk-array components; striping balances the I/O load among the disks resulting in a high throughput. This is the personality chosen by most people who want speed.

Figure 1 shows how four disks are arranged in this mode. Shadowed regions are those that provide redundant information, and those stacked-up disks represent a single disk. As you can see there are no shadowed regions in the figure. What does this mean? Well, it means that if there is a hardware problem in any of the elements of the disk array, you lose all of your information.

Both the linear and the striping personalities lack any redundancy and error recovery modes. If any of the elements of the disk array fail, the contents of the complete MD device are useless, and there is little hope that any useful information can be recovered. This is similar to what happens with regular secondary storage devices—if it fails, you lose your information. However, with RAID-0, you have a higher risk of losing your information than with a regular disk. The higher failure rate is due to the fact that you have more disks and a failure in any of the disks make the RAID-0 contents unusable.

If you have a good backup strategy and you don't mind losing a day of work if any of your disks fail, using RAID-0 may be the best thing to do. For example, RAID-0 is used for newsgroups like comp.unix, but a higher reliability RAID level is used for important newsgroups like alt.binaries.pictures.furniture.

The way these two personalities are supported by the MD driver in the kernel is quite simple; the low level ll_rw_blk routine is responsible for putting block driver I/O requests on the system-request queue. This routine must be modified to call a mapping function that is part of the MD driver and is invoked whenever a request is issued for a block on a MD device.

The ll_rw_blk routine conceptually looks like this:

ll_rw_blk (blocks)
{
    sanity-checks ();
    for-each block in blocks {
        make_request (block);
    }
}

It is modified to support the striping (RAID-0) and linear personalities in this way:

ll_rw_blk (blocks)
{
    sanity-checks ();
    for-each block in blocks {
        if (block is-in md-device)
            md_map (block)
    }
    for-each block in blocks {
        make_request (block);
    }
}

Block re-mapping happens just before the input/output request is put into the system-request queue. This re-mapping function is quite simple. It is invoked with pointers to the device and to the block number, and all it does is change the device ID and the block number. The device ID is changed to point to one of the disks in the disk array, and the block number is changed to point to the proper location on that disk. Basically it is a nice hack (but it uses a couple of “ifdefs”, which we all know our fearless leader does not like).

The Extensions for RAID-1, 4, 5

The MD mapping function works fine for re-mapping personalities such as the linear and the striping personalities. Unfortunately, it is not enough to support the RAID-1, RAID-4 and RAID-5 personalities. The reason for this is that these modes cannot do their job by just re-mapping a given device/sector pair into new device/sector pairs; all of these new personalities require complex input/output operations to fulfill a single request.

For example, the mirroring personality (RAID-1) duplicates the information onto all of the disks in the array, so that the information on each disk is identical. The size of the disk array is the size of the smallest disk (the lowest common denominator). Therefore, it is not a good idea to make a RAID-1 with a 100MB disk and a 1GB disk, since the driver will just provide 100MB on each (and ignore the fact that you have 900MB free on the second disk).

The MD driver, when asked to write information to the device, queues a write request for all of the devices in the array with the same information. The system can continue operation regularly with all of the remaining devices (usually, just one extra device). With mirroring in place, read requests are balanced among the devices in the array. If any of the devices fail, the device driver marks it as non-operational and stops using it; the driver will continue working with the remaining disks as if nothing had happened. Figure 2 shows how this mode can be used; shadowed regions represent the redundant information.

Next we have the more complex block-interleaved parity (RAID-4) and block-interleaved distributed-parity (RAID-5) personalities. A striping unit is a set of contiguous sectors. Both the RAID-4 and RAID-5 personalities use one stripe on one of the disks in the array to store the parity information and use the remaining stripes for data.

Whenever one of the data sectors is modified, the parity sector has to be recomputed and written back to the disk. To recompute the parity sector, the device driver has to read the contents of the old parity block and recompute the new parity information. Then it writes the new contents of the data and the parity block.

The difference between RAID-4 and RAID-5 is that the former stores the parity information in a fixed device (the last one of the composing devices in our implementation), while the latter distributes the parity blocks between the composing devices.

Figure 3 shows the RAID-4 arrangement; shadowed regions are the redundant information, which in this case are the parity blocks. RAID-4 has a bottleneck due to the parity disk, since all MD activity depends on the parity bit disk to finish its operation.

Figure 4 shows the RAID-5 arrangement; shadowed regions are the redundant information (the parity blocks once again), and each disk here represents a striping unit. In RAID-5, the RAID-4 bottleneck is eliminated by distributing the work among several disks.

In the case of a disk failure while using the RAID-4 or RAID-5 personalities, the disk array can continue operation since it has enough information to reconstruct any lost disk. The MD device is slower at this point; every access to a data sector in the lost disk requires reading the information from all the sectors in the same stripe as well as the parity bit and computing the contents of the original sector based on this information.

Kernel Changes to Support the New Personalities

The new personalities, as we have implemented them require a change to the ll_rw_blk routine and some extra code in the input/output end-request notification code in the kernel.

The ll_rw_blk routine is modified to make a call to the md_make_request instead of calling the kernel's make_request when the blocks are scheduled to be sent to an MD device. The md_make_request routine in turn calls the request-making routine once for each personality to carry out its job. In the case of RAID-0 and the linear modes, md_make_request calls the regular make_request routine.

The ll_rw_blk routine in the presence of the new MD driver is shown here:

ll_rw_blk (blocks)
{
    sanity-checks ();
    for-each block in blocks {
        if (block is md-device)
            md_map (block)
    }
    for-each block in blocks {
        if (request-is-for (raid1,raid4,raid5))
            md_make_request (block);
        else
            make_request (block);
    }
}

Because of the increased complexity and error recovery capabilities of the new RAID code, the personality code must be informed of the results of its input/output operations. If a disk fails it must mark the disk as non-operational, and in the case of the RAID-4 and RAID-5 code, it must move between the different phases of the process. We modified the kernel input/output end-request routines to call the RAID personality's end_request routine to deal with the results.

A typical end_request routine is as follows:

raidx_end_request (buffer_head, uptodate)
{
    if (!uptodate)
        md_error (buffer_head)
    if (buffer_head->cmd is READ){
        if (uptodate){
            raidn_end_buffer_io (buffer_head,
                uptodate)
            return;
        /* read error */
        raid_reschedule_retry (buffer_head);
    }
    /* write case */
    if (finished-with buffer_head)
        raidn_end_buffer_io (buffer_head,
                uptodate)
}
The Generic MD Changes

We wanted to preserve the behavior of the ll_rw_blk routine so it's as close as possible to what the client code of this routine expects. Since the code now provides error recovery, an innocent and simple-looking request can actually turn out to be a complex set of requests; therefore, the MD code now begins a configurable number of kernel threads used to arbitrate the complex requests. It exports those threads to the new personalities through the md_register_thread and the md_unregister_thread functions. The MD threads each sleep on its own wait queue and awake when needed. They then call the personality's thread and run the disk task queue.

The RAID-1 Code

The mirroring personality is the simplest one in the new code. Whenever a read request is made, it is sent to one of the operational disks in the disk array; in the case of a write request, the personality's request-making code puts a write request for each device in the array into the system-request queue.

In the event of a disk error in one of the devices while writing, the device is marked as non-operational, and a message is logged to the syslog facility to notify the operator about the situation. If this error happens during a disk read, then the code retries the read from one of the operational devices; then it puts the read request into a queue and wakes up the raid1d kernel thread.

The raid1d kernel thread has just one purpose in its life—to retry read requests. When it wakes up, it retries any queued requests to all of the operational disks.

The RAID-4 and RAID-5 Code

Both RAID-4 and RAID-5 provide block-interleaved parity; the former stores the parity in a single disk from the array, while the latter distributes the parity among all the disks in the array. Most of the code is the same in both modes. Just one routine makes the difference between the two modes.

The easiest code path is the one where all of the disks of the array are working properly. In this case, there are two code paths for the read and write modes. When asked to read a block from the disk array, the code puts the computed location of the data sector in the system request queue and no further complications arise.

In the case of a write, things are more complex since the driver has to write the corresponding block as well as update the parity block. When a single sector from the disk array is written, the code needs to do the following:

  1. Read the old contents of the data sector and the old contents of the parity sector.

  2. Compute a new parity sector.

  3. Write the new data sector with the new parity sector.

Since the upper layers expect the code to put the request on the queue, the code starts up the read requests on the disk and returns to the caller.

When any of the requests have been completed, the raid5_end_request is called. This routine together with the RAID-5 thread raid5d are responsible for keeping track of the current state of the block. If there are no problems with the disk I/O operations, the request is finally marked as finished and the upper layers can use the block.

If there is an error during block reading or writing, the RAID driver marks the faulting disk as a non-operational disk and continues operation without using it. The driver does reconstruction of lost blocks and computes the parity according to the information available on the other disks. Both block-read and block-write routines become more complex in the cases where something has gone wrong. The disk array is slower, but regular operation of the system can continue until the faulty disk is replaced.

If spare disks are configured on the disk array, the RAID driver starts a thread that re-creates the information on the disk that failed. When it finishes with the reconstruction, the disk is marked as operational, and the driver resumes operation at the regular speed.

Other Changes

We have updated the “userland” utilities that control the MD driver to make use of the features found on the new personalities.

The tool mkraid is used to configure a RAID device. It reads a configuration file and creates a RAID superblock, where all the administrative information about the device is stored.

At system boot time, the syncraid program checks the RAID superblock to make sure that the RAID system was unmounted cleanly and reconstructs the redundant information in case something went wrong.

There is a notable bottleneck in RAID-4. All of the parity information is kept on a single disk, so any write operation done on any of the data disks in the disk array will incur a write to the parity disk. For this reason, the speed limit in level 4 of the disk array is limited by the speed of the parity disk. It may seem unreasonable to have such a personality, since RAID-5 addresses this problem. We have implemented RAID-4 because, in some configurations of disk arrays, access to the disks may be serialized by the disk controller (this is the case with some IDE drives).

Credits

Future Work

We want to provide a RAID-1+ personality that basically would be RAID-1 plus check pointing; this will let us synchronize the disks at boot time after a disk crash. Unfortunately, PC computers are not shipped with an NVRAM device that would allow us to do this with a minimum amount of work.

The RAID-4 and RAID-5 code can be enhanced so it can determine when a complete stripe is being written to disk. When this is detected, the driver does not need to read any of the old information found on the disk. We can write all of the data sectors as they are found on the request queue, compute a new parity bit sector and add it to the queue as well. This is the preferred method for improving RAID-4 and RAID-5 disk write speed as discussed in “Striping in a RAID Level 5 Disk Array” (see Resources).

Currently, the low-level, request-queue and ordering code writes using the elevator algorithm. Preliminary work in this area shows that the algorithm can be improved in a per-device fashion by algorithms that are aware of the disk geometry. Virtualizing the ordering algorithm for the request queue in a per-device fashion may provide a good performance gain.

When there is a system crash, the RAID-4 and RAID-5 systems need to recompute the parity information on the disk array, since the parity blocks may contain old information. To improve this situation, we want to make use of non-volatile RAM (on those systems that have this kind of hardware) for check pointing the state of the disk array. With this feature, we can recompute the information for any blocks that may have incorrect information when starting up the disk array.

Resources

Gadi Oxman (gadio@netvision.net.il) s the author of the Linux IDE/ATAPI tape and floppy drivers and of ext2ed, a file-system editor for the Linux ext2 file system.

Ingo Molnar (mingo@vger.rutgers.edu) is the author of several hacker-type kernel patches; he is a Linux kernel “must read”.

Miguel de Icaza (miguel@gnu.ai.mit.edu) is one of the GNU Midnight Commander authors. He also worked on the Linux/SPARC kernel port.

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