Re: File IO performance

From: Marcelo Tosatti (
Date: Wed Feb 14 2001 - 09:07:27 EST

On Wed, 14 Feb 2001, wrote:

> I have been performing some IO tests under Linux on SCSI disks.

ext2 filesystem?

> I noticed gaps between the commands and decided to investigate.
> I am new to the kernel and do not profess to underatand what
> actually happens. My observations suggest that the file
> structured part of the io consists of the following file phases
> which mainly reside in mm/filemap.c . The user read call ends up in
> a generic file read routine.
> If the requested buffer is not in the file cache then the data is
> requested from disk via the disk readahead routine.
> When this routine completes the data is copied to user space. I have
> been looking at these phases on an analyzer and it seems that none of
> them overlap for a single user process.
> This creates gaps in the scsi commands which significantly reduce
> bandwidth, particularly at todays disk speeds.
> I am interested in making changes to the readahead routine. In this
> routine there is a loop
> /* Try to read ahead pages.
> * We hope that ll_rw_blk() plug/unplug, coalescence, requests sort
> * and the scheduler, will work enough for us to avoid too bad
> * actuals IO requests.
> */
> while (ahead < max_ahead) {
> ahead ++;
> if ((raend + ahead) >= end_index)
> break;
> if (page_cache_read(filp, raend + ahead) < 0)
> }
> this whole loop completes before the disk command starts. If the
> commands are large and it is for a maximum read ahead this loops
> takes some time and is followed by disk commands.

Well in reality its worse than you think ;)

> It seems that the performance could be improved if the disk commands
> were overlapped in some way with the time taken in this loop.
> I have not traced page_cache_read so I have no idea what is happening
> but I guess this is some page location and entry onto the specific
> device buffer queues ?

page_cache_read searches for the given page in the page cache and returns
it in case its found.

If the page is not already in cache, a new page is allocated.

This allocation can block if we're running out of free memory. To free
more memory, the allocation routines may try to sync dirty pages and/or
swap out pages.

After the page is allocated, the mapping->readpage() function is called to
read the page. The ->readpage() job is to map the page to its correct
on-disk block (which may involve reading indirect blocks).

Finally, the page is queued to IO which again may block in case the
request queue is full.

Another issue is that we do readahead of logically contiguous pages, which
means we may be queuing pages for readahead which are not physically
contiguous. In this case, we are generating disk seeks.

> I am really looking for some help in underatanding what is happening
> here and suggestions in ways which operations may be overlapped.

I have some ideas...

The main problem of file readahead, IMHO, is its completly "per page"
behaviour --- allocation, mapping, and queuing are done separately for
each page and each of these three steps can block multiple times. This is
bad because we can loose the chance for queuing the IOs together while
we're blocked, resulting in several smaller reads which suck.

The nicest solution for that, IMHO, is to make the IO clustering at
generic_file_read() context and send big requests to the IO layer instead
"cluster if we're lucky", which is more or less what happens today.

Unfortunately stock Linux 2.4 maximum request size is one page.

SGI's XFS CVS tree contains a different kind of IO mechanism which can
make bigger requests. We will probably have the current IO mechanism
support bigger request sizes as well sometime in the future. However,
both are 2.5 only things.

Additionaly, the way Linux caches on-disk physical block information is
not very efficient and can be optimized, resulting in less reads of fs
data to map pages and/or know if pages are physically contiguous (the
latter is very welcome for write clustering, too).

However, we may still optimize readahead a bit on Linux 2.4 without too
much efforts: an IO read command which fails (and returns an error code
back to the caller) if merging with other requests fail.

Using this command for readahead pages (and quitting the read loop if we
fail) can "fix" the logically!=physically contiguous problem and it also
fixes the case were we sleep and the previous IO commands have been
already sent to disk when we wakeup. This fix ugly and not as good as the
IO clustering one, but _much_ simpler and thats all we can do for 2.4, I

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Feb 15 2001 - 21:00:24 EST