Metalinguistic Abstraction

Computer Languages, Programming, and Free Software

Overview: GlusterFS & Gluster

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Forgive the writing, I’ll fix it up later if I get complaints.

Gluster (and its filesystem, GlusterFS) is the only distributed computing + distributed file system project that gives me warm fuzzies inside, and if you check my tags, you’ll see that I have visited and reviewed quite a few options in this space (many of which I didn’t bookmark as well). Also reviewed were OCFS(1|2) , GFS(1|2), GFarmFS, Ceph, and CODA.

Why warm fuzzies for Gluster? Because it doesn’t rebuild the world from scratch and it is relatively simple in configuration and implementation. GlusterFS is implemented as a FUSE file system for GNU/Linux (which incurs some overhead, but greatly speeds up development for the obvious reasons) and relies on the underlying file systems that already have received a lot of attention to detail. It also means that you can mix, match, compose, and migrate easily: since it sits above any normal POSIX block device, you can have your exorbitantly expensive fibre channel next to your cheap software RAID6 SATA array in combination with your medium-priced ATA over Ethernet and rely on GlusterFS to distribute data between them using an underlying file system you already know and love. Some of your block devices may be formatted ext3, others JFS or XFS. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have basic POSIX capabilities. GlusterFS also supports optional striping and replication, and I have heard a report of easily saturating a full-duplex 10GBit line in both directions from about five machines (granted, each was probably running RAID) while using GlusterFS.

As it is said: complexity is the enemy of dependability. Gluster is the only solution I’ve seen so far that I as a lone administrator would trust in part because it appeals to my brand of engineering sensibilities. Paramount among them is (to some people counter-intuitively) appreciation for many things that GlusterFS unabashedly doesn’t do, simplifying the design. An example of this is authentication. If you want to use Gluster with authentication, expose (on a trusted machine that’s a cluster client) a SMB/NFS server that takes care of user permissions and hooks up to your LDAP server et al. Gluster doesn’t include any baggage to not trust clients or have fancy quasi-centralized metadata servers, and this I see as a benefit. If someone invents such baggage later on, it will likely be fulfilled as a module (just like the replication module) that I can choose or not choose at-will. Is it as deeply integrated or slick as some of the clustered file systems that require a RDBMS to coordinate? Not really, but the deep and slick scare the bejeezus out of me because they tend to become unwelcome to combination with other techniques, and not in the least because you’re pulling your hair out trying to keep the trains running on time when you are exercising more of the features. (The industrial-strength clustered file systems are not known for their ease of maintenance)

It is also my belief that this dedication to simplicity will result in a more robust substrate to build more advanced fuzzy features on. I prefer my base functionality in a tool to be more predictable than clever. Clever translates to me as “often right, but at hard-to-predict times sometimes very, very funkily wrong.”

Besides the usual supercomputing cluster type applications, I believe Gluster+GlusterFS+(XenSource | LKVM | jails | etc) would provide an excellent way to protect the underlying infrastructure (by using VM-style abstraction as a heavy handed form of capability-based security) and build a service much like Amazon’s EC2. Perhaps an experiment for one day…


Written by fdr

September 22, 2007 at 2:45 am

Posted in infrastructure, storage

Tagged with , , ,

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