How are jornaling options affect performance of the ext3 filesystem

The need for speed
Everyone looks for the optimum of speed in its servers. Todays servers have plenty of spare CPU power and RAM is dirty cheap. Todays common bottleneck is storage.

One way to solve the bottleneck is trowing money on it, the other smarter way is choosing the best matching file system and it options for the purpose of the server.

On Linux systems a bunch of file systems is available and ready to use. There are some high performance file systems such as SGI’s XFS or reiserfs. Both are known to be quite performant but having the drawback of being unreliable in case of a hard crash or a power loss.

As file systems are the key point for reliability, XFS and reiserfs are out of question. So whats left? ext3.

Ext3 is not known for its high performance, it is rather slow compared to xfs, especially if you handle with of lot of files such as on a web server.

Choose the right options for journaling of ext3. You have the choice of three different journaling options, data=writeback which means written data is first written to RAM and later on disk. This is the most performant option, but with the greatest risk of loosing data in case of a crash or power loss. Before choosing this option use xfs, it is more performant at the same risk.

The compromise is data=ordered Lets quote the man page: –All data is forced directly out to the main file system prior to its metadata being committed to the journal — At the end of the day this means data loss in hardly happening but not impossible. This option offers a balance between write speed and reliability.

Whats about the third option data=journal? It means that one would think if all data is written first in the journal and then to its final destination on disk, I/O performance gets decreased.

In theory, data=writeback is the fastest and data=journal the slowest option. Belief it or not: data=journal is in many cases the fastest option, especially in mostly-read applications when you concurrently read lots of small files (such as on web servers).

At the end of the day: With the ext3 file system you got a extremely reliable file system with quite a good performance if you choose the journaling options that matches your needs. However, data=journal gives you a high performance penalty on write operations.

Further reading: Th antique article on IBM developer network: from 2001.

Have fun!

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