A Trip Down the Data Path: I/O and Performance


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This is the first in a monthly series on storage and I/O related areas. Many of you might have read my two previous articles on file system issues and tapes. I believe starting at the beginning is important, so this month we will cover the start of how I/O works, beginning with the application.

Most people think that an understanding of I/O must begin with the hardware; I am of the opinion that just the contrary is true -- as the storage hardware only takes the information that the application, operating system, file system and volume manager provides, and stores it. I believe that one needs to understand what the hardware is being told to do, and therefore one needs to understand what I call the whole data path. This data path includes the:

  • Application,
  • Operating System and tunables,
  • File system and/or volume manager, and
  • Storage hardware

Without a clear understanding of the application's I/O requests patterns, and the various flavors of I/O passed to the operating system and below, an understanding of the I/O at the hardware layer is next to impossible. The reason is you will have no idea why the hardware behaves the way it does and why the I/O patterns look like they do. So for the next few months we will be discussing the I/O path to the hardware, followed by a discussion of the hardware itself. After that we will cover other areas related to storage, including evaluation and performance issues with associated hardware and software.

Page 2: The I/O Path


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