Diggin' technology every day

December 9, 2013

3PAR: Faster, bigger, better

Filed under: Storage — Tags: — Nate @ 11:53 am

First off, sorry about the lack of posts, there just hasn’t been very much in tech that has inspired me recently. I’m sure part of the reason is my job has been fairly boring for a long time now, so I’m not being exposed to a whole lot of stuff. I don’t mind that trade off for the moment – still a good change of pace compared to past companies. Hopefully 2014 will be a more interesting year.

3PAR still manages to create some exciting news every now and then and they seem to be on a 6-month release cycle now, far more aggressive than they were pre acquisition. Of course now they have far more resources. Their ability to execute really continues to amaze me, whether it is on the sales or on the technology side. I think technical support still needs some work though. In theory that aspect of things should be pretty easy to fix it’s just a matter of spending the $$ to get more good people. All in all though they’ve done a pretty amazing job at scaling 3PAR up, basically they are doing more than 10X the revenue they had before acquisition in just a matter of a few short years.

This all comes from HP Discover – there is a bit more to write about but per usual 3PAR is the main point of interest for myself.

Turbo-charging the 3PAR 7000

Roughly six months ago 3PAR released their all-flash array the 7450. Which was basically a souped up 7400 with faster CPUs, double the memory, optimized software for SSDs and a self imposed restriction that they would only sell it with flash(no spinning rust).

3PAR's Performance and cost improvements for SSDs Dec 2013

3PAR’s Performance and cost improvements for SSDs Dec 2013

At the time they said they were still CPU bound and that their in house ASIC was nowhere near being taxed to the limit. Simultaneously they could not put more (or more powerful) CPUs in the chassis due to cooling restraints in the relatively tiny 2U package that a pair of controllers come in.

Given the fine grained software improvements they released earlier this year I (along with probably most everyone else) was not expecting that much more could be done. You can read in depth details, but highlights included:

  • Adaptive read caching – mostly disabling read caching for SSDs, at the same time disabled prefetching of other blocks. SSDs are so fast that there is little benefit to doing either. Not caching reads to SSDs has a benefit of dedicating more of the cache to writes.
  • Adaptive write caching – with disks 3PAR would write an entire 16kB block to disk because there is no penalty for doing so. With SSDs they are much more selective in only writing the small blocks that changed, they will not write 16kB if only 4kB has changed because there is no penalty with SSDs like there are with disks.
  • Autonomic cache offload – More sophisticated cache management algorithms
  • Multi tenant improvements – Multi threaded cache flushing, breaking up large sequential I/O requests into smaller chunks for the SSDs to ingest at a faster rate. 3PAR has always been about multi tenancy.

Net effect of all of these are more effective IOPS and throughput, more efficiency as well.

With these optimizations, the 7450 was rated at roughly 540,000 IOPS @ 0.6ms read latency (100% read). I guesstimated based on the SPC-1 results from the 7400 that a 7450 could perhaps reach around 410,000 IOPS. Just a guess though..

So imagine my surprise when they come out and say the same system with the same CPUs, memory etc is now performing at a level of 900,000 IOPS with a mere 0.7 milliseconds of latency.

The difference? Better software.

Mid range I/O scalability

3PAR F200
100% Random Read
(Backend, between
disks and controllers)
(Front end between
hosts and controllers)
(Front end between
hosts and controllers)
Not possibleNot possibleNot
(Backend, between
disks and controllers)
(Front end between
hosts and controllers)

Stop interrupting me

What allowed 3PAR to reach this level of performance is by leveraging a PCI-express feature called Message Signaled Interrupts, or MSI-X which Wikipedia describes as:

MSI-X (first defined in PCI 3.0) permits a device to allocate up to 2048 interrupts. The single address used by original MSI was found to be restrictive for some architectures. In particular, it made it difficult to target individual interrupts to different processors, which is helpful in some high-speed networking applications. MSI-X allows a larger number of interrupts and gives each one a separate target address and data word. Devices with MSI-X do not necessarily support 2048 interrupts but at least 64 which is double the maximum MSI interrupts.

(tangent time)

I’m not a hardware guy to this depth for sure. But I did immediately recognize MSI-X from a really complicated troubleshooting process I went through several years ago with some Broadcom network chips on Dell R610 servers (though the issue wasn’t Dell specific). It ended up being a bug with how the Broadcom driver was handling(or not) MSI-X (Redhat bug here). It took practically a year of (off and on) troubleshooting before I came across that bug report. The solution was to disable MSI-X via a driver option (which apparently the Dell supplied drivers came with by default, the OS-supplied drivers did not have that disabled by default).

(end tangent)

So some fine grained kernel work improving interrupts gave them a 1.6 fold improvement in performance.

This performance enhancement applies to the SAS-based 3PAR 7000-series only, the 10000-series had equivalent functionality already in place, and the previous generations (F/T platforms) are PCI-X based(and I believe are all in their end of life phases), and this is a PCI Express specific optimization. I think this level of optimization might really only help SSD workloads as they push the controllers to the limit, unlike spinning rust.

This optimization also reduces the latency on the system by 25%, because the CPU is no longer being interrupted nearly as often it can no only do more work but do the work faster too.

Give me more!

There are several capacity improvements here as well.

New SSDs

There are new 480GB and 920GB SSDs available, which takes the 3PAR 4-node 7400/7450 to a max raw capacity of 220TB (up from 96TB) on up to 240 SSDs.

Bigger entry level

The 3PAR 7200’s spindle capacity is being increased by 60% – from 144 drives to 240 drives. The 7200 is equipped with only 8GB of data cache (4GB per controller – it is I believe the first/only 3PAR system with more control cache than data cache), though it still makes a good low cost bulk data platform with support for up to 400TB of raw storage behind two controllers(which is basically the capacity of the previous generation’s 4-node T400 which had 48GB of data cache, 16GB of control cache, 24 CPU cores, 4 ASICs — obviously the T400 had a much higher price point!).

4TB Drives

Not a big shocker here just bigger drives – 4TB Nearline SAS is now supported across the 7k and 10k product lines, bringing the high end 10800 array to support 3.2PB of raw capacity, and the 7400 sporting up to 1.1PB now. These drives are obviously 3.5″ so on the 7000 series you’ll need the 3.5″ drive cages to use them – the 10k line uses 3PAR’s custom enclosures which support both 2.5″ and 3.5″ (though for 2.5″ drives the enclosures are not compact like they are on 7k).

I was told at some point that the 3PAR OS would start requiring RAID 6 on volumes that were on nearline drives at some point – perhaps that point is now(I am not sure). I was also told you would be able to override this at an OS level if you wish, the parallel chunklet architecture recovers from failures far faster than competing architectures. Obviously with the distributed architecture on 3PAR you are not losing any spindles to dedicated spares nor dedicated parity drives.

If you are really paranoid about disk failures you can on a per-volume basis if you wish use quadruple mirroring on a 3PAR system – which means you can lose up to 75% of the disks in the system and still be OK on those volume(s).

3PAR also uses dynamic sparing –  if the default spare reserve space runs out, and you have additional unwritten capacity(3PAR views capacity as portions of drives, not whole drives) the system can sustain even more disk failures without data loss or additional overhead of re-configuration etc.

Like almost all things on 3PAR the settings can be changed on the fly without application impact and without up front planning or significant effort on the part of the customer.

More memory

The 3PAR 10400 has received a memory boost – doubling it’s memory configuration from the original configuration. Basically it seems like they decided it was a better idea to unify the 10800 and 10400 controller configurations, though the data sheet seems to have some typos in it(pending clarification). I believe the numbers are 96GB of cache per controller (64GB data, 32GB control), giving a 4-node system 384GB of memory.

Compare this to the  7400 which has 16GB of cache per controller (8GB data, 8GB control) giving a 4-node system 64GB of memory. The 10400 has six times the cache, and still supports 3rd party cabinets.

Now if they would just double the 7200 and 7400’s memory that would be nice 🙂

Keeps getting better

Multi tenant improvements

Six months ago 3PAR released their storage quality of service software offering called Priority Optimization. As mentioned before 3PAR has always been about multi tenancy, and due to their architecture they have managed to do a better job at it than pretty much anyone else. But it still wasn’t perfect obviously – there was a need for real array based QoS. They delivered on that earlier this year and now have announced some significant improvements on that initial offering.

Brief recap of what their initial release was about – you were able to define both IOP and bandwidth threshold levels for a particular volume(or group of volumes), the system would respond basically in real time to throttle the workload if it exceeded that level. 3PAR has tons of customers that run multi tenant configurations so they went further in being able to define both a customer as well as an application.

Priority Optimization

Priority Optimization

So as you can see from the picture above, the initial release allowed you to specify say 20,000 IOPS for a customer, and be able to over provision IOPS for individual applications that customer uses, allowing for maximum flexibility, efficiency and control at the same time.

So the initial release was all about basically rate limiting workloads on a multi tenant system. I suppose you could argue that there wasn’t a lot of QoS it was more rate limiting.

The new software is more QoS oriented – going beyond rate limiting they now have three new capabilities:

  • Allows you to specify a performance minimum threshold for a given application/customer
  • Allows you to specify a latency target for a given application
  • Using 3PAR’s virtual domains feature(basically carve a 3PAR up into many different virtual arrays for service providers) you can now assign a QoS to a given virtual domain! That is really cool.
3PAR Priority Optimization: true array based QoS

3PAR Priority Optimization: true array based QoS

Like almost everything 3PAR – configuring this is quite simple and does not require professional services.

3PAR Replication: M to N

With the latest software release 3PAR now supports M to N topologies for replication. Before this they supported 1 to 1, as well as synchronous long distance replication

3PAR Synchronous long distance replication: unique in the mid range

3PAR Synchronous long distance replication: unique in the mid range

All configurable via point and click interface no less, no professional services required.

New though is M to N.

Five 3PAR storage arrays in an any-any bi-directional M:N replication scheme

Five 3PAR storage arrays in an any-any bi-directional M:N replication scheme

Need Bigger? How about nine arrays all in some sort of replication party? That’s a lot of arrows.

*NINE* 3PAR storage arrays in an any-any bi-directional M:N replication scheme

*NINE* 3PAR storage arrays in an any-any bi-directional M:N replication scheme

3PAR Multi array replication

3PAR Multi array replication

More scalable replication

On top of the new replication topology they’ve also tripled(or more) the various limits around the maximum number of volumes that can be replication in the various modes. A four node 3PAR can now replicate up to a maximum of 6,000 volumes in asynchronous mode and 2,400 volumes in synchronous mode.

You can also run up to 32 remote copy fibre channel links per system and up to 8 remote copy over IP links per system (RCIP links are dedicated 1GbE ports on each controller).

Peer motion enhancements

Peer motion is 3PAR’s data mobility package which allows you to transparently move volumes between arrays. It came out a few years ago primarily as a means to provide ease of migration/upgrade between 3PAR systems, and was later extended to support EVA->3PAR migrations.  HP’s StoreVirtual platform also does peer motion, though as far as I know it is not yet directly inter-operable with 3PAR. Not sure if it ever will be.

Anyway like most sophisticated things there are always caveats – the most glaring of which in peer motion is they did not support SCSI reservations. Which basically means you couldn’t use peer motion with VMware or other clustering software. With the latest software that limitation has been removed! VMware, Microsoft and Redhat clustering are all supported now.

Persistent port enhancements

Persistent ports is an availability feature 3PAR introduced about a year ago which basically leverages NPIV at the array level – it allows a controller to assume the Fibre Channel WWNs of it’s peer in the event the peer goes offline. This means fail over is much faster, and it removes the dependency of multi pathing software to provide for fault tolerance. That’s not to say that you should not use MPIO software you still should if for nothing else other than better distribution of I/O across multiple HBAs, ports and controllers. But the improved recovery times are a welcome plus.

3PAR Persistent ports - transparent fail over for FC/iSCSI/FCoE without MPIO

3PAR Persistent ports – transparent fail over for FC/iSCSI/FCoE without MPIO

So what’s new here?

  • Added support for FCoE and iSCSI connections
  • Laser loss detection – in the event a port is disconnected persistent ports kick in (don’t need to have a full controller failure)
  • The speed at which the fail over kicks in has been improved

Combine Persistent Ports with 3PAR Persistent cache on a 4-8 controller system and you have some pretty graceful fail over capabilities.

3PAR Persistent Cache mirrors cache from a degraded controller pair to another pair in the cluster automatically.

3PAR Persistent Cache mirrors cache from a degraded controller pair to another pair in the cluster automatically.

3PAR Persistent Cache was released back in 2010 I believe, no updates here, just put the reference here for people that may not know what it is since it is a fairly unique ability to have especially in the mid range.

More Secure

Also being announced is a new set of FIPS 140-2 validated self encrypting drives with sizes ranging from 450GB 10k to 4TB nearline.

3PAR also has a 400GB SSD encrypting drive as well though I don’t see any mention of FIPS validation on that unit.

3PAR arrays can either be encrypted or not encrypted – they do not allow you to mix/match. Also once you enable encryption on a 3PAR array it cannot be disabled.

I imagine you probably aren’t allowed to use Peer Motion to move data from an encrypted to a non encrypted system? Same goes for replication ? I am not sure, I don’t see any obvious clarifications in the docs.

Adaptive Sparing

SSDs, like hard drives all come with a chunk of hidden storage set aside for when blocks wear out or go bad, the disk transparently re-maps from this spare pool. I think SSDs take it to a new level with their wear leveling algorithms.

Anyway, 3PAR’s Adaptive sparing basically allows them to utilize some of the storage from this otherwise hidden pool on the SSDs. The argument is 3PAR is already doing sparing at the sub-disk (chunklet) level, if a chunklet fails then it is reconstructed on the fly – much like a SSD would do to itself if a segment of flash went bad. If too many chunklets fail over time on a disk/SSD the system will pro actively fail the device.

3PAR Adaptive Sparing: gain capacity without sacrificing availbility

3PAR Adaptive Sparing: gain capacity without sacrificing availbility

At the end of the day the customer gets more usable capacity out of the system without sacrificing any availability. Given the chunklet architecture I think this approach is probably going to be a fairly unique capability.

Lower cost SSDs

Take Adaptive sparing, and combine it with the new SSDs that are being released and you get SSD list pricing(on a per GB basis) which is reduced by 50%. I’d really love to see an updated SPC-1 for the 7450 with these new lower cost devices(plus MSI-X enhancements of course!), I’d be surprised if they weren’t working on one already.

Improved accessibility

3PAR came out with their first web services API a year ago. They’ve since improved upon that, as well as adding enhancements for Openstack Havana (3PAR was the reference implementation for Fibre Channel in Openstack).

They’ve also added management/monitoring tools for both IOS and Android (looks at HP Pre3 and cries in his mind).

HP 3PAR Storefront: Monitor your 3PAR from your mobile device

HP 3PAR Storefront: Monitor your 3PAR from your mobile device

Screaming sales

3PAR is continuing to kick butt in the market place with their 7000-series, with El Reg reporting that their mid range products have had 300% year over year increases in sales and they have overtaken IBM and NetApp in market share to be #2 behind EMC (23% vs 17%).

This might upset the ethernet vendors but they also report that fibre channel is the largest and fastest growing storage protocol in the mid range space(at least year over year), I’m sure again largely driven by 3PAR who historically has been a fibre channel system. Fibre channel has 50% market share with 49% year over year growth.

What’s missing

Well the elephant in the room that is still not here is some sort of SSD-based caching. HP went so far as to announce something roughly a year ago with their SmartCache technology for Gen8 systems, though they opted not to mention much on that this time around. It’s something I have hounded 3PAR for the past four years to get going, I’m sure they are working on something……

Also I would like to see them support, or at least explain why they might not support, the Seagate Enterprise Turbo SSHD – which is a hybrid drive providing 32GB of eMLC flash cache in front of what I believe is an otherwise 10k RPM 300-600GB disk with self proclaimed upwards of 3X improvement in random I/O over 15k disks. There’s even a FIPS 140-2 model available. I don’t know what the price point of this drive is but find it hard to believe that it’s not a cost effective alternative to flash tiering when you do not have a flash-based cache to work off of.

Lastly I would like to see some sort of automatic workload load balancing with Peer motion – as far as I know that does not yet exist. Though moving TBs of data around between arrays is not something to be taken lightly anyway!


  1. Do you know to what version of 3pars OS these improvements (msi-x, and the multi-tenency improvements) are pertain? I’m testing 3.1.2. MU1 (p4)… Thanks!

    Comment by willem of redmond — December 16, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  2. I believe they are all in 3.1.3.

    thanks for reading!

    Comment by Nate — December 16, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  3. Thanks Nate, that sounds pretty cool. latency is important at my shop (due to very thin-skinned apps, for the most part)…

    The 3par group has been pretty responsive – they have agreed to a few changes for behavior we ran into (handling of openvms UDID, and management ports on inactive controllers periodically cycling causing messages in the switch logs…)

    Comment by willem of redmond — December 17, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  4. What about write performance on 7450? mixed read/write or all write environments on all-Flash systems is where I usually see latency and IOPS degradation

    Comment by Dave of Livermore — December 18, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  5. The closest published numbers at this point is the SPC-1 for the 7400, though you do have to do extrapolation because the 7450 has much faster CPUs, double the data cache, and further SSD optimizations (they basically disable the read cache on the system which gives all 96GB of data cache(assuming a 4-controller system) basically to writes (another 32GB of memory is devoted to control cache for OS/metadata/etc, 3PAR separates the data cache from the operating system related things).

    My own workload is ~92% write so I understand how important write performance is for sure !!

    I wrote about those SPC-1 results here:

    3PAR already had excellent write performance due to the architecture, going beyond even RAID 1, their
    support of RAID 5 2+1, 3+1 etc without sacrificing dedicated spindles/ssds for parity (or hot spares) is a good bonus. Here’s a graphic from 3PAR from many years ago where they illustrate the performance curve on an OLTP workload on Oracle across RAID levels.

    thanks for reading!

    Comment by Nate — December 18, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  6. Thanks – I enjoyed reading the other posts as well. If you don’t mind me asking, what is the latency you get and what model/config do you run?

    Comment by Dave of Livermore — December 18, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  7. my current company is really small so at the moment we just have a small F200 and a small 7200 (not yet live)

    a couple companies ago i had a few hundred T on a 3PAR T400 all nearline disks), and my first 3PAR was an E200 back in 2006.

    I don’t have any all-flash 3PARs at this time.

    My F200 (12GB data cache) with ~93% write ratio gets on average 2ms response times to writes (from controller->host) with 15k disks. Sometimes we blow the cache out by pushing more IOPS than the disks can handle (anything more than say 320 IOPS/disk is red lining)and of course the response times spike accordingly. In the midst of adding a bit more capacity to this array.

    here is a graphic from my custom monitoring
    (click on the image once the page loads for a full size version)

    The F200 supports roughly 360 VMs in a vSphere environment, and is the workhorse for the ~$270 million/year in revenue that flows through the application stack at that site.

    The T400 I had with 4 controllers and 48GB of data cache was of course able to handle more of a hard core workload. At one point I had 3PAR engineering demanding we buy more disks because they would not support the level of I/O those 7200 RPM disks were driving(upwards of 130 IOPS/disk). Though I had a year of data showing it was performing fine (wasn’t going to turn down an upgrade though).

    The HP 3PAR 10000 series has gobs of cache if you have write intensive stuff, 64GB of data cache per controller, with dual CPU sockets and dual ASICs per controller to boot. Though the CPUs are at least one(probably two) generations behind the 7450.

    I’m pushing for a pair of 7400s next year, will see if the company is up to investing for the future or not.

    Comment by Nate — December 18, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

  8. Thanks for the detail!

    Comment by Dave of Livermore — December 19, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

  9. Any guesses what manufacturer/model 3Par is using for the 920GB and 480GB SSDs?

    Comment by Dave of Livermore — December 19, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

  10. Based on some release notes I found for their OS 3.1.2 MU3 Patch 18 they are Hitachi

    New Saturn drives support on HP 3PAR OS version 3.1.2 MU3:

    • Seagate FIPS Megalodon 2 TB, 4 TB
    • Seagate FIPS Lightning 900 GB, 450 GB
    • Hitachi Sunset Cove 400 GB, 480 GB, 920 GB

    I found references to “Sunset Cove” in the Hitachi SSD documentation. Though I was not able to trace down specifically which family it was(though I’m sure I could ask and get the info), there seems to be just two product lines that may apply, and I’d wager that 3PAR is using the Ultrastar SSD800MM product line (which tops out at 800G, so that means they are getting an extra 120G raw capacity with adaptive sparing technology).

    Glad I could be of assistance, any further info that I may be able to help with feel free to shoot my way.

    Comment by Nate — December 19, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

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