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I have a storage unit with 2 backplanes. One backplane holds 24 disks, one backplane holds 12 disks. Each backplane is independently connected to a SFF-8087 port (4 channel/12Gbit) to the raid card.

Here is where my question really comes in. Can or how easily can a backplane be overloaded? All the disks in the machine are WD RE4 WD1003FBYX (black) drives that have average writes at 115MB/sec and average read of 125 MB/sec

I know things would vary based on the raid or filesystem we put on top of that but it seems to be that a 24 disk backplane with only one SFF-8087 connector should be able to overload the bus to a point that might actually slow it down?

Based on my math, if I had a RAID0 across all 24 disks and asked for a large file, I should, in theory should get 24*115 MB/sec which translates to 22.08 GBit/sec of total throughput.

Either I'm confused or this backplane is horribly designed -- at least for a performance-based environment.

I'm looking at switching to a model where each drive has it's own channel from the backplane (and new HBA's or raid card).

EDIT: more details

We have used both pure linux (centos), open solaris, software raid, hardware raid, EXT3/4, ZFS.

Here are some examples using bonnie++

4 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

194MB/s   19%    92MB/s    11%    200MB/s   8%     310/sec  
194MB/s   19%    93MB/s    11%    201MB/s   8%     312/sec  
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
389MB/s   19%    186MB/s   11%    402MB/s   8%     311/sec

8 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

324MB/s   32%    164MB/s   19%    346MB/s   13%    466/sec  
324MB/s   32%    164MB/s   19%    348MB/s   14%    465/sec  
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
648MB/s   32%    328MB/s   19%    694MB/s   13%    465/sec

12 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

377MB/s   38%    191MB/s   22%    429MB/s   17%    537/sec  
376MB/s   38%    191MB/s   22%    427MB/s   17%    546/sec  
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
753MB/s   38%    382MB/s   22%    857MB/s   17%    541/sec

Now 16 Disk RAID-0, it's gets interesting

359MB/s   34%    186MB/s   22%    407MB/s   18%    1397/sec 
358MB/s   33%    186MB/s   22%    407MB/s   18%    1340/sec 
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
717MB/s   33%    373MB/s   22%    814MB/s   18%    1368/sec

20 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

371MB/s   37%    188MB/s   22%    450MB/s   19%    775/sec  
370MB/s   37%    188MB/s   22%    447MB/s   19%    797/sec  
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
741MB/s   37%    376MB/s   22%    898MB/s   19%    786/sec

24 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

347MB/s   34%    193MB/s   22%    447MB/s   19%    907/sec  
347MB/s   34%    192MB/s   23%    446MB/s   19%    933/sec  
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
694MB/s   34%    386MB/s   22%    894MB/s   19%    920/sec

(anyone starting to see the pattern here?) :-)

28 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

358MB/s   35%    179MB/s   22%    417MB/s   18%    1105/sec 
358MB/s   36%    179MB/s   22%    414MB/s   18%    1147/sec 
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
717MB/s   35%    359MB/s   22%    832MB/s   18%    1126/sec 

32 Disk RAID-0, ZFS

354MB/s   35%    190MB/s   22%    420MB/s   18%    1519/sec 
354MB/s   35%    190MB/s   22%    418MB/s   18%    1572/sec 
--------- ----   --------- ----   --------- ----   ---------
708MB/s   35%    380MB/s   22%    838MB/s   18%    1545/sec 

More details:

Here is the exact unit:

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* the entire issue stems from me not getting near the performance I would expect from 36 total drives – jemmille Mar 2 '11 at 17:25
What OS are you using? What performance are you seeing? How are you accessing this data? – ewwhite Mar 2 '11 at 17:44
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Without knowing the exact hardware you're using, the max you can get through two SAS SFF-8087 is 24Gbps, or 3 GBps; but many controllers-expander combinations will not actually use all 4 channels in the SFF-8087 correctly and you end up getting approximately a single link (0.75GBps).

Considering your performance numbers, I would venture a guess that the latter is the case.

share|improve this answer
I added the info you'd probably need above. Thanks for the input thus far. – jemmille Mar 2 '11 at 19:03
Manual says the expanders support dual port only; so the best you'll get out of it is 1.5GBps (under very ideal conditions), and I'd expect 1GBps to be the max realistically. Downside: that's half of what you might have been expecting. Upside: that's enough to saturate a 10Gb Ethernet connection. – Chris S Mar 2 '11 at 19:30
Thanks Chris. This is the first time I've had to dig this deep into backplanes and such. I really appreciate the help! OH! Which manual, I swore I had read every line of all of them for this chassis/backplane/etc.! – jemmille Mar 2 '11 at 20:35
Also, I'm expecting that if I do direct attached (or used the "A" model of the chassis above) I will get the speeds I'm hoping for. This is all on 10GigE (but I can do LACP 20GigE if I need) so maybe it won't matter in the end. I just know that this damn box cost a lot of money and I want more IOPS!!! :-) – jemmille Mar 2 '11 at 22:46
Assuming your controller can handle the the bandwidth and IOps itself, yes, direct attaching the drives would speed things up. – Chris S Mar 3 '11 at 2:22

I was thinking about getting this same unit, but now considering the performance you are getting I better think it twice.

On the other hand, what raid controller are you using ? Because I've read somewhere else that those LSI backplanes don't work too well with non-LSI raid cards.

Regarding the theoretical performance: For the 24 drive backplane, you should have (SAS2) 6 gbit x 4 = 24 Gbit what is 1 Gbit per disk. Using the same math, you should get 2 Gbit per disk with the other backplane. Now, 1Gbit per disk stands for... 80 MB/s ? So, 2Gbit would be more than enough for the disk to become the bottleneck. So:

(80 MB/s * 24) + ( 125 MB/s * 12) = 3420 MB/s

I know this is only theoretical and nobody would expect these numbers in real world... but you are getting ~10%. You better check this issue with either Supermicro or LSI because it's very weird.

share|improve this answer

The average disk speeds you quote are probably for highly sequential operations at the best conditions. If your workload is random, speak a lot worse (I mean it).

SFF-8087 cables have only 4 channels and you could essentially overload them with 4 disk reading/writing at maximum speed. The point is, you are usually not doing that all the time and that's why SuperMicro uses the LSI expanders in the E1/E2 versions of their chassis.

If you need maximum performance all the time, you'll need to connect each and every disk to a single SAS port on your controllers. Most controllers have 4, 8 or 16 ports so you've to do the math and add more controllers to support 36 disks. SuperMicro chassis in the TQ version allow you to have that kind of access to your disks.

Raw IOPS performance varies depending on what device you're focusing. LSI HBAs usually have >250k IOPS specs while SATA disks will do 100-120, SAS a bit more and average Intel SSDs 3000 IOPS (highly dependent on your block size).

You have to understand the workload you'll be throwing at this machine otherwise you'll overprovision the wrong resources. Focusing on raw sequential speed with each disk having its own channel to the controller won't help if your workload is highly random and what you need is more IOPS from the disk/SSDs.

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