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I have a fairly busy media website where MP3 audio files are uploaded by members and streamed / downloaded from 2 Windows servers which are load balanced at the moment...both servers simply mirror each other and are kept in sync.

What we currently do is simply add new 2TB HDD's each time the current drive gets full, then users upload data to the new drive...we have enough bays for 24 disks.

We are getting I/O bottleneck on the most recently added HDD because all new media gets added to this drive, which is also the most popular...this could be overcome by spreading the data across each disk, however it gets complicated then when we run out of space and add a new blank drive.

The reason I am mirroring my files is so that I have a 1:1 backup, failover in case 1 server goes down, and so that I can easily Load Balance my site with 2 machines.

Somone previously reccomended using NAS/SAN, I don't have access to this unfortunately.

What would you reccomend in my situation...is there a way I can improve my setup?

I read about Distributed File Systems the other day which sounded like it may fit, however they all seem to be linux only...converting to linux now would be a challenge to say the least as I have little experience.

If i've missed anything that would help you answer please let me know.

Thank You, Paul

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Add a couple SSDs, and copy your popular tracks to the SSDs? Build some tool that watches activity and manages copies what will also exist on the SSD? –  Zoredache Mar 16 '11 at 23:12
that would be pretty expensive, we have about 1TB of data which is popular at any one time...new media is uploaded every few minutes which gets alot of hits straight away. –  Paul Hinett Mar 16 '11 at 23:41
any reason your not using hardware raid in these machines? would help with the problem? i think with raid 5 you can add drives to an array and resize a partition once its added (as long as its not the OS partition) –  anthonysomerset Mar 16 '11 at 23:47
Also note that mirroring and fail-over techniques can raise your uptime and/or availability, but do not replace a real backup. You don't cover software and human errors with just mirroring. –  Holger Just Mar 17 '11 at 0:01
the reason i didnt go with raid is mainly cost of drives...my host charges a monthly fee of $60 per drive...we have 5 per machine currently...if we done this in RAID it gets costly. –  Paul Hinett Mar 17 '11 at 0:08
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A data load balancing problem. This is fun stuff. Here are some experiences I have had dealing with large sets of data, even if we typically have it spread out over multiple servers.

  1. It sounds like you have not decoupled storage from presentation yet. You need to do this. Design an interface towards your storage (it can be presented as file as a separate server, an NFS share or similar). Personally I am strongly in favor of having a "media" server, which only serves the data. This way you move to the NAS model, and it will save you an enormous amount of pain as you grow.

  2. Once you have media separated from application you can start looking into solutions for how to handle this large amount of data you have.

There are a large number of commercial SAN products. They typically load balance over large amount of disks and handles adding/removing storage well. They are also very expensive, and it sounds like you already have hardware.

On the Linux side there is standard software to handle this amount of data without any problems. LVM and EXT4 can handle very large filesystems (be careful with the FSCK time however). If I were to build this I would probably go LVM, EXT4 and serve the data using Apache. This combination would also let you grow the storage as large as needed.

But that is just general strategies. Now, to attack the specific problem you have. It is a little hard without knowing the implementation details, but I can offer some suggestions:

It sounds like you are not load balancing your IO properly. I assume that you can track which disk serves your data. In that case, you should create a "rebalance" script. When you add a new disk to your system this script takes data from all the old disks and fills up the new disk. Then you can spread the incoming files over all disks and thereby get a better balancing of the IO load. This assume that you have different filesystems on the different disks, and are not just creating an enormous JBOD, which is a bad idea in general.

A second step is to start profiling. Make a small application which logs each file request. If you see a specific disk being hit more than its fair share you swap data between the disk and the least utilized disk. This kind of load balancing is preferably done as a regular job, perhaps every hour or day.

Also, make sure you get large IO caches. What typically kills IO performance in the kind of application you have got is when you serve so many different files that you overwhelm the caches, causing the disk to start trashing. Max out the cache on your disk controllers, and throw as much memory as you can into the system. Windows will happily use spare ram as read cache. It's not hard, or even especially expensive, to stuff more than 128G of ram into a server today. That's a pretty large cache, even if your hot file set is 1TB.

With the amount of data you are serving I would suggest that you stay away from RAID solutions. Rebuilding large raid arrays tends to be a painful experience.

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thank you for such a detailed answer! i like the idea of disk load-balancing and think this is definetly something i will do...just makes it a little more complicated having 2 servers keep files in sync when files are moved around the drives...but im sure I can work around this. How do i ensure my disks are using the maximum amount of cache? –  Paul Hinett Mar 17 '11 at 1:12
Windows is built to use spare ram as a read cache. As far as I know you don't need to configure that in any special way. Microsoft has a rather good document called "Performance Tuning Guidelines for Windows Server 2008", which is probably something you should read, even if a lot of stuff in it can seem obvious. –  pehrs Mar 17 '11 at 8:08
Some RAID solutions overcome this. For example, a RAID0 of smaller RAID5's (raid50 anyone?) or RAID0 of RAID1's (RAID10). However a straight RAID5 is a bad idea for really large datasets. I have seen rebuilds take better part of a day, and have heard of them taking better part of a week. –  tsykoduk Mar 31 '11 at 1:47
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A basic question - you are using a RAID array, and not simply mirroring the two drives that you are adding?

Using something like RAID10 on the storage box will allow you to grow the array (by adding drives and then telling the RAID Controller or software RAID subsystem to use the additional disks.

Moving to a decoupled storage model is advisable however. Simply from a scaling perspective, you have an issue where your data set is going to grow, and grow. If you do not archive remove old data, you'll never stop growing.

For example, when you fill all the bays in your existing machine, what do you do? ;-)

Using Windows, I'd personally steer away from the distributed filesystem that they use. use the most simple solutions. Luckly, windows 2008r2 ships with iSCSI support - so you can build your own SAN fairly easily (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc726015.aspx).

Better yet, build a linux box as the iSCSI target, and just point at it from the windows machines.

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just reading up about OpenFiler which is a linux based iSCSI target server...would using this work? If i used one of my servers as an iSCSI target server with all my disks in, and the other server simply as a web server which accesses the iSCSI server for the files? Would you still use RAID on the iSCSI server...if so what RAID? I am still limited to 24 disks on the iSCSI server though right? –  Paul Hinett Mar 17 '11 at 13:40
Yeah - iSCSI is pretty much iSCSI. Putting the target on one machine with the majority of the disks is a great idea. Then you can scale out the web app servers or the storage servers separately. And, yes, RAID is the way to go. IMHO RAID10 is the best for large numbers of disks. It's easier to rebuild, easy to add disks etc, with the drawback that you loose 50% capacity. The only limit on the iSCSI server is the # of bays you have. I've seen newer supermicro cases with 36 bays and 2 TB drives... ;-) –  tsykoduk Mar 17 '11 at 21:58
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