The last two years have seen a large number of file systems added to the kernel with many of them maturing to the point where they are useful, reliable, and in production in some cases. In the run up to the 2.6.34 kernel, Linus recently added the Ceph client. What is unique about Ceph is that it is a distributed parallel file system promising scalability and performance, something that NFS lacks.


High-level view of Ceph

One might ask about the origin of Ceph since it is somewhat unusual. Ceph is really short for Cephalopod which is the class of moulluscs to which the octopus belongs. So it’s really short for octopus, sort of. If you want more detail, talk a look at the Wikipedia article about Ceph. Now that name has been partially explained, let’s look at the file system.

Ceph was started by Sage Weil for his PhD dissertation at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Storage Systems Research Center in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering. The lab is funded by the DOE/NNSA involving LLNL (Lawrence Livermore National Labs), LANL (Los Alamos National Labs), and Sandia National Laboratories. He graduated in the fall of 2007 and has kept developing Ceph. As mentioned previously, his efforts have been rewarded with the integration of the Ceph client into the upcoming 2.6.34 kernel.

The design goals of Ceph are to create a POSIX file system (or close to POSIX) that is scalable, reliable, and has very good performance. To reach these goals Ceph has the following major features:
  • It is object-based
  • It decouples metadata and data (many parallel file systems do this as well)
  • It uses a dynamic distributed metadata approach
These three features and how they are implemented are at the core of Ceph (more on that in the next section).

However, probably the most fundamental core assumption in the design of Ceph is that large-scale storage systems are dynamic and there are guaranteed to be failures. The first part of the assumption, assuming storage systems are dynamic, means that storage hardware is added and removed and the workloads on the system are changing. Included in this assumption is that it is presumed there will be hardware failures and the file system needs to adaptable and resilient.

(Full version of this article can be obtained from Linux Magazine's web pages)

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