Community Articles

Find and share helpful community-sourced technical articles.
Celebrating as our community reaches 100,000 members! Thank you!
Labels (1)

Storage is Fundamental to Big Data

Storages can be chiefly evaluated on three classes of performance metrics:

  1. Cost per Gigabyte
  2. Durability - this is the measure of the permanence of data once it has been successfully written to the medium. Modern hard disks are highly durable, however given a large enough collection of disks, regular disk failures are a statistical certainty. Annual Failure Rates of disks vary between 2 – 8% for 1 – 2 year old disks as observed in a large-scale study of disk failure rates.[1]
  3. Performance - there are two key measures of storage performance:
    • Throughput - this is the maximum raw read/write rate that the storage can support and is typically measured in MegaBits/second (MBps). This is the primary metric that batch processing applications care about.
    • IO operations per second (IOPS) - the number of IO operations per second is affected by the workload and IO size. The rotational latency of spinning disks limits the maximum IOPS for a random IO workload which can limit the performance of interactive query applications. e.g. a 7200 RPM hard disk (typical for commodity hardware) will be limited to a theoretical maximum of 240 IOPS for a purely random IO workload.

The following table summarizes the characteristics of a few common commodity storage types based on the above metrics.


Note: There are SSDs on the horizon that are better suited for Write-Once-Ready-Many (WORM) data (but you can write limited # of times) and the price point will become 15c/GB (so, about 5x vs. 10x HDD today). Also, SSD capacity already crossed HDD capacity in 2016 (16TB 2.5” drives available) and over time, you will see SSDs making inroads to hot and warm tiers as well.

HDFS Provides a Proven, Rock-Solid File System


We approached the design of HDFS with the following goals:

  1. HDFS will not know about the performance characteristics of individual storage types. HDFS just provides a mechanism to expose storage types to applications. The only exception we make is DISK i.e. hard disk drives. This is the default fallback storage type. Even this may be made configurable in the future. As a corollary we avoid using the terms Tiered Storage or Hierarchical Storage.
  2. Pursuant to (1), we do not plan to provide any APIs to enumerate or choose storage types based on their characteristics. Storage types will be explicitly enumerated.
  3. Administrators must be able to limit the usage of individual storage types by user.

Changes to HDFS Storage Architecture

The NameNode and HDFS clients have historically viewed each DataNode as a single storage unit. The NameNode has not been aware of the number of storage volumes on a given DataNode and their individual storage types and capacities.


DataNodes communicate their storage state through the following types of messages:

  1. Storage Report. A storage report contains summary information about the state of a storage including capacity and usage details. The Storage Report is contained within a Heartbeat which is sent once every few seconds by default.
  2. Block Report. A block report is a detailed report of the individual block replicas on a given DataNode. Block reports are split into two types: a. Incremental block report sent periodically that lists the newly received and deleted blocks i.e. delta since the last incremental report; and b. Full block report sent less frequently that has a complete list of all block replicas currently on the DataNode.

Previously, each DataNode sends a single storage report and a single block report containing aggregate information about all attached storages.

With Heterogeneous Storage we have changed this picture so that the DataNode exposes the types and usage statistics for each individual storage to the NameNode. This is a fundamental change to the internals of HDFS and allows the NameNode to choose not just a target DataNode when placing replicas, but also the specific storage type on each target DataNode.


Separating the DataNode storages in this manner will also allow scaling the DataNode to larger capacity by reducing the size of individual block reports which can be processed faster by the NameNode.

Storage Types

We changed the datanode storage model from a single storage, which may correspond to multiple physical storage medias, to a collection of storages with each storage corresponding to a physical storage media. This change added the notion of storage types: DISK and SSD, where DISK is the default storage type. An additional storage type ARCHIVE, which has high storage density (petabyte of storage) but little compute power, is added for supporting archival storage. Another new storage type RAM_DISK is added for supporting writing single replica files in memory.

Storage Policies

A new concept of storage policies is introduced in order to allow files to be stored in different storage types according to the storage policy. HDFS now has the following storage policies:

  • Hot - for both storage and compute. The data that is popular and still being used for processing will stay in this policy. When a block is hot, all replicas are stored in DISK.
  • Cold - only for storage with limited compute. The data that is no longer being used, or data that needs to be archived is moved from hot storage to cold storage. When a block is cold, all replicas are stored in ARCHIVE.
  • Warm - partially hot and partially cold. When a block is warm, some of its replicas are stored in DISK and the remaining replicas are stored in ARCHIVE.
  • All_SSD - for storing all replicas in SSD.
  • One_SSD - for storing one of the replicas in SSD. The remaining replicas are stored in DISK.
  • Lazy_Persist - for writing blocks with single replica in memory. The replica is first written in RAM_DISK and then it is lazily persisted in DISK.

The following is a typical storage policy table.

Policy ID Policy Name Block Placement (n replicas) Fallback storages for creation Fallback storages for replication
15 Lazy_Persist RAM_DISK: 1, DISK: n-1 DISK DISK
7 Hot (default) DISK: n <none> ARCHIVE
2 Cold ARCHIVE: n <none> <none>

When a file or directory is created, its storage policy is unspecified. The effective storage policy of a file or directory is resolved by the following rules:

  1. If the file or directory is specified with a storage policy, return it.
  2. For an unspecified file or directory, if it is the root directory, return the default storage policy. Otherwise, return its parent’s effective storage policy.

Erasure Coding

Replication is expensive – the default 3x replication scheme in HDFS has 200% overhead in storage space and other resources (e.g., network bandwidth). However, for certain warm and most cold datasets with relatively low I/O activities, additional block replicas are rarely accessed during normal operations, but still consume the same amount of resources as the first replica.

Therefore, a natural improvement is to use Erasure Coding (EC) in place of replication, which provides the same level of fault-tolerance with much less storage space. In typical EC setups, the storage overhead is no more than 50%. As an example, a 3x replicated file with 6 blocks will consume 6*3 = 18 blocks of disk space. But with EC (6 data, 3 parity) deployment, it will only consume 9 blocks of disk space. To apply erasure coding, an EC Zone is created on an empty directory. All files written under that zone are automatically erasure coded.

In typical HDFS clusters, small files can account for over 3/4 of total storage consumption. To better support small files, in this first phase of work HDFS supports EC with striping. In the context of EC, striping has several critical advantages. First, it enables online EC (writing data immediately in EC format), avoiding a conversion phase and immediately saving storage space. Online EC also enhances sequential I/O performance by leveraging multiple disk spindles in parallel; this is especially desirable in clusters with high end networking. Second, it naturally distributes a small file to multiple DataNodes and eliminates the need to bundle multiple files into a single coding group. This greatly simplifies file operations such as deletion, quota reporting, and migration between namespaces.

Erasure coding places additional demands on the cluster in terms of CPU and network. Encoding and decoding work consumes additional CPU on both HDFS clients and DataNodes.

Erasure coded files are also spread across racks for rack fault-tolerance. This means that when reading and writing striped files, most operations are off-rack. Network bisection bandwidth is thus very important.

For rack fault-tolerance, it is also important to have at least as many racks as the configured EC stripe width. For the default EC policy of RS (6,3), this means minimally 9 racks, and ideally 10 or 11 to handle planned and unplanned outages. For clusters with fewer racks than the stripe width, HDFS cannot maintain rack fault-tolerance, but will still attempt to spread a striped file across multiple nodes to preserve node-level fault-tolerance.

EC is currently planned for HDP 3.0. Work remains to support Hive queries on EC data. Also, we are discussing a policy based migration policy where we can age data from warm tier to cold tier and convert from replica to erasure coding.

Cluster Planning – Hardware Recommendations for Apache Hadoop

Disk space, I/O Bandwidth, and computational power are the most important parameters for accurate hardware sizing of Apache Hadoop. Hadoop has been architected so that Disk, Memory, and Computational Power can all be scaled horizontally in a near-linear fashion as business requirements evolve. With the introduction of Heterogeneous Storage Types now presented by the Datanode, enterprises can begin planning their clusters in such a way that ARCHIVE, DISK, SSD, and RAM can all be scaled uniformly as new nodes are added to the cluster. Additionally, with the introduction of Erasure Coding for HDFS, enterprises can begin planning their capacity needs for ARCHIVE using 1.5x replication, instead of 3x.

Our recommended commodity server profiles, especially for the DataNode, have changed a bit with these new advancements in HDFS. Instead of 12 2TB HDD per DataNode for DISK only, we now recommend introducing and scaling the additional storage types (ARCHIVE, SSD) uniformly as well.


This configuration provides roughly double the raw storage per server from the previous configuration and triple the usable storage. Raw storage increases from 24 TB to 48TB per node. Usable storage increases from 8 TB (24/3), to 26 TB per node. This is calculated as 1 TB hot (1/1 – using one_ssd storage policy) + 4 TB warm (12/3 – using default storage policy) + 21 TB archive (32/1.5 – using archive storage policy with erasure coding).

[1] Eduardo Pinheiro et. al. 2007. Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population.

Super Collaborator

Hi @Tom McCuch

Great article, I have one question - when we say

"ARCHIVE, which has high storage density (petabyte of storage) but little compute power"

Is its a different kind of HDD - can you please give examples how it is different from the regular HDD.