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Chapter 3. Tertiary storage

Table of Contents

View inside tape silo

Tertiary storage is storage that is, in some sense, external to dCache’s directly managed disk storage. This is typically a tape silo: a device where data is stored on different magnetic tape cassettes that are handled by a robotic system. However, the interface between dCache and the tertiary storage is quite generic and dCache may be integrated with many different types of external storage systems (e.g., cloud storage).

In some sense, files stored on tertiary storage are no different from regular files: they may be uploaded and subsequently read back using any of the supported protocols. There are, however, some differences. These are discussed below.

There may be a delay in reading data back from tertiary storage. This delay can be significant, depending on the technology involved and how many concurrent requests the tertiary storage is handling. Therefore, tertiary storage is sometimes referred to as “nearline” storage, to distinguish the storage from “online” storage.

dCache maintains a limited cache that it uses to store the data of tertiary-stored files. When a client wishes to read a tertiary-stored file from dCache and the file’s data is already in this cache then reading the file takes place as usual. If the file’s data is not in this cache then dCache must first fetch the data, which may take some time. There are some strategies you can adopt for mitigating this delay.

Writing data to tertiary storage

The simplest approach is for the dCache admins to have configured certain directories so that any file written there will end up on tertiary storage. This approach is available to all network protocols and only requires that you write to the correct directory.

Another approach is to indicate that the file should end up on tertiary storage when uploading the file. Currently only the SRM protocol supports this option.

The final option is to write a file to dCache normally, using any supported protocol, and subsequently change the Quality of Service (QoS) for that file, indicating that the file should be stored on tertiary storage. The section on modifying QoS provides more details.

Monitoring the file’s locality provides a way to discover when a file has been written to tertiary storage.

Reading data back from tertiary storage

A file may be read back by any protocol. If the file’s data is already in the disk cache then the file may be read without any delay, otherwise reading the file will automatically trigger staging of the file.

The request to read the file will block until the file has been successfully staged back from the tertiary storage. Most clients will not wait indefinitely, so you may see timeout errors if the staging process takes too long.

Manually staging data

A common strategy for handling tertiary-stored files is to prestage the data back from the tertiary storage. This does not make the process any faster, but it is an asynchronous operation, allowing the client to wait patiently for the task to complete.

For example, when analysing a dataset, the client can first prestage all the files in that dataset. Once all files are available on disk, the client can launch an analysis job in a batch system. This has the advantage that the analysis can start quickly, without the risk of the batch system terminating the job while it waits for files to be staged.

Staging with a pin

A pin is a promise from dCache to protect the file from garbage collection for the desired period. Without a pin, the disk-resident replica of a tertiary-only file’s data could be garbage collected before you are finished with it.

It is very common to pin a file when staging its data back from tertiary storage.

The SRM, Frontend, NFS and dcap protocols support prestaging a file and then pinning the file.

Staging without a pin

The dcap protocol supports this. However, there are limited use-cases for staging without a pin. In most cases, clients are recommended to stage a file with a pin.

QoS transition

It is possible to adjust the QoS from tape to disk+tape. Doing this will trigger staging the file back from the tertiary storage.

This QoS change has no time limit: there will be a copy of the file’s data on dCache managed disks until there is a subsequent QoS transition.

The frontend may be used to initiate QoS transitions.

Removing a pin

When staging a tertiary-stored file’s data, that data takes up disk space. When the file is pinned, dCache cannot garbage-collect the data. Under extreme circumstances, this may result in dCache running out of disk space: preventing it from receiving further files.

Therefore, it is recommended to remove pins promptly when the file’s data is no longer needed with online latency.

Both the SRM, REST and NFS protocols allow a client to remove pins.

File locality

A file’s locality describes on which media the file’s data resides. Under normal circumstances, a file has one of three localities: ONLINE, ONLINE+NEARLINE and NEARLINE. The terms may vary slightly, depending on which the protocol is used to query the locality.

The locality ONLINE means that file’s data is stored only on dCache’s directly managed disk storage. This is the locality of files that are not intended for tertiary storage, or have not yet been written to tertiary storage.

A file with NEARLINE locality has its data stored only on tertiary storage or reading the file requires dCache to make an internal copy of the file. In either case, the file cannot be read immediately.

A file with ONLINE+NEARLINE locality has its data stored both on dCache’s directly managed disk storage and on the tertiary storage. Reading a file with ONLINE+NEARLINE locality is possible with no delay; however, the file locality (by itself) does not mean there is any guarantee the file will remain on disk. There are other mechanisms to provide such a guarantee: pinning and QoS.

There are two main reasons why you might want to learn a file’s locality. First, it may take some time for a newly written file to be stored on the tertiary storage. Monitoring the file locality provides a way to discover when the file is actually written to the tertiary storage. Second, a file that was written to tertiary storage might still be cached in dCache’s directly managed disk storage. The file locality provides a way of discovering this information.

Discovering file locality

The SRM protocol supports the srmLs command, which returns (amongst other information) the file locality.

The WebDAV protocol supports properties as key-value pairs describing a file or directory. The srm:FileLocality property (where srm is the XML namespace http://srm.lbl.gov/StorageResourceManager) is the file’s locality. Properties are described further in the WebDAV chapter.

The Frontend provides a REST interface to dCache. It allows querying of dCache file locality via the namespace resource. More details on how to discover metadata about files are available in the Frontend chapter.

The NFS interface’s get dot command supports querying locality with commands like .(get)(<filename>)(locality). This file contains the locality of the file <filename>. More details are available in the NFS chapter.

The Frontend provides a notification system, where an event is triggered when something “interesting” happens. More details are available in the section on storage events.

An inotify IN_ATTR event is generated when a file is written to the tertiary storage. A client can subscribe to such events to learn when that file’s data has been written to the tertiary storage. Note that other activity may generate an IN_ATTR event, so a client receiving the IN_ATTR event must also check the current locality of a file using any of the above methods.