GroupWise 7 and OES2/SLES10 File Systems



During BrainShare 2008, the most common question that the GroupWise team and the GroupWise SysOps were asked was, "What file system should I use for Linux?" This article explains the choices and why I reach the conclusion that I do ...


There are 4 (or 5) choices of file system for GroupWise 7 on SLES10 or OES2:

- EXT3 (and EXT3 plus H-Tree)
- ReiserFS

Let's look at these in turn and then explain their advantages and disadvantages.


XFS is extremely fast, but it uses some very aggressive caching to achieve the throughput. It's questionable in its management. For example, try formatting a USB stick with XFS, then copy a large file to the USB stick. When the copy has finished, umount the drive. When you next plug the USB stick in, is the file readable? (I have failed to have the copy complete in 10 test attempts.) This makes it totally unsuitable for a cluster, and probably too vulnerable for a standalone GroupWise 7 Server. Discounted.


EXT3 is slow without the H-Tree and so is discounted.

With H-Tree, EXT3 becomes a very strong performer. However, there is a price to pay for the increased performanace. GroupWise uses telldir(), seekdir(), and readdir(), in the calling of files, all of which return a cookie that is nominally the position in the file. It's unfortunately based an assumption that was true when the interface was designed but is not currently true. The assumption is that directories will always be laid out linearly, so a file offset will be enough to identify the directory entry. Unfortunately, this offset is a signed int, where only positive values are valid. This translates to a cookie size of 31 bits in which to uniquely identify the position.

The problem arises with ext3 hashed directories, because they use a 64-bit hash that consists of a 32-bit major and a 32-bit minor hash. Ext3 returns the major hash, which is additionally truncated by one bit. This not only eliminates the collision handling that the kernel handles internally, but also creates even more collisions for telldir(). Discounted.

So, now we are down to a 2 horse race, ReiserFS Vs NSS.

NSS and ReiserFS

In the original OES, based on SLES9, the performance of NSS was severely lacking in comparison to ReiserFS, having only some 80% or less of the performance of Reiser. With the new SLES10-based OES2, that degradation in performance of NSS compared to ReiserFS appears to have been reduced to a more acceptable 5% or so – so long as the volume is created with Salvage disabled. For a long time, ReiserFS has had a reputation of being quick but fragile, and when the file system tree has to be rebuilt, you are more likely to get a few sticks and a pile of leaves than a whole tree. NSS rebuilds are remarkably complete (as one would expect from a file-server file system); therefore, NSS provides an excellent alternative to ReiserFS.

Looking at telldir() and ReiserFS, ReiserFS doesn't display the same problem because it uses a much smaller hash space. It has a 32-bit total, where bits 7-30 describe the hash, and bits 0-6 describe the generation number that handles collisions. Because the last bit is unused, ReiserFS doesn't run into problems with telldir(). The trade-off is that ReiserFS supports a small hash space with a maximum of 127 collisions, so it's much more prone to spuriously returning -EBUSY when the maximum number of collisions has been reached. I expect that XFS could have the same problem as EXT3 plus H-Tree, since it uses 64-bit offsets that end up getting truncated.

In conclusion there are really just 2 choices. The most performing (stable) system is ReiserFS, which should be used when every cycle is critical - but beware of overloading the system. The best compromise between speed and resilience is NSS with Salvage disabled.

Based on the above, I would recommend that the default file system to be used for a GroupWise system running on OES2 is NSS.

I hope this helps some folk with the sleepless nights.


How To-Best Practice
Comment List
  • It seems that as long as Salvage was disabled when the volume was created - NSS performs, turning it off doesn't seem to have the same benefit.

    Thus I would still be looking at a migration.

  • Using the USB stick as an example of how aggressively XFS uses caching an memory explais to most people why this would be a bad file system in a cluster (as I said) and again, could (not will) cause issues on a stand alone server. When this is taken in conjunction with the probably telldir() issue, I believe there is a logical conclusion that as the is "data" that we are manipulation, we cannot take that risk. The nice thing about Linux is it provides the choice - so if you are happy with the risk, so be it.

  • The problem with Ext3 comes when you have more than 512 files in a folder. I ran my first test system on Ext3 and thought it was brilliant (because there was very little real data) and then I ran it on our production system - and performance dived.
  • I have built quite a few GroupWise servers on Linux, some on OES 1, some on OES2, and some on SLES10. In most cases I have used Reiser only because it was never clear which one was best, but Reiser was the 'default' answer.

    The biggest downfall I see with reiser (or other linux file systems), is that if I need more space, I can't do it. If I could use NSS for GroupWise instead, it's easy to expand the pool on the fly, immediately giving more space to GroupWise. I realize that most hardcore linux people are not familiar with NSS or Novell's traditional services, so they don't understand many of the benefits that Novell people have taken for granted for numerous years.

    Even if GroupWise on NSS has a 5% degradation compared to Reiser (Assuming OES2), the extra flexibility for future expansion easily outweighs the performance. 5% is nothing in my book.

    Marvin Huffaker
  • Why does any technical discussion always wind up in a nerd war with the Linux community?

    How about some actual test results instead of the typical Ford vs Chevy arguing?
  • From my understanding...the OES Engineers said OES2 WITH SP1 you will see major performance increases with NSS. They did say there were issues with OES1 regarding performance with NSS..

    Just my 2 cents..
  • I tried NSS on OES1 for GroupWise and it was very, very slow. I know it has improved since then but I've been using ReiserFS for over 2 years and have had zero trouble and responsiveness is excellent for the amount of email we have ( over 100GB of email on that box ).

  • How do the above compare to running on an NTFS system, Tim?
  • Maybe you can simplify, are you saying EXT3 with H-TREE will cause curroption with GW? Or simply that it's slower...just trying to decipher you explination of

    "This not only eliminates the collision handling that the kernel handles internally, but also creates even more collisions for telldir(). Discounted."

    Are collisions an integrity issue or speed issue?

    We have always used EXT3 becuase reiser always seemed to corrupt so easy and we didn't use NSS becuase by the time you add the dependencies like edirectory we saw the memory overhead as counter intuitive.

    I would love to see some benchmarks!

  • I am sorry NSS? What are you smoking and not sharing?
    Way too much overhead IMHO.

    With Hans Reiser in jail and his company Namesys gone reiserfs is not an option. There is just no upgrade path to reiser4 and the ownership is up in the air.

    Ext3 is pretty much the standard filesystem for all Linux distributions these days. It combines good performance with good reliability and wide support. It also provides an easy upgrade path to Ext4.

    In all my years as a Linux admin Ext3 has never once burned me, no matter what I threw at it. I would recommend using it for just about any workload, even for GroupWise.
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