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hitz

Is WAFL a Filesystem?

Posted by hitz in Dave's Blog on Dec 8, 2008 6:16:37 PM

Many people think WAFL is a filesystem. I certainly thought so fifteen years ago when I wrote it, but folks like Kostadis Roussos are now claimingthat I was wrong. (A NetApp employee no less!)

 

To understand why, you have to understand how WAFL is structured.

 

WAFL has a “top-half” that deals with files and folders—“My Documents” and “QuarterlyEarnings.ppt”. It keeps track of who created the file, when they created it, who can look at the file, who can modify it, and so on. This certainly sounds like what a filesystem would do. The top-half actually supports multiple filesystem protocols. We started with NFS for UNIX, but right from the beginning we knew we’d be adding more. Originally we expected that Novell Netware would be next, but Windows CIFS gained momentum so quickly that we did that instead and never got around to Netware.

 

WAFL also has a “bottom-half” that manages the physical disks in the system. It organizes the disks into separately managed pools, it keeps track of which disks are part of which RAID array, and it arranges data on the disk to maximize read and write performance. The “bottom half” also handles data management functions like snapshots, remote mirrors, cloning, de-duplication, thin provisioning, and so on. These capabilities would traditionally be part of a volume manageror a block virtualization layer.

 

One of the things that was unique about WAFL when we shipped it was the way we integrated the two layers. There are many opportunities for new features and clever optimization if you design the layers to work well together.

 

When we decided to support iSCSI and Fibre Channel SAN, WAFL’s bottom-half data management capabilities were a perfect fit. In fact, one of the things that helped convince me that NetApp should support block-based storage was realizing how valuable our data management features would be in that environment.

 

This top-half/bottom-half structure explains the confusion about WAFL. My current view is that WAFL contains a filesystem, multiple filesystems actually, but that’s different from being a filesystem.

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