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Performance Management Guide

Changing File System Attributes that Affect Performance

The longer a file system is used, the more fragmented it becomes. With the dynamic allocation of resources, file blocks become more and more scattered, logically contiguous files become fragmented, and logically contiguous logical volumes (LV) become fragmented.

When files are accessed from disk, the following take effect:

However, once the file is in memory, these effects diminish. File system performance is also affected by physical considerations, such as:

AIX Version 4 enables the ability to have file systems larger than 2 GB in size. In addition file system fragmentation allows for better space utilization by subdividing 4 K blocks. The number of bytes per i-node (NBPI) is used to control how many i-nodes are created for a file system. Compression can be used for file systems with a fragment size less than 4 KB. Fragment size and compression affect performance and are discussed in the following.

File-System Fragment Size

The fragments feature in AIX Version 4 allows the space in a file system to be allocated in less than 4 KB chunks. When a file system is created, the system administrator can specify the size of the fragments in the file system. The allowable sizes are 512, 1024, 2048, and 4096 bytes (the default). Files smaller than a fragment are stored in a single fragment, conserving disk space, which is the primary objective.

Files smaller than 4096 bytes are stored in the minimum necessary number of contiguous fragments. Files whose size is between 4096 bytes and 32 KB (inclusive) are stored in one or more (4 KB) full blocks and in as many fragments as are required to hold the remainder. For example, a 5632-byte file would be allocated one 4 KB block, pointed to by the first pointer in the i-node. If the fragment size is 512, then eight fragments would be used for the first 4 KB block. The last 1.5 KB would use three fragments, pointed to by the second pointer in the i-node. For files greater than 32 KB, allocation is done in 4 KB blocks, and the i-node pointers point to these 4 KB blocks.

Whatever the fragment size, a full block is considered to be 4096 bytes. In a file system with a fragment size less than 4096 bytes, however, a need for a full block can be satisfied by any contiguous sequence of fragments totalling 4096 bytes. It need not begin on a multiple-of-4096-byte boundary.

The file system tries to allocate space for files in contiguous fragments by spreading the files themselves across the logical volume to minimize interfile allocation interference and fragmentation.

The primary performance hazard for file systems with small fragment sizes is space fragmentation. The existence of small files scattered across the logical volume can make it impossible to allocate contiguous or closely spaced blocks for a large file. Performance can suffer when accessing large files. Carried to an extreme, space fragmentation can make it impossible to allocate space for a file, even though there are many individual free fragments.

Another adverse effect on disk I/O activity is the number of I/O operations. For a file with a size of 4 KB stored in a single fragment of 4 KB, only one disk I/O operation would be required to either read or write the file. If the choice of the fragment size was 512 bytes, eight fragments would be allocated to this file, and for a read or write to complete, several additional disk I/O operations (disk seeks, data transfers, and allocation activity) would be required. Therefore, for file systems which use a fragment size of 4 KB, the number of disk I/O operations might be far less than for file systems which employ a smaller fragment size.

Part of a decision to create a small-fragment file system should be a policy for defragmenting the space in that file system with the defragfs command. This policy must also take into account the performance cost of running the defragfs command (see Defragmenting a File System).


If a file system is compressed, all data is compressed automatically using Lempel-Zev (LZ) compression before being written to disk, and all data is uncompressed automatically when read from disk. The LZ algorithm replaces subsequent occurrences of a given string with a pointer to the first occurrence. On an average, a 50 percent savings in disk space is realized.

In AIX Version 4, file system data is compressed at the level of an individual logical blocks. To compress data in large units (all the logical blocks of a file together, for example) would result in the loss of more available disk space. By individually compressing a file's logical blocks, random seeks and updates are carried out much more rapidly.

When a file is written into a file system for which compression is specified, the compression algorithm compresses the data 4096 bytes (a page) at a time, and the compressed data is then written in the minimum necessary number of contiguous fragments. Obviously, if the fragment size of the file system is 4 KB, there is no disk-space payback for the effort of compressing the data. Therefore, compression requires fragmentation to be used, with a fragment size smaller than 4096.

Although compression should result in conserving space overall, there are valid reasons for leaving some unused space in the file system:

In addition to increased disk I/O activity and free-space fragmentation problems, file systems using data compression have the following performance considerations:

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