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Originally conceived as "DISTributed postMARK", this trusty little benchmark has been helping me assess performance of storage systems for half a decade now.

If you're interested in the gory details, take a look at my How to run relevant benchmarks blog post that explains why I wrote distmark. Here's the gist:

In the past, I've had some success running multiple instances of Postmark in parallel. Postmark simulates a busy mail server by creating/writing to/deleting lots of small files, generating lots of random IO in the process. Unfortunately, Postmark simply does as much as possible, firing up the %util column in iostat to 100%.

By itself, that wouldn't be too bad — isn't that actually our goal, knowing what the system is capable of?

The problem is that when the bus nears saturation, the system responds in a completely different way than normally. Most notably, the latency skyrockets by multiple orders of magnitude. A system that has a latency of as low as 0.06ms may easily crawl to a halt when maxed out, then reporting latencies of 50ms or more. That's an 800-fold increase! Needless to say, bad things™ will ensue.

So, we'll have to add another bullet point to the list:

  • Never ever max out the system during a benchmark.

In order to get a feeling for the maximum load a system will be able to take, see what the latency is when running at about 30%. Then slowly increase the workload, and see how far you can go before the latency gets unacceptable.


  1. Mount yerself a filesystem of some 50GB that can take some load somewhere. My personal favorite is XFS, tuned as such:

    mkfs -t xfs -b size=4096 -s size=512 -d su=256k -d sw=2 -l su=256k /dev/sas1/perftest

    Note that for these options to be beneficial, the underlying RAID must use precisely four data disks and a stripe width of 256KiB. I've found that if you're not absolutely positive that this is the hardware setup you're running on, omitting any tuning options and just using the defaults yields better results. You have been warned.

  2. Run distmark on that FS with a reasonable number of processes and IOPS, such as:

    ./distmark /mnt 16 1000
  3. Run iostat -xdm 10 /dev/sd? in another shell (or tmux pane) to see what impact you're having. Specifically, focus on the w/s, w_await and %util columns. You'll want your w_await to be around 1ms and your %util around 30%. If you meet those conditions, the w/s will tell you what load your system is capable of under normal circumstances. You can run that load in production, 24/7, and still sleep like a baby.