Of course by now we have all read the excellent and lengthy posts by Chad Sakac on ALUA. I’m just a simple guy and usually try to summarize posts like Chad’s in a couple of lines which makes it easier for me to remember and digest.
First of all ALUA stands for “Asymmetric Logical Unit Access”. As Chad explains and as a google search shows it’s common for midrange arrays these days to have ALUA support. With midrange we are talking about EMC Clariion, HP EVA and others. My interpretation of ALUA is that you can see any given LUN via both storage processors as active but only one of these storage processors “owns” the LUN and because of that there will be optimized and unoptimized paths. The optimized paths are the ones with a direct path to the storage processor that owns the LUN. The unoptimized paths have a connection with the storage processor that does not own the LUN but have an indirect path to the storage processor that does own it via an interconnect bus.
In the past when you configured your HP EVA(Active/Active according to VMware terminology) attached VMware environment you would have had two(supported) options as pathing policies. The first option would be Fixed and the second MRU. Most people used Fixed however and tried to balance the I/O. As Frank Denneman described in his article this does not always lead to the expected results. This is because the path selection might not be consistent within the cluster and this could lead to path thrashing as one half of the cluster is accessing the LUN through storage processor A and the other half through storage processor B.
This “problem” has been solved with vSphere. VMware vSphere is aware of what the most optimal path is to the LUN. In other words VMware knows which processor owns which LUNs and sends traffic preferably directly to the owner. If the optimized path to a LUN is dead an unoptimized path will be selected and within the array the I/O will be directed via an interconnect to the owner again. The pathing policy MRU also takes optimized / unoptimized paths into account. Whenever there’s no optimized path available MRU will use an unoptimized path; when an optimized path returns MRU will switch back to the optimized path. Cool huh!?!
What does this mean in terms of selecting the correct PSP? Like I said you will have three options: MRU, Fixed and RR. Picking between MRU and Fixed is easy in my opinion as MRU is aware of optimized and unoptimized paths it is less static and error prone than Fixed. When using MRU however be aware of the fact that your LUNs need to be equally balanced between the storage processors, if they are not you might be overloading one storage processor while the other is doing absolutely nothing. This might be something you want to make your storage team aware off. The other option of course is Round Robin. With RR 1000 commands will be send down a path before it switches over to the next one. Although theoretically this should lead to a higher throughput I haven’t seen any data to back this “claim” up. Would I recommend using RR? Yes I would, but I would also recommend to perform benchmarks to ensure you are making the right decision.