ZFS: Why is L2ARC hit ratio so low?

ZFS: Why is L2ARC hit ratio so low?

Using an additional SSD disk as a second level cache for ARC - called L2ARC - can speed up your ZFS pool. But if you analyze how often the cache is used you find a very low hit ratio. To understand why the hit ratio is low you should know how the L2ARC works.

ZFS uses a primary cache - the ARC - which takes some space of your available RAM. Until the ARC is really full, no noteworthy data is written to the L2ARC. Thus, until the ARC cache is warm, the L2ARC cache isn’t used. But even it is not used, a read request triggers a lookup in ARC and then in L2ARC. Because both caches are cold after a reboot, you can see a lot of cache misses.

Calculate the hit ratio

To calculate the hit ratio, the formula hit_ratio = (hits+misses)/hits is used.

root@mz4:~# arc_summary.py
...
L2 ARC Breakdown:                               2.25m
        Hit Ratio:                      12.80%  288.37k
        Miss Ratio:                     87.20%  1.97m
        Feeds:                                  795.95k

Now it’s easy to understand why the hit ratio is low. If you have a lot of RAM (say 32 GiB), it takes hours or days until the ARC cache is warm. And then it takes hours or days again until the L2ARC is warm. But during this time, every cache lookup is counted as cache-miss: after 2 days you may have 29837872 cache misses on L2ARC but it’s still filled up with just a few bytes. After both caches are warm, the L2ARC-hits will slowly increase.

A better approach to calculate the hit ratio is to wait until the L2ARC cache is warm. Then write down the current count of L2ARC cache misses.

real_hit_ratio = ((hits-hits_before_warm)+(misses-misses_before_warm))/(hits-hits_before_warm)

With this formula, you ignore all the cache misses until the cache is warm.

Determine if L2ARC cache is cold or warm

As a rule of thumb, I assume the cache is warm if:

  1. The difference between arc_max_size and arc_size is lower than 10% of arc_max_size.
  2. The difference between l2arc_size and l2arc_usage is lower than 50% of l2arc_size.
  3. The hit count of l2arc is greater than 1000

Final thoughts

Keep in mind that if you have a lot of RAM available for ARC, it may take days until the L2ARC is filled with data. The L2ARC is lost after a reboot (see issue #925 for persistent L2ARC) and if you shut down your system every night, your L2ARC cache is never used.

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