Exploring ZFS over iSCSI on Proxmox and Ubuntu


Disclaimer: I struggled a lot with the various packages and implementations of iSCSI that exist in the BSD and Unix world, don't take any of what I do in this post as proper procedure

This post serves as a description of my explorations of using iSCSI to serve ZFS volumes to my Proxmox cluster. This was mostly done to evaluate how I liked the features and limitations offered by ZFS over iSCSI from within Proxmox as I had never worked with that technology stack.

Testing outline

Globally, my goal was to create a Debian/Ubuntu based iSCSI target server so that the software could also be installed on my Proxmox hosts.

  1. Create iSCSI target on Ubuntu box
  2. Create Proxmox Storage iSCSI over ZFS to iSCSI target box
  3. Add virtual hard drive backed by iSCSI over ZFS to a test vm
  4. Test basic performance

iSCSI implementations & quirks

For iSCSI it seems there are quite a few conflicting implementations, each with various levels of support in general and in Proxmox specifically.

For the general case, I could find various comparisons, comparing performance, features and community.

  • Comparison from SCST. Has a general comparison and compares the SCST implementation versus STGT and versus LIO. Seems to be biased strongly against STGT and LIO. Marks STGT as obsolete and dislikes LIO. Laments that SCST doesn't have the support that LIO has
  • Comparison from LIO. Further reinforces that IET and STGT are obsolete. Seems to be indicate the SCST just lacks support
  • A Comparative Analysis Of Open Source Storage Area Networks With Esxi 5.1: Thesis from a student at Purdue university, looks at IET, SCST and LIO and ISTGT within the context of Esxi. Does not seem to favor any particular implementation, except for mentioning stronger performance on IET and STGT, although they are obsolete

Proxmox itself contains a couple of implementations

  • Comstar: for Comstar storage appliances I guess
  • IET: Seems to be mostly obsolete, targeting Debian
  • istgt: targetting FreeBSD or FreeNAS
  • LIO: old school Linux implementation
  • Community supported TrueNAS plugin

For Proxmox, the back-ends are actually mostly just wrappers around the various CLIs that get operated over SSH. This makes the implementations fairly fragile in the sense that they depend on specific file locations and operating systems modus operandi. (For istgt see the file PVE/Storage/LunCmd/Istgt.pm at dcd8f3a3dd91d86c7cc446d2cab8030be5ff41da)

For example, to get the free space on the storage backend, it could use the command: /usr/bin/ssh -o 'BatchMode=yes' -i /etc/pve/priv/zfs/<target_ip>_id_rsa root@<target_ip> zfs get -o value -Hp available,used tank/iscsitarget

For ZFS with SCST there is a patch available that adds support in Proxmox.

Debian Experimentation

To experiment with iSCSI targets without messing up my Proxmox host I spun up a Debian host and decided to mess around with the istgt software (even though obsolete, it seemed to have the most available documentation).

As a high level overview these are the steps I took:

  1. Create a zpool with filesystem dataset
  2. Install istgt & Configure istgt targets
  3. Link various files for Proxmox initiator
  4. Add iSCSI storage in Proxmox

Creating the ZFS pool

The Debian host I spun up had one extra disk attached. I started out with creating a tank without any special vdevs.

apt install zfsutils-linux
zpool create tank /dev/sdb

On this pool I created a filesystem vol. Importantly, for iSCSI, this should not be a volume From the man page:

zfs create [-p] [-o property=value] ... filesystem
zfs create [-ps] [-b blocksize] [-o property=value] ... -V size volume

The top option is what I wanted:
zfs create tank/iscsitarget

Resulting in:

root@istgt1:~# zfs list
NAME                             USED  AVAIL     REFER  MOUNTPOINT
tank                             214K  15.0G       24K  /tank
tank/iscsitarget                  36K  15.0G       24K  /tank/iscsitarget

Install istgt & Configure istgt targets

Installing istgt is pretty straightforward (but configuration is not):

apt install istgt

Now for configuration. On Debian, the default configuration dir is: /etc/istgt/.
In this folder, there is a reference to the example documentation at: /usr/share/doc/istgt/examples/ which is what I based most of my configuration on. Additionally, I found this helpful thread on the freebsd forums.

My basic istgt (with no regard for security at all!): istgt.conf

  Comment "Global section"
  # node name (not include optional part)
  NodeBase "istgt1.test.portegi.es"

  # files
  PidFile /var/run/istgt.pid
  AuthFile /etc/istgt/auth.conf

  # directories
  # for removable media (virtual DVD/virtual Tape)
  MediaDirectory /var/istgt

  # syslog facility
  LogFacility "local7"

  # socket I/O timeout sec. (polling is infinity)
  Timeout 30
  # NOPIN sending interval sec.
  NopInInterval 20

  # authentication information for discovery session
  DiscoveryAuthMethod Auto

  MaxSessions 16
  MaxConnections 4

  MaxR2T 32

  # iSCSI initial parameters negotiate with initiators
  # NOTE: incorrect values might crash
  MaxOutstandingR2T 16
  DefaultTime2Wait 2
  DefaultTime2Retain 60
  FirstBurstLength 262144
  MaxBurstLength 1048576
  MaxRecvDataSegmentLength 262144

  Comment "Internal Logical Unit Controller"
  #AuthMethod Auto
  AuthMethod CHAP Mutual
  AuthGroup AuthGroup10000
  # this portal is only used as controller (by istgtcontrol)
  # if it's not necessary, no portal is valid
  #Portal UC1 [::1]:3261
  Portal UC1
  # accept IP netmask
  #Netmask [::1]

# wildcard address you may need if use DHCP
    Comment "ANY IP"
    Portal DA1

    Comment "Initiator Group1"
    # No security here at all, all IPs on my subnet can initiate the target
    InitiatorName "ALL"

    TargetName disk1
    Mapping PortalGroup1 InitiatorGroup1
    AuthGroup AuthGroup1
    UnitType Disk
    # Unsure if specifying QueueDepth is useful
    QueueDepth 32
    # The basic zvol at its mount place
    LUN0 Storage /dev/zvol/tank/iscsitarget 15GB

Keep in mind that the configuration above has absolutely zero regard for security, performance or best practices. I only followed the basic comments in found in the example documentation and left out all security aspects.

After configuration, starting istgt is very simple: istgt.

Linking files

    '/usr/local/etc/istgt/istgt.conf',  # FreeBSD, FreeNAS
    '/var/etc/iscsi/istgt.conf'         # NAS4Free
my @DAEMONS = (
    '/usr/local/etc/rc.d/istgt',        # FreeBSD, FreeNAS
    '/var/etc/rc.d/istgt'               # NAS4Free

Creating a Systemd service file

Of course I want the istgt server to run on boot so for that I used systemd. I added a systemd service based on an OpenSUSE Patch.

Description=istgt iSCSI Daemon
After=syslog.target network.target

ExecStart=/usr/sbin/istgt -c /etc/istgt/istgt.conf
ExecReload=/usr/bin/kill -HUP $MAINPID



For the most part this was not a particularly pleasant experiment. The many different iSCSI implementations, each with their own problems made it difficult to get started. The thin wrapper in Proxmox didn't make life much easier. Lastly, the features and general benefits seemed to be rather low compared to other methods of just backing VMs by block files (aka .raw images served over CIFS for example). I haven't even tried benchmarking my half broken setup vs my Ceph cluster or serving data via CIFS. Maybe I'll return to this at one point if either I can write a better plugin for Proxmox myself or if I run into performance issues with CIFS (highly unlikely for my bulk storage needs).