Introduction to LizardFS

LizardFS is a distributed, scalable, fault-tolerant and highly available file system. It allows users to combine disk space located on many servers into a single name space which is visible on Unix-like and Windows systems in the same way as other file systems. LizardFS makes files secure by keeping all the data in many replicas spread over available servers. It can be used also to build an affordable storage, because it runs without any problems on commodity hardware.

Disk and server failures are handled transparently without any downtime or loss of data. If storage requirements grow, it’s possible to scale an existing LizardFS installation just by adding new servers - at any time, without any downtime. The system will automatically move some data to newly added servers, because it continuously takes care of balancing disk usage across all connected nodes. Removing servers is as easy as adding a new one.

Unique features like:

  • support for many data centers and media types,
  • fast snapshots,
  • transparent trash bin,
  • QoS mechanisms,
  • quotas

and a comprehensive set of monitoring tools make it suitable for a range of enterprise-class applications.


LizardFS keeps metadata (like file names, modification timestamps, directory trees) and the actual data separately. Metadata is kept on metadata servers, while data is kept on machines called chunkservers. A typical installation consists of:

  • At least two metadata servers, which work in master-slave mode for failure recovery. Their role is also to manage the whole installation, so the active metadata server is often called the master server. The role of other metadata servers is just to keep in sync with the active master servers, so they are often called shadow master servers. Any shadow master server is ready to take the role of the active master server at any time. A suggested configuration of a metadata server is a machine with fast CPU, at least 32 GB of RAM and at least one drive (preferably SSD) to store several dozens of gigabytes of metadata.
  • A set of chunkservers which store the data. Each file is divided into blocks called chunks (each up to 64 MiB) which are stored on the chunkservers. A suggested configuration of a chunkserver is a machine with large disk space available either in a JBOD or RAID configuration, depending on requirements. CPU and RAM are not very important. You can have as little as 2 chunkservers (a minimum to make your data resistant to any disk failure) or as many as hundreds of them. A typical chunkserver is equipped with 8, 12, 16, or even more hard drives. Each file can be distributed on the chunkservers in a specific replication mode which is one of standard, xor or ec.
  • Clients which use the data stored on LizardFS. These machines use LizardFS mount to access files in the installation and process them just as those on their local hard drives. Files stored on LizardFS can be seen and simultaneously accessed by as many clients as needed.
Figure 1: Architecture of LizardFS

Figure 1: Architecture of LizardFS


The replication-mode of a directory or even of a file can be defined individually.

this mode is for defining explicitly how many copies of the data-chunks you want to be stored in your cluster and on which group of nodes the copies reside. In conjunction with “custom-goals” this is handy for geo-replication.
xor is similar to the replication-mechanism also known by RAID5. For Details see the white paper on lizardfs.
ec - erasure coding
ec mode is similar to the replication-mechanism also known by RAID6. In addition you can use parities above 2. For Details see the white paper on lizardfs.

Possible application of LizardFS

There are many possible applications of LizardFS

  • archive - with using LTO tapes,
  • storage for virtual machines (as an OpenStack backend or similar)
  • storage for media files / cctv etc.
  • storage for backups
  • as a storage for Windows™ machine
  • as a DRC (Disaster Recovery Center)
  • HPC

Hardware recommendation

LizardFS will be working on any hardware, you can use commodity hardware as well. Minimum requirements is two dedicated nodes with a bunch of disks, but to achieve proper HA installation you should have at least 3 nodes. We recommend that each node shall have at least two 1Gbps network interface controllers (NICs). Since most commodity hard disk drives have a throughput of approximately 100MB/second, your NICs should be able to handle the traffic between the chunkservers and your host.

Minimal configuration of LizardFS strongly depends on its use case. LizardFS will run on practically any reasonable machine, but a sample configuration for a medium size installation could be as follows:

Master / Shadow

  • CPU - at least 2 GHz CPU, 64bit
  • RAM - depends on expected number of files (4GB should be enough for a small installation)
  • Disk - 128G, SSD would improve performance, HDD is fine

Chunkserver - recommended 2GB RAM (or more)

Metalogger - recommended 2GB RAM (or more)

Additional Features

What makes LizardFS a mature enterprise solution are additional features developed on the basis of a constantly improving core. They can transform the probably best distributed file system in the world into Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM), help to build Disaster Recovery Center with asynchronous replication between sites, reduce disk space required for replication, effectively manage storage pools (QoS, Quotas) and many more. If you see any other use case for LizardFS that would require any other functionality please let us know, we might put it into our Road Map or develop it especially for you.

Support for LTO Libraries

LizardFS offers native support for LTO libraries. Storing archival backups may consume a lot of memory, even though those files are almost never read. Such data can be efficiently stored on a tape, so LizardFS offers a simple way to cooperate with back-end LTO storage. Files can be chosen to have a backup copy on a tape by setting a tape goal. Examples of tape goals can be found in chapter “Advanced configuration”.

Setting a tape goal to a file makes it read-only for obvious reasons - tape storage does not support random writes. Reading from tape storage is a timely process (may last 48h or require manual work to insert correct tape to library), so data stored in there should be archival - meant to be read very rarely.

The way of reading a file which is stored on tape depends on its situation:

  • If a regular copy of a file is still available, it will be used for reading

  • If a file exists only on tape, it has to be restored to LizardFS first. To achieve that, one must use lizardfs-restore-tape-copy utility:

    $ lizardfs-restore-tape-copy file_path

    After running this command, all needed data will be read from tape storage and loaded to the file system, making the file accessible to clients.