Learn about the various considerations and bottlenecks when planning cluster configuration for the HDFS service.

Java heap sizes

The NameNode memory should be increased over time as HDFS has more files and blocks stored. Cloudera Manager can monitor and alert on memory usage. Roughly, the NameNode needs 1 GB of memory for every 1 million files. Setting the heap size too large when it is not needed leads to inefficient Java garbage collection, which can lead to erratic behavior that is hard to diagnose. NameNode and Standby NameNode heap sizes must always be the same, and must be adjusted together.

NameNode metadata locations

When a quorum-based high availability HDFS configuration is used, JournalNodes handle the storage of metadata writes. The NameNode daemons require a local location to store metadata. Cloudera recommends that only a single directory be used if the underlying disks are configured as RAID, or two directories on different disks if the disks are mounted as JBOD.

Block size

HDFS stores files in blocks that are distributed over the cluster. A block is typically stored contiguously on disk to provide high read throughput. The choice of block size influences how long these high throughput reads run, and over how many nodes a file is distributed. When reading the many blocks of a single file, a small block size spends more overall time in slow disk seek, and a large block size has reduced parallelism. Data processing that is I/O heavy benefits from larger block sizes, and data processing that is CPU heavy benefits from smaller block sizes.

The default provided by Cloudera Manager is 128 MB. The block size can also be specified by an HDFS client on a per-file basis.

Replication factor

Bottlenecks can occur on a small number of nodes when only small subsets of files on HDFS are being heavily accessed. Increasing the replication factor of the files so that their blocks are replicated over more nodes can alleviate this. This is done at the expense of storage capacity on the cluster. This can be set on individual files, or recursively on directories with the -R parameter, by using the Hadoop shell command hadoop fs -setrep. By default, the replication factor is 3.

Erasure Coding

Erasure Coding (EC) is an alternative to the 3x replication scheme. Read about data durability for details on how EC works.

EC reconstruction is nearly free computationally with the Intel ISA-L codec. Performance improvements can be obtained by speeding up the computations through the use of the following instruction sets: AES-NI, SSE, AVX, AVX2, and AVX 512. To determine whether a node has ISA-L instruction sets available, check if any of the following CPU flags are present:
$ grep flags /proc/cpuinfo

It is important that edge nodes and client gateways have codec support so that they can do the calculations.

Erasure Coding levies additional demands on the number of nodes or racks required to achieve fault tolerance:
  • node-level: number of DataNodes needed to equal or exceed the data stripe width
  • rack-level: number of racks needed to equal or exceed the data stripe width

For example, for a RS-10-4 policy to be rack-failure tolerant, you need at least 14 racks (10 for data blocks, 4 for parity blocks); for host-failure tolerance you need at least 14 nodes.

Erasure Coding observes rack topology, but the resulting block placement policy (BPP) differs from replication. With EC, the BPP tries to place all blocks as evenly as possible on all racks. Cloudera recommends that racks have a consistent number of nodes. Racks with fewer DataNodes are busier and fill faster than racks with more DataNodes.

Rack awareness

Hadoop optimizes performance and redundancy when rack awareness is configured for clusters that span across multiple racks, and Cloudera recommends doing so. You can assign racks for nodes using Cloudera Manager.

When setting up a multi-rack environment, place each master node on a different rack. In the event of a rack failure, the cluster continues to operate using the remaining master(s).

DataNode failed volumes tolerated

By default, Cloudera Manager sets the HDFS DataNode failed volume threshold to half of the data drives in a DataNode. This is configured using the dfs_datanode_failed_volumes_tolerated HDFS property in Cloudera Manager. If each DataNode has eight drives dedicated to data storage, this threshold is set to four, meaning that HDFS marks the DataNode dead on the fifth drive failure. This number may need to be adjusted up or down depending on internal policies regarding hard drive replacements, or because of evaluating what behavior is actually seen on the cluster under normal operating conditions. Setting the value too high has a negative impact on the Hadoop cluster. Specifically for YARN, the number of total containers available on the node with many drive failures is the same as nodes without drive failures, meaning data locality is less likely on the former, leading to more network traffic and slower performance.

DataNode max transfer threads count

This parameter replaces the deprecated dfs.datanode.max.xcievers parameter, and needs to be adjusted for workloads like HBase to ensure that the DataNodes serve adequate number of files at any one time. Failure to do so can result in error messages about exceeding the number of transfer threads or missing blocks.


HDFS spreads data evenly across the cluster to optimize read access, MapReduce performance, and node utilization. Over time, it is possible that the data distribution in the cluster can go out of balance due to various reasons. Hadoop can help mitigate this by rebalancing data across the cluster using the balancer tool. You can run the balancer tool manually using Cloudera Manager or from the command line. By default, Cloudera Manager configures the balancer to rebalance a DataNode when its utilization is 10% more or less from the average utilization across the cluster. Individual DataNode utilization can be viewed from Cloudera Manager.

By default, the maximum bandwidth a DataNode uses for rebalancing is set to 1 MB/second (8 Mbit/second). This can be increased but network bandwidth used by rebalancing could potentially impact production cluster application performance. Changing the balancer bandwidth setting within Cloudera Manager requires a restart of the HDFS service: however, this setting can also be made instantly across all nodes without a configuration change by running the following command as an HDFS superuser:
hdfs dfsadmin -setBalancerBandwidth [***BYTES-PER-SECOND***]

This is a convenient way to change the setting without restarting the cluster, but since it is a dynamic change, it does not persist if the cluster is restarted. See Recommended configurations for the Balancer for more insights into scenarios and suggested values for tuning.

You can configure HDFS to distribute writes on each DataNode in a manner that balances out available storage among that DataNode's disk volumes. By default, a DataNode writes new block replicas to disk volumes solely on a round-robin basis. You can configure a volume-choosing policy that causes the DataNode to take into account how much space is available on each volume when deciding where to place a new replica.

For more information, see Configure storage balancing for DataNodes using Cloudera Manager.