Startup and Shutdown: Challenges in User Experience

Posted by: Thom Denholm

Embedded device designers have to come up with systems that handle variations in network traffic, resource constrained environments, and battery limitations. All that pales in comparison to challenges at system start and power-down times. In powering down a multi-threaded device, each application will want to get state information committed to the media. The operating system will have its own set of files or registries to update before the power goes off. At the low end, the MLC NAND flash or eMMC media requires power to be maintained while writing a block, in order to prevent corruption of that or other blocks on the media. Therefore a large group of block writes arrive at the media level simultaneously, all with the requirement to finish up before the power drops. The only thing worse than having to perform several writes in a short time frame is when those writes display the worst performance characteristics of eMMC media. These block writes are often located in different locations, essentially defining Random I/O. When restoring power, the same situation occurs in reverse, with each thread requesting state information. For some file systems, the interrupted writes will need to be validated, the file system checked, or the journal replayed. Here the time pressure is not with actual loss of power, but with frustrated users, who want the device to be on, now! This is a very important use case to consider for designers of file systems and block device drivers. While shutdown consists of primarily writes, a multithreaded file system should not block reads. The same applies at startup time, where a write from one thread should not block the other read threads. Where possible, the block device driver should sequence the reads and writes to match the high performance characteristics of the media, allowing the most blocks to be accessed in the least amount of time. We are currently working on an eMMC-specific driver that will manage the sequencing of writes. It promises to improve write performance by many times the rate of standard drivers. Check back with us for more on this topic next month! If possible, applications should also be written to minimize the startup and shutdown impact. With more applications being written by outside developers, this is getting harder to control. The system designer must focus on what they can control - choice of hardware, device drivers and file system to mitigate these problems.

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