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If you’ve been following the normal development path, you’ve probably been playing with Elasticsearch on your laptop or on a small cluster of machines lying around. But when it comes time to deploy Elasticsearch to production, there are a few recommendations that you should consider. Nothing is a hard-and-fast rule; Elasticsearch is used for a wide range of tasks and on a bewildering array of machines. But these recommendations provide good starting points based on our experience with production clusters.
If there is one resource that you will run out of first, it will likely be memory. Sorting and aggregations can both be memory hungry, so enough heap space to accommodate these is important. Even when the heap is comparatively small, extra memory can be given to the OS filesystem cache. Because many data structures used by Lucene are disk-based formats, Elasticsearch leverages the OS cache to great effect.
A machine with 64 GB of RAM is the ideal sweet spot, but 32 GB and 16 GB machines are also common. Less than 8 GB tends to be counterproductive (you end up needing many, many small machines), and greater than 64 GB has problems that we will discuss in Heap: Sizing and Swapping.
Most Elasticsearch deployments tend to be rather light on CPU requirements. As such, the exact processor setup matters less than the other resources. You should choose a modern processor with multiple cores. Common clusters utilize two- to eight-core machines.
If you need to choose between faster CPUs or more cores, choose more cores. The extra concurrency that multiple cores offers will far outweigh a slightly faster clock speed.
Disks are important for all clusters, and doubly so for indexing-heavy clusters (such as those that ingest log data). Disks are the slowest subsystem in a server, which means that write-heavy clusters can easily saturate their disks, which in turn become the bottleneck of the cluster.
If you can afford SSDs, they are by far superior to any spinning media. SSD-backed nodes see boosts in both query and indexing performance. If you can afford it, SSDs are the way to go.
If you use spinning media, try to obtain the fastest disks possible (high-performance server disks, 15k RPM drives).
Using RAID 0 is an effective way to increase disk speed, for both spinning disks and SSD. There is no need to use mirroring or parity variants of RAID, since high availability is built into Elasticsearch via replicas.
Finally, avoid network-attached storage (NAS). People routinely claim their NAS solution is faster and more reliable than local drives. Despite these claims, we have never seen NAS live up to its hype. NAS is often slower, displays larger latencies with a wider deviation in average latency, and is a single point of failure.
A fast and reliable network is obviously important to performance in a distributed system. Low latency helps ensure that nodes can communicate easily, while high bandwidth helps shard movement and recovery. Modern data-center networking (1 GbE, 10 GbE) is sufficient for the vast majority of clusters.
Avoid clusters that span multiple data centers, even if the data centers are colocated in close proximity. Definitely avoid clusters that span large geographic distances.
Elasticsearch clusters assume that all nodes are equal—not that half the nodes are actually 150ms distant in another data center. Larger latencies tend to exacerbate problems in distributed systems and make debugging and resolution more difficult.
Similar to the NAS argument, everyone claims that their pipe between data centers is robust and low latency. This is true—until it isn’t (a network failure will happen eventually; you can count on it). From our experience, the hassle of managing cross–data center clusters is simply not worth the cost.
It is possible nowadays to obtain truly enormous machines: hundreds of gigabytes of RAM with dozens of CPU cores. Conversely, it is also possible to spin up thousands of small virtual machines in cloud platforms such as EC2. Which approach is best?
In general, it is better to prefer medium-to-large boxes. Avoid small machines, because you don’t want to manage a cluster with a thousand nodes, and the overhead of simply running Elasticsearch is more apparent on such small boxes.
At the same time, avoid the truly enormous machines. They often lead to imbalanced resource usage (for example, all the memory is being used, but none of the CPU) and can add logistical complexity if you have to run multiple nodes per machine.