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Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 Essentials eBook now available in PDF and ePub formats for only $9.99
RHEL 6 Essentials contains 40 chapters and over 250 pages.

Chapter 21. KSM

The concept of shared memory is common in modern operating systems. For example, when a program is first started it shares all of its memory with the parent program. When either the child or parent program tries to modify this memory, the kernel allocates a new memory region, copies the original contents and allows the program to modify this new region. This is known as copy on write.
KSM is a new Linux feature which uses this concept in reverse. KSM enables the kernel to examine two or more already running programs and compare their memory. If any memory regions or pages are identical, KSM reduces multiple references to multiple identical memory pages to a single reference to a single page. This page is then marked copy on write. If the contents of the page is modified, a new page is created.
This is useful for virtualization with KVM. When a virtualized guest is started, it only inherits the memory from the parent qemu-kvm process. Once the guest is running the contents of the guest operating system image can be shared when guests are running the same operating system or applications. KSM only identifies and merges identical pages which does not interfere with the guest or impact the security of the host or the guests. KSM allows KVM to request that these identical guest memory regions be shared.
KSM provides enhanced memory speed and utilization. With KSM, common process data is stored in cache or in main memory. This reduces cache misses for the KVM guests which can improve performance for some applications and operating systems. Secondly, sharing memory reduces the overall memory usage of guests which allows for higher densities and greater utilization of resources.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux uses two separate methods for controlling KSM:
  • The ksm service starts and stops the KSM kernel thread.
  • The ksmtuned service controls and tunes the ksm, dynamically managing same-page merging. The ksmtuned service starts ksm and stops the ksm service if memory sharing is not necessary. The ksmtuned service must be told with the retune parameter to run when new virtualized guests are created or destroyed.
Both of these services are controlled with the standard service management tools.
The KSM service
The ksm service is a standard Linux daemon that uses the KSM kernel features.
KSM is included in the qemu-common package, which is a dependency of KVM. KSM is enabled by default in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. When the ksm service is not started, KSM shares only 2000 pages. This default is low and provides limited memory saving benefits.
When the ksm service is started, KSM will share up to half of the host system's main memory. Start the ksm service to enable KSM to share more memory.
# service ksm start
Starting ksm:                                              [  OK  ]
The ksm service can be added to the default startup sequence. Make the ksm service persistent with the chkconfig command.
# chkconfig ksm on
The KSM tuning service
The ksmtuned service does not have any options. The ksmtuned service loops and adjusts ksm. The ksmtuned service is notified by libvirt when a virtualized guest is created or destroyed.
# service ksmtuned start
Starting ksmtuned:                                         [  OK  ]
The ksmtuned service can be tuned with the retune parameter. The retune parameter instructs ksmtuned to run tuning functions manually.
The /etc/ksmtuned.conf file is the configuration file for the ksmtuned service. The file output below is the default ksmtuned.conf file.
# Configuration file for ksmtuned.

# How long ksmtuned should sleep between tuning adjustments

# Millisecond sleep between ksm scans for 16Gb server.
# Smaller servers sleep more, bigger sleep less.



# uncomment the following to enable ksmtuned debug information
# LOGFILE=/var/log/ksmtuned
KSM variables and monitoring
KSM stores monitoring data in the /sys/kernel/mm/ksm/ directory. Files in this directory are updated by the kernel and are an accurate record of KSM usage and statistics.
The variables in the list below are also configurable variables in the /etc/ksmtuned.conf file as noted below.
The /sys/kernel/mm/ksm/ files
Full scans run.
Total pages shared.
Pages presently shared.
Pages not scanned.
Pages no longer shared.
Number of volatile pages.
Whether the KSM process is running.
Sleep milliseconds.
KSM tuning activity is stored in the /var/log/ksmtuned log file if the DEBUG=1 line is added to the /etc/ksmtuned.conf file. The log file location can be changed with the LOGFILE parameter. Changing the log file location is not advised and may require special configuration of SELinux settings.
The /etc/sysconfig/ksm file can manually set a number or all pages used by KSM as not swappable.
  1. Open the /etc/sysconfig/ksm file with a text editor.
    # The maximum number of unswappable kernel pages
    # which may be allocated by ksm (0 for unlimited)
    # If unset, defaults to half of total memory
  2. Uncomment the KSM_MAX_KERNEL_PAGES line to manually configure the number of unswappable pages for KSM. Setting this variable to 0 configures KSM to keep all identical pages in main memory which can improve performance if the system has sufficient main memory.
    # The maximum number of unswappable kernel pages
    # which may be allocated by ksm (0 for unlimited)
    # If unset, defaults to half of total memory
Deactivating KSM
KSM has a performance overhead which may be too large for certain environments or host systems.
KSM can be deactivated by stopping the ksm service and the ksmtuned service. Stopping the services deactivates KSM but does not persist after restarting.
# service ksm stop
Stopping ksm:                                              [  OK  ]
# service ksmtuned stop
Stopping ksmtuned:                                         [  OK  ]
Persistently deactivate KSM with the chkconfig command. To turn off the services, run the following commands:
# chkconfig ksm off
# chkconfig ksmtuned off

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