The Open-Source Advantage…through the eyes of Red Hat, DreamWorks and OpenStack

Let’s say you’re a big company in a competitive industry.  One who innovates and succeeds by creating software.  Not extending COTS, not adapting existing code.  Generating fresh, new code, at your full expense.  The value the company receives by investing in the creation of that software is competitive advantage, sometimes known as the profit-motive.

You’re an executive at this company.  Creating the software was your idea.  You are responsible for the ROI calculations that got the whole thing off the ground.

Your career may rest on the advantage the invention provides, and you are boldly considering opening up the code you’ve created.  But first you need to understand why so many of your peers (at company after company) have staked their careers behind open-sourcing what was once their company’s secret sauce.

Let’s look at some examples.  Since I work for Red Hat, I’ll mention a few of our own first.  But we’re a different animal, I’ve looked further into different  verticals to find powerful examples.

Over the last 5 years, Red Hat has open sourced software we’ve both built and acquired, such as RHEV-M (oVirt), CloudForms (Katello) and OpenShift (Origin).  Just as other companies derive value from our software, we also derive some value from individuals/companies extending software, generating powerful ecosystems of contributors both public and private.  For example, is extending the open-source upstream for Red Hat’s Platform-as-a-Service called OpenShift Origin.

Both Rackspace and NASA also identified open-source as a way to build better software faster.  Their OpenStack project is a living, breathing example of how a project can be incubated within a closed ecosystem (closed in governance rather than code), grow beyond anyone’s imagination to scratch an itch that no one else can, and blossom into an incredible example of community driven innovation.  As a proof-point, this year the governance of OpenStack transitioned to a Foundation model.  I should mention that Red Hat maintains a seat on that Foundation board, contributes significant resources/code to the upstream project and productized an OpenStack enterprise distribution over the summer.

More recently, DreamWorks has decided to open-source an in-house tool they’ve developed called OpenVBD.

It’s well known that DreamWorks relies heavily on open-source software (Linux in particular).  But to have them contribute directly using The Open Source Way, truly deserves a closer look.  What could have led them to possibly eliminate any competitive advantage derived from OpenVBD ?

While I have no specific knowledge of DreamWorks’ particular situation, here are some ideas:

  • The industry moved on, and they’ve extracted most of the value already.
  • They are moving on to greener pastures, driving profit through new tools or techniques.
  • Maybe OpenVBD has taken on a life of it’s own, and although critical to business processes, it would benefit from additional developers.  But they’d rather pay artists and authors.

If I had to guess, it would be closest to:

  • The costs/maintenance burden for OpenVBD exceeds the value derived.  Set it free.
Now it’s the competitor’s move.  Will they simply study OpenVBD and take whatever pieces they were missing or did poorly ?  Will they jump into a standardization effort ?
The answer may lie in the competitor’s view on the first bullet above, and if they have a source of differentiation (aka revenue), outside of the purpose of OpenVBD.  If they do, standardizing tools will benefit both parties by eliminating duplicate effort/code, or possibly reducing/eliminating maintenance burden on internal tools.  And that will generate better software faster.
This speaks to a personal pet peeve of mine; duplicated effort.  Again and again I see extremely similar open-source tools popping up.  For argument’s sake, let’s say this means that the ecosystem of developers spent (# of projects * # man-hours) creating the software.  If they’d collaborated, it may have resulted in a single more powerful tool with added feature velocity, and potentially multiplied any corporate-backed funding.  That’s a powerful reason to attempt to build consensus before software.  But I digress…



processor.max_cstate, intel_idle.max_cstate and /dev/cpu_dma_latency

Customers often want the lowest possible latency for their application.  Whether it’s VOIP, weather modeling, financial trading etc.  For a while now, CPUs have had the ability to transition frequencies (P-states) based on load.  This is the called a CPU governor, and the user interface is the cpuspeed service.

For slightly less time, CPUs have been able to scale certain sections of themselves on or off…voltages up or down, to save power.  This capability is known as C-states.  The downside to the power savings that C-states provide is a decrease in performance, as well as non-deterministic performance outside of the application or operating system control.

Anyway, for years I have been seeing things like processor.max_cstate on the kernel cmdline.  This got the customer much better performance at higher power draw, a business decision they were fine with. After some time went on, people began looking at their datacenters and thinking how power was getting so expensive, they’d like to find a way to consolidate.  That’s code for virtualization.  But what about workloads so far unsuitable for virtualization, like those I’ve mentioned…those that should continue to run on bare metal, and further, maybe even specialized hardware ?

A clear need for flexibility:  sysadmins know that changes to the kernel cmdline require reboots.  But the desire to enable the paradigm of absolute performance only-when-I-need-it demands that this be a run-time tunable.  Enter the /dev/cpu_dma_latency “pmqos” interface.  This interface lets you specific a target latency for the CPU, meaning you can use it to indirectly control (with precision), the C-state residency of your processors.  For now, it’s an all-or-nothing affair, but stay tuned as there is work to increase the granularity of C-state residency control to per-core.

Now in 2011, Red Hatter Jan Vcelak wrote a handy script called that can enable this paradigm.  No more dependence on kernel cmdline.  On-demand, toggle C-states to your application’s desire.  Control C-states from your application startup/shutdown scripts.  Use cron to dial up the performance before business hours and dial it down after hours.  Significant power savings can come from this simple script, when compared to using the cmdline.

A few notes, before the technical detail.

1) When you set processor.max_cstate=0, the kernel actually silently sets it to 1.

 1086 if (max_cstate == 0)
 1087 max_cstate = 1;

2) RHEL6 has had this interface forever, but only recently do we have the script.

3) This script provides “equivalent performance” to kernel cmdline options, with added flexibility.

So here’s what I mean…this turbostat output on RHEL6.3, Westmere X5650. (note same behavior on SNB E5-2690):

Test #1: processor.max_cstate=0
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 2.37 3.06 2.67 0.03 0.13 97.47 0.00 67.31
Test #2: processor.max_cstate=1
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.04 2.16 2.67 0.04 0.55 99.37 4.76 88.00
Test #3: processor.max_cstate=0 intel_idle.max_cstate=0
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.02 2.20 2.67 99.98 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Test #4: processor.max_cstate=1 intel_idle.max_cstate=0
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.02 2.29 2.67 99.98 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Test #5: intel_idle.max_cstate=0
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.02 2.19 2.67 99.98 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
# rpm -q tuned
Test #6: now with /dev/cpu_dma_latency set to 0 (via latency-performance  profile) and intel_idle.max_cstate=0.
The cmdline overrides /dev/cpu_dma_latency.
# tuned-adm profile latency-performance
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.01 2.32 2.67 99.99 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Test #7: no cmdline options + /dev/cpu_dma_latency via
latency-performance profile.
# tuned-adm profile latency-performance
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 100.00 2.93 2.67 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

There is additional flexibility, too…let me illustrate:

# find /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpuidle -name latency -o -name name | xargs cat

This shows you the exit latency (in microseconds) for various C-states on this particular Westmere (aka Nehalem/NHM). Each time the CPU transitions in between C-states, you get a latency hit of almost exactly those number of microseconds (which I can see in benchmarks). By default, an idle Westmere core sits in C6 (SNB sits in C7). To get that core up to C0, it takes 200us.

Here’s what I meant about flexibility. You can control exactly what C-state you want your CPUs in via /dev/cpu_dma_latency and via the script.  And all dynamically during runtime. cmdline options do not allow for this level of control, as I showed they override /dev/cpu_dma_latency.  Exhaustive detail about what to expect from each C-state can be found in Intel’s Architecture documentation.  Around page 35-52 or so…

Using the information I fixed out of /sys above…Set it to 200 and you’re in the deepest c-state:

# /usr/libexec/tuned/ cpu_dma_latency=200
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.04 2.19 2.67 0.04 0.26 99.66 0.91 91.91

Set it to anything in between 20 and 199, and you get into C3:

# /usr/libexec/tuned/ cpu_dma_latency=199
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.03 2.28 2.67 0.03 99.94 0.00 89.65 0.00

Set it to anything in between 1 and 19, and you get into C1:

# /usr/libexec/tuned/ cpu_dma_latency=19
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 0.02 2.18 2.67 99.98 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Set it to 0 and you get into C0. This is what latency-performance
profile does.

# /usr/libexec/tuned/ cpu_dma_latency=0
pk cr CPU %c0 GHz TSC %c1 %c3 %c6 %pc3 %pc6
 100.00 2.93 2.67 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Sandy Bridge chips also have C7, but the same rules apply.

You have to decide whether this flexibility buys you anything in order to justify rolling any changes across your environment.

Maybe just the understanding of this is how and why it works might be enough! 🙂

Moving away from useless kernel cmdline options is one less thing for you to maintain, although I realize you still have to enable tuned profile.  So, dial up the performance when you need it, and save power/money when you don’t!  Pretty cool!