A new (configurable) cgroups layout for libvirt with QEMU, KVM & LXC

Posted: May 13th, 2013 | Filed under: Fedora, libvirt, OpenStack, Virt Tools | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Several years ago I wrote a bit about libvirt and cgroups in Fedora 12. Since that time, much has changed, and we’ve learnt alot about the use of cgroups, not all of it good.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the arrival of systemd, which has brought cgroups to the attention of a much wider audience. One of the biggest positive impacts of systemd on cgroups, has been a formalization of how to integrate with cgroups as an application developer. Libvirt of course follows these cgroups guidelines, has had input into their definition & continues to work with the systemd community to improve them.

One of the things we’ve learnt the hard way is that the kernel implementation of control groups is not without cost, and the way applications use cgroups can have a direct impact on the performance of the system. The kernel developers have done a great deal of work to improve the performance and scalability of cgroups but there will always be a cost to their usage which application developers need to be aware of. In broad terms, the performance impact is related to the number of cgroups directories created and particularly to their depth.

To cut a long story short, it became clear that the directory hierarchy layout libvirt used with cgroups was seriously sub-optimal, or even outright harmful. Thus in libvirt 1.0.5, we introduced some radical changes to the layout created.

Historically libvirt would create a cgroup directory for each virtual machine or container, at a path $LOCATION-OF-LIBVIRTD/libvirt/$DRIVER-NAME/$VMNAME. For example, if libvirtd was placed in /system/libvirtd.service, then a QEMU guest named “web1” would live at /system/libvirtd.service/libvirt/qemu/web1. That’s 5 levels deep already, which is not good.

As of libvirt 1.0.5, libvirt will create a cgroup directory for each virtual machine or container, at a path /machine/$VMNAME.libvirt-$DRIVER-NAME. First notice how this is now completely disassociated from the location of libvirtd itself. This allows the administrator greater flexibility in controlling resources for virtual machines independently of system services. Second notice that the directory hierarchy is only 2 levels deep by default, so a QEMU guest named “web” would live at /machine/web1.libvirt-qemu

The final important change is that the location of virtual machine / container can now be configured on a per-guest basis in the XML configuration, to override the default of /machine. So if the guest config says


then libvirt will create the guest cgroup directory /virtualmachines.partition/production.partition/web1.libvirt-qemu. Notice that there will always be a .partition suffix on these user defined directories. Only the default top level directories /machine, /system and /user will be without a suffix. The suffix ensures that user defined directories can never clash with anything the kernel will create. The systemd PaxControlGroups will be updated with this & a few escaping rules soon.

There is still more we intend todo with cgroups in libvirt, in particular adding APIs for creating & managing these partitions for grouping VMs, so you don’t need to go to a tool outside libvirt to create the directories.

One final thing, libvirt now has a bit of documentation about its cgroups usage which will serve as the base for future documentation in this area.