RHEL/CentOS 7 service resource management with cgroups

The Linux control groups (cgroups) is one of my favourite tools when I need to set up how system resources are shared between running applications. With cgroups we can limit and prioritize access to CPU, memory and I/O devices (and even more).

Version 7 of RHEL and CentOS brought us the new /sbin/init replacement - systemd, with all its err… inevitable changes. One area, where these changes can be confusing at first sight, is cgroups configuration. The old way of configuring it, by means of editing several /etc/cg*.conf files is still available but no longer recommended.

So how to handle cgroups on RHEL/CentOS 7? Read up.

Imagine we have a service called foo.service that eats up a lot of CPU time. We’d like to limit its access to the CPU, so that other services executed on the same machine can be more responsive. We also have an important bar.service, where we want to have most CPU time assigned.

Lets take a look at the configuration of our imaginary foo.service:

# systemctl status foo.service
foo.service - The foo service that does nothing useful
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/foo.service; disabled)
   Active: inactive (dead)

We can see the service configuration file is /etc/systemd/system/foo.service. Now let’s take a peek inside to see what this service really does:

# cat /etc/systemd/system/foo.service
Description=The foo service that does nothing useful
After=remote-fs.target nss-lookup.target

ExecStart=/usr/bin/sha1sum /dev/zero 
ExecStop=/bin/kill -WINCH ${MAINPID}


Seeing how this service just runs sha1sum, we can expect it will cause a slight load on the system. Let’s run the service and confirm this:

# systemctl start foo.service
# systemctl enable foo.service 
ln -s '/etc/systemd/system/foo.service' '/etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/foo.service'
# systemctl status foo.service
foo.service - The foo service that does nothing useful
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/foo.service; enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Sun 2015-05-24 19:49:32 CEST; 11s ago
 Main PID: 14306 (sha1sum)
   CGroup: /system.slice/foo.service
           └─14306 /usr/bin/sha1sum /dev/zero
# ps -p 14306 -o pid,comm,cputime,%cpu
  PID COMMAND             TIME %CPU
14306 sha1sum         00:02:10 99.6

Indeed, since this command will eat up all the available CPU time, the other important processes and services might starve for CPU time. Let’s make sure this never happens (with cgroups).

At this point, in RHEL/CentOS 6, we’d have to set up a new cgroup and assign processes of a given service to it. With systemd it no longer necessary to create the cgroup manually. Instead, systemd introduces a new concept of slice, which is used to manage resources of a group of processes. Most services are placed in system.slice. Note that systemctl status command already informed us, that foo.service belongs to system.slice.

Several other slices are present on a default system installation:

# systemctl list-units --type=slice
-.slice            loaded active active Root Slice
system-getty.slice loaded active active system-getty.slice
system.slice       loaded active active System Slice
user-0.slice       loaded active active user-0.slice
user-1000.slice    loaded active active user-1000.slice
user.slice         loaded active active User and Session Slice

If we wanted to just know the slice name of foo.service we could use:

# systemctl show -p Slice foo.service

So, configuring cgroups with systemd is possible either through modifying slice parameters, of service parameters. In most circumstances, where service is simple and consists of one systemd unit, it is enough to modify the properties of a given service unit.

# systemctl set-property unit-name property=value

For example:

# systemctl set-property foo.service CPUShares=250

The CPUShares property modifies the value of cgroups cpu.shares controller, which is used to limit (or rather prioritise) the CPU usage. The default “neutral” value of cpu.shares is 1024. Setting high value increases the “priority” (i.e. causes more CPU time to be assigned to a given process).

Of course, CPUShares is not the only property we could modify. The systemd.resource-control(5) man page has more information about cgroups-related parameters that you can pass to systemctl.

Note that this change is persistent and the value of cpu.shares will also be set to 250 upon the next foo.service start. If we wanted this change to be temporary, we could use --runtime parameter to systemctl set-property.

Setting the property caused additional file 90-CPUShares.conf to be created under /etc/systemd/system/foo.service.d. This file contains parameters to be appended to the configuration of foo.service unit. Actually applying the change requires reloading systemd and restarting foo.service:

# systemctl daemon-reload
# systemctl restart foo.service

Now let’s see if the sha1sum process really has cpu.shares controller value assigned properly.

# cat /sys/fs/cgroup/cpu/system.slice/foo.service/cpu.shares 
# systemctl show -p MainPID foo.service
# cat /proc/14457/cgroup | grep foo

Now, let’s increase the cpu.shares controller value for our other service, the bar.service.

# systemctl set-property bar.service CPUShares=2000
# systemctl daemon-reload
# systemctl restart bar.service
# systemctl status bar.service
bar.service - The bar service that does nothing useful
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/bar.service; enabled)
  Drop-In: /etc/systemd/system/bar.service.d
   Active: active (running) since Sun 2015-05-24 20:33:21 CEST; 2min 53s ago
 Main PID: 15057 (md5sum)
   CGroup: /system.slice/bar.service
           └─15057 /usr/bin/md5sum /dev/zero

And… let’s compare how much CPU time are processes belonging to our two services eating:

# ps -p 15057,14457 -o pid,comm,cputime,%cpu
  PID COMMAND             TIME %CPU
15057 md5sum          00:00:24 94.6
14457 sha1sum         00:00:01 5.2

As you can see, the md5sum process, as started by bar.service is happily executing, taking 95% of our CPU time, while sha1sum, as executed by foo.service slowly eats away CPU taking only 5%.

By the way, Red Hat provides an excellent documentation on this topic: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Resource Management Guide.

In the next article in this series, I will explain how to use systemd and cgroups to manage resource for processes that are not a part of a service. Stay tuned.