Linux performance improvements

Two years ago I wrote an article presenting some Linux performance improvements. These performance improvements are still valid, but it is time to talk about some new improvements available. As I am using Debian now, I will focus on that distribution, but you should be able to easily implement these things on other distributions too. Some of these improvements are best suited for desktop systems, other for server systems and some are useful for both. Continue reading “Linux performance improvements”

Server migration to Debian

Since this afternoon, this server is now running Debian GNU/Linux Squeeze. Just like the previous system, this is a KVM virtual machine running on a HP Proliant DL185G5 host. The host server has always been running Debian. This was my last production system still running Mandriva. I might have forgotten to move over a few things or there might be some breakage somewhere, so let me know if you encounter a problem.

A wise server migration

Yesterday I migrated two servers at work to a new machine. The old machines were pretty underpowered: a Pentium III 1 Ghz system (with 384 MB RAM if I remember correctly) and a Pentium 4 system. The new machine is a Dell Poweredge R410 with a Xeon E5504 processor, 12 GB RAM and a PERC H700 RAID controller (which is actually a LSI MegaSAS 9260) with 3 750 GB SATA disks in RAID 5. The hardware is pretty nice (although I am not happy at all with the way Dell treats its customers, so I will rather prefer other vendors in the future, but maybe more about that in a later post).

The old servers were running Debian Lenny, while the new server runs Debian Squeeze, which is frozen since yesterday. That was a nice coincidence. The new server actually hosts three virtual machines using the Linux KVM virtualization system. One of them hosts the website, a second VM hosts a file server, and a third VM is the gateway for a small internal network.

The migration went pretty well, except for the smaller problems which you can always expect with such things, for example a Java web application which had hard-coded host names which had changed. The update to PHP 5.3 caused some compatibility problems which I already fixed before the migration itself: Dokuwiki had to be updated to a recent version in order to not show any warnings. There was also a website based on Joomla 1.0, which is actually not supported anymore. As updating it to a recent version was not really an option, I found some posts on the web on how to fix the errors I was seeing and cooked up a simple patch.

The new server is using 140 Watts most of the time. Keeping in mind that in the future it will also replace a third old server, that will probably be a nice reduction of power consumption compared to the old situation.

Migration to virtual machine

I just finished migrating this website to a new KVM virtual machine. The virtual machine is running Mandriva Cooker (2010.0) now with kernel 2.6.31-rc9 and the virtio drivers. The host machine is a HP DL185 G5 running Debian Lenny (kernel 2.6.26) and kvm 85.

During the next days, there might be some short downtime now and then while I continue configuring things

Server migration

Since two days, I have merged the main servers used by two research laboratories at work. One server was an old Linux server which really needed a hardware upgrade, and the other one was a Mac Pro machine running a flaky OS X Leopard. The new server is of course running Linux: Debian Lenny.

It was a very interesting experience: working out procedures to migrate the mailboxes (from Dovecot on the Linux server and Cyrus on the Mac server to Cyrus on the new server), finding out how to set up one NIC in two different subnets (especially the routing is a little bit tricky), getting all services hooked up to LDAP and managed by GOSA, getting dhcpd to do exactly what we want in a shared-network set up, and much more.

The new server is a HP DL185 G5 with an AMD Opteron quad core CPU and 8 GB of RAM and hosts two KVM virtual machines, one for public services and another one running internal services. You can visit the two websites, which are also hosted on this machine of course, of the concerned research labs:

Maybe in the not too far away future, I should try to move the services hosted on the underpowered desktop machine running this website, also to a virtual machine…

Using KVM on Mandriva 2009.0


My new Dell Latitude E6400 laptop, is my first system which support hardware visualization. It also has 4 GB RAM, making this an ideal machine to start experimenting with KVM, the kernel based virtual machine system which is now integrated in Linux itself.

In the past I had already used different virtualization systems. VMWare Server is annoying because you have to rebuild the kernel modules by hand each time you install a new kernel and it’s not Free (as in Free Speech). Virtualbox handles the modules rebuild nicely thanks to the use of DKMS in Mandriva, but always randomly crashes on an assert, making it totally unusable for serious work. Also it does not really include a server mode, where virtual machines just run in the background. Xen is especially nice if you have a system which does not support hardware virtualization and you just want to run a paravirtualized Linux in it. However, the host system (Dom0) needs to run a very specific kernel version (normally version 2.6.18, although Debian has a 2.6.26 based one now). OpenVZ is nice for lightweight Linux server containers (some kind of chroot on steroids), but is not a complete virtualization solution.

Because KVM is built into the standard Linux kernel, this means there won’t be any problems with kernel modules which have to be installed separately. It’s a complete virtualization system which means that you can run all kind of operating systems on it, like for example also Windows. KVM is evolving very quickly and its performance and features are constantly improving. Thanks to libvirt and virt-manager, it also has a nice GUI front-end which make configuring and managing virtual machines very easy (libvirt and virt-manager also include support for Xen and OpenVZ, but I don’t know how well that works).

Installing and using KVM on Mandriva 2009.0

Before installing KVM, it’s important to verify that the CPU on your system has hardware virtualization support. Start up a terminal, and run

$ cat /proc/cpuinfo

If you have an Intel CPU, you should have vmx in the flags. If you are using an AMD CPU, you should have svm.

It’s best to use KVM, libvirt and virt-manager from Mandriva’s backports repositories. The versions included there, are the most recent ones, and fix a few problems which made networking not work out of the box with the ones included in the standard repositories. So start up the Mandriva Control Center (Tools – System Tools – Configure Your Computer), and in the Software category, launch the media sources configuration tool and enable the Main Backports and Contrib Backports sources by checking the checkboxes.

Before we install the necessary packages, it’s necessary to make a change to udev’s configuration file to prevent the virbr* and vnet* virtual ethernet devices and bridges being configured automatically by Mandriva’s configuration tools. To do so, edit the file /etc/sysconfig/udev_net and add virbr* and vnet* to the BLACKLIST_ALL line if they are not there yet. The line should look like this:


Then install the kvm and virt-manager packages with the graphical software installation utility or with urpmi. Some extra dependencies will be installed, such as dnsmasq-base, libvirt-utils and python-virtinst.

After the installation, make sure that the libvirtd service is running. You can use the graphical tool in the Mandriva Control Center in the category System – Manager system services, or you can run “service libvirtd status” to verify whether it’s running and “service libvirtd start” to start it.

Now start the Virtual Machine Manager from Tools – Emulators. Choose File – Add Connection and set up a Local QEMU connection. Double click on the localhost/qemu connection in the virtual machine manager, and enter your root password. You can now create new virtual machines by clicking on the New button. To use KVM, choose a fully virtualized system, and choose KVM as hypervisor. If you want to run Mandriva 2009.0 or later in a KVM based virtual machine, you can probably choose Linux as OS type and Ubuntu Hardy as OS variant, because that should give better performance than the generic options.

I currently have Windows Vista and Debian Lenny running in KVM. It works very fast and very reliably. The only problem I encounter, is that sometimes I cannot switch back from my Windows virtual machine to my host system: the mouse and keyboard cannot leave the VNC window anymore and also the Ctrl-Alt keystroke does not release the mouse pointer. The only solution is to shut down the Windows system.