Memory Over Commitment

This document describes the proposed changes to support memory overcommitment in Ganeti.


Memory is a non-preemptable resource, and thus cannot be shared, e.g., in a round-robin fashion. Therefore, Ganeti is very careful to make sure there is always enough physical memory for the memory promised to the instances. In fact, even in an N+1 redundant way: should one node fail, its instances can be relocated to other nodes while still having enough physical memory for the memory promised to all instances.

Overview over the current memory model

To make decisions, htools query the following parameters from Ganeti.

  • The amount of memory used by each instance. This is the state-of-record backend parameter maxmem for that instance (maybe inherited from group-level or cluster-level backend paramters). It tells the hypervisor the maximal amount of memory that instance may use.

  • The state-of-world parameters for the node memory. They are collected live and are hypervisor specific. The following parameters are collected.

    • memory_total: the total memory size on the node
    • memory_free: the available memory on the node for instances
    • memory_dom0: the memory used by the node itself, if available

    For Xen, the amount of total and free memory are obtained by parsing the output of Xen info command (e.g., xm info). The dom0 memory is obtained by looking in the output of the list command for Domain-0.

    For the kvm hypervisor, all these paramters are obtained by reading /proc/memstate, where the entries MemTotal and Active are considered the values for memory_total and memory_dom0, respectively. The value for memory_free is taken as the sum of the entries MemFree, Buffers, and Cached.

Current state and shortcomings

While the current model of never over committing memory serves well to provide reliability guarantees to instances, it does not suit well situations were the actual use of memory in the instances is spiky. Consider a scenario where instances only touch a small portion of their memory most of the time, but occasionally use a large amount of memory. Then, at any moment, a large fraction of the memory used for the instances sits around without being actively used. By swapping out the not actively used memory, resources can be used more efficiently.

Proposed changes

We propose to support over commitment of memory if desired by the administrator. Memory will change from being a hard constraint to being a question of policy. The default will be not to over commit memory.

Extension of the policy by a new parameter

The instance policy is extended by a new real-number field memory-ratio. Policies on groups inherit this parameter from the cluster wide policy in the same way as all other parameters of the instance policy.

When a cluster is upgraded from an earlier version not containing memory-ratio, the value 1.0 is inserted for this new field in the cluster-level ipolicy; in this way, the status quo of not over committing memory is preserved via upgrades. The gnt-cluster modify and gnt-group modify commands are extended to allow setting of the memory-ratio.

The htools text format is extended to also contain this new ipolicy parameter. It is added as an optional entry at the end of the parameter list of an ipolicy line, to remain backwards compatible. If the paramter is missing, the value 1.0 is assumed.

Changes to the memory reporting on non xen-hvm and xen-pvm

For all hypervisors memory_dom0 corresponds to the amount of memory used by Ganeti itself and all other non-hypervisor processes running on this node. The amount of memory currently reported for memory_dom0 on hypervisors other than xen-hvm and xen-pvm, however, includes the amount of active memory of the hypervisor processes. This is in conflict with the underlying assumption memory_dom0 memory is not available for instance.

Therefore, for hypervisors other than xen-pvm and xen-hvm we will use a new state-of-recored hypervisor paramter called mem_node in htools instead of the reported memory_dom0. As a hypervisor state parameter, it is run-time tunable and inheritable at group and cluster levels. If this paramter is not present, a default value of 1024M will be used, which is a conservative estimate of the amount of memory used by Ganeti on a medium-sized cluster. The reason for using a state-of-record value is to have a stable amount of reserved memory, irrespective of the current activity of Ganeti.

Currently, hypervisor state parameters are partly implemented but not used by ganeti.

Changes to the memory policy

The memory policy will be changed in that we assume that one byte of physical node memory can hold memory-ratio bytes of instance memory, but still only one byte of Ganeti memory. Of course, in practise this has to be backed by swap space; it is the administrator’s responsibility to ensure that each node has swap of at least (memory-ratio - 1.0) * (memory_total - memory_dom0). Ganeti will warn if the amount of swap space is not big enough.

The new memory policy will be as follows.

  • The difference between the total memory of a node and its dom0 memory will be considered the amount of available memory.
  • The amount of used memory will be (as is now) the sum of the memory of all instance and the reserved memory.
  • The relative memory usage is the fraction of used and available memory. Note that the relative usage can be bigger than 1.0.
  • The memory-related constraint for instance placement is that afterwards the relative memory usage be at most the memory-ratio. Again, if the ratio of the memory of the real instances on the node to available memory is bigger than the memory-ratio this is considered a hard violation, otherwise it is considered a soft violation.
  • The definition of N+1 redundancy (including N+1 redundancy for shared storage) is kept literally as is. Note, however, that the meaning does change, as the definition depends on the notion of allowed moves, which is changed by this proposal.

Changes to cluster verify

The only place where the Ganeti core handles memory is when gnt-cluster verify verifies N+1 redundancy. This code will be changed to follow the new memory model.

Additionally, gnt-cluster verify will warn if the sum of available memory and swap space is not at least as big as the used memory.

Changes to htools

The underlying model of the cluster will be changed in accordance with the suggested change of the memory policy. As all higher-level htools operations go through only the primitives of adding/moving an instance if possible, and inspecting the cluster metrics, changing the base model will make all htools compliant with the new memory model.


The cluster metric components will not be changed. Note the standard deviation of relative memory usage is already one of the components. For dynamic (load-based) balancing, the amount of not immediately discardable memory will serve as an indication of memory activity; as usual, the measure will be the standard deviation of the relative value (i.e., the ratio of non-discardable memory to available memory). The weighting for this metric component will have to be determined by experimentation and will depend on the memory ratio; for a memory ratio of 1.0 the weight will be 0.0, as memory need not be taken into account if no over-commitment is in place. For memory ratios bigger than 1.0, the weight will be positive and grow with the ratio.