Re: [patch?] Re: Do ramdisk exec's map direct to buffer cache?

From: Linus Torvalds (
Date: Tue Aug 01 2000 - 19:53:34 EST

I personally think that a redesign of a major subsystem is doomed
to failure, *unless* that redesign has some specific goals it can
be measured against. The measurements need not be strictly quantitative,
although comparisons like "the kernel build on my machine sure seemed
a lot faster - it was done before I came back with my cup of coffee"
seem quite weak.

Today everyone seems to want Linux to solve all of their problems.
Heck, even here at IBM we want it to run on 390 architecture, on
PC's made by Netfinity, IA64 platforms, and heck, we'd even like it
to scale to our 64 processors, 64 GB machines running databases such
as those that track British Telecom's call load, department stores
inventories, Boeing's plane parts, etc. etc. And then there are cool
things like Crusoe or small embedded systems that have very different

What I'd *really* love to see is a description of the "sweet spot"
that new subsystems in Linux should be designed to handle. For
instance, should the 2.5 VM subsystem optimize for 16 K memories?
Gawd, I hope not. What about 256 MB? 1 GB? My next laptop comes
with 256 MB, I hope Linux runs well on it. If my laptop is that
big today, what will typical systems be in two years (when 2.5
enters test29-pre12 ;-)

Also, what is the "typical" workload for a desktop? For a small
server? What is similar between those two workloads? What are the
noteable differences? For instance, here's a stab at a few things
I'd love to considered as part of the "sweet spot" for, say, 2.5:


        1) Physical memory sizes between 256 MB and 1 GB

        2) 1-4 CPUs (okay, big laptop, but I can dream... ;-)

        3) 100 - 200 GB disk storage (probably about 2-4 disks
           worth, right? ;-) How does this affect the buffer/
           page cache?

        4) < 100 instantiated processes, mostly servers, usually less
           than 2 CPU-hungry tasks running at once (and one most
           likely a game). Typical applications are X servers,
           napster clients (er, or the next underground instantiation),
           small web server, netscape (oops, may need to up that
           physical memory requirement), compiler/application
           development environment.

        5) Primarily single user at the console


        1) Physical memory sizes between 1 GB and 16 GB

        2) 4-16 CPUs

        3) ~500 disks, or up to about 1 TB of disk storage

        4) < 1000 instantiated processes, many servers and/or users
           (e.g. ISP, web server, news server, irc server, ftp server)

        5) Small ISP, 50-100 active users

Big Honkin' Enterprise Class

        1) Physical memory size of 64 GB or more

        2) 16-256 CPUs (possibly clustered in groups of 16-64,
           depending on type of workload) And yes, some vendors
           produce machines of this size today!)

        3) ~5000 disks, or up to 100 TB of disk storage

        4) 10,000+ processes, thousands of threads, heavy web server and
           network traffic, several large databases, thousands of users
           doing data entry, queries, business decision support, full
           data scans, large SETI at home processes, etc.

        5) Large, commercial data center, used by Fortune 1000 folks
           to run a real business. 100's, 1000's of active users...

With fairly simple profiles, it becomes easier to think about
optimizing subsystems and to decide when a particular users's needs
are very unique and may deserve special consideration. Also, I'd
claim that a VM subsystem (for instance) could be reasonably designed
that would handle the first two cases pretty well, but it would be
tough to design a VM subsystem that could handle all three "ideally".
Perhaps the solution is to identify those core differences (would we
*really* want to scan all of a 64 GB physical memory for page aging
every second? Could we? What about the impacts of such page touches
on the processor cache for those 16+ CPUs?).

Once those key differences are identified, you can think about solutions
which work better for one or the other, consider an abstraction or
callout layer which allows you to choose the right algorithm based on,
say, physical memory size at boot time.

Without identifying some sort of profile or profiles, reworking the
VM subsystem will simply be redesigning out the current bugs, rather
than solving the "real" problem - e.g. how to do memory management on
today's systems.

I'd love to hear Linus' vision of the ideal system profiles that
Linux could address in the 2.5 timeframe. Trying to be everything
to everyone all the time means that pretty much everyone is going
to be unhappy. However, if you can find the sweet spots (e.g. it
has been the 486-Pentium class desktop with 16-64 MB memory, single
user environment, IMHO) and design for them, you have at least a couple
of sets of happy people, and a lot more that are only off a little


> On Tue, 1 Aug 2000, Rik van Riel wrote:
> > >
> > > Quite frankly, nobody has convinced me that there any way to fix VM
> > > balancing issues even _if_ people were to re-write the VM.
> >
> > Nobody asks of you that you read all your email. However, I
> > believe that most of the ideas for the new VM were CCd to
> > you ;)
> I've seen a lot of discussion, yes.
> I haven't seen any really convining arguments that any of the rewrites
> would really make things all that better.
> Yes, they'll probably fix the thing that you try to fix. And they'll
> introduce new cases where _they_ work badly, and the old code happened to
> work fine.
> For example, the "dd if=/dev/zero of=file" thing can be made to be very
> nice on interactive behaviour, and you can obviously design a VM subsystem
> that does that on purpose. Fine. I bet you that such a VM subsystem has
> serious problems with some other workloads..
> Or the old idea to start writebacks early in order to try to minimize
> having dirty pages in memory that are hard to get rid of. It's wonderful.
> For certain loads. And it really sucks on others that have big temp-files
> that will get deleted (like bench).
> The thing that is dangerous about designing a new VM is that you can
> design it so that it avoids the current pitfalls. But you won't even be
> aware of the things that the current thing does well, and you may not
> design it to do as well on those.
> And in the end, reality always tends to hit theory hard in the face when
> you least expect it. That's why I'm not holding my breath for some magical
> VM rewrite that will fix all performance problems. No matter _how_ much
> people talk about it..
> Linus

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