You log in to a Linux server with a performance issue: what do you check in the first minute?

At Netflix we have a massive EC2 Linux cloud, and numerous performance analysis tools to monitor and investigate its performance. These include Atlas for cloud-wide monitoring, and Vector for on-demand instance analysis. While those tools help us solve most issues, we sometimes need to login to an instance and run some standard Linux performance tools.

In this post, the Netflix Performance Engineering team will show you the first 60 seconds of an optimized performance investigation at the command line, using standard Linux tools you should have available. In 60 seconds you can get a high level idea of system resource usage and running processes by running the following ten commands. Look for errors and saturation metrics, as they are both easy to interpret, and then resource utilization. Saturation is where a resource has more load than it can handle, and can be exposed either as the length of a request queue, or time spent waiting.

dmesg | tail
vmstat 1
mpstat -P ALL 1
pidstat 1
iostat -xz 1
free -m
sar -n DEV 1
sar -n TCP,ETCP 1

Some of these commands require the sysstat package installed. The metrics these commands expose will help you complete some of the USE Method: a methodology for locating performance bottlenecks. This involves checking utilization, saturation, and error metrics for all resources (CPUs, memory, disks, e.t.c.). Also pay attention to when you have checked and exonerated a resource, as by process of elimination this narrows the targets to study, and directs any follow on investigation.

The following sections summarize these commands, with examples from a production system. For more information about these tools, see their man pages.

23:51:26 up 21:31, 1 user, load average: 30.02, 26.43, 19.02

This is a quick way to view the load averages, which indicate the number of tasks (processes) wanting to run. On Linux systems, these numbers include processes wanting to run on CPU, as well as processes blocked in uninterruptible I/O (usually disk I/O). This gives a high level idea of resource load (or demand), but can’t be properly understood without other tools. Worth a quick look only.

The three numbers are exponentially damped moving sum averages with a 1 minute, 5 minute, and 15 minute constant. The three numbers give us some idea of how load is changing over time. For example, if you’ve been asked to check a problem server, and the 1 minute value is much lower than the 15 minute value, then you might have logged in too late and missed the issue.

In the example above, the load averages show a recent increase, hitting 30 for the 1 minute value, compared to 19 for the 15 minute value. That the numbers are this large means a lot of something: probably CPU demand; vmstat or mpstat will confirm, which are commands 3 and 4 in this sequence.

$dmesg | tail
[1880957.563150] perl invoked oom-killer: gfp_mask=0x280da, order=0, oom_score_adj=0
[1880957.563400] Out of memory: Kill process 18694 (perl) score 246 or sacrifice child
[1880957.563408] Killed process 18694 (perl) total-vm:1972392kB, anon-rss:1953348kB, file-rss:0kB
[2320864.954447] TCP: Possible SYN flooding on port 7001. Dropping request.  Check SNMP counters.

This views the last 10 system messages, if there are any. Look for errors that can cause performance issues. The example above includes the oom-killer, and TCP dropping a request.

Don’t miss this step! dmesg is always worth checking.

$vmstat 1
procs ---------memory---------- ---swap-- -----io---- -system-- ------cpu-----
 r  b swpd   free   buff  cache   si   so    bi    bo   in   cs us sy id wa st
34  0    0 200889792  73708 591828    0    0     0     5    6   10 96  1  3  0  0
32  0    0 200889920  73708 591860    0    0     0   592 13284 4282 98  1  1  0  0
32  0    0 200890112  73708 591860    0    0     0     0 9501 2154 99  1  0  0  0
32  0    0 200889568  73712 591856    0    0     0    48 11900 2459 99  0  0  0  0
32  0    0 200890208  73712 591860    0    0     0     0 15898 4840 98  1  1  0  0

Short for virtual memory stat, vmstat(8) is a commonly available tool (first created for BSD decades ago). It prints a summary of key server statistics on each line.

vmstat was run with an argument of 1, to print one second summaries. The first line of output (in this version of vmstat) has some columns that show the average since boot, instead of the previous second. For now, skip the first line, unless you want to learn and remember which column is which.

Columns to check: