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SubjectRe: swap-prefetch: A smart way to make good use of idle resources (was: updatedb)
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Chris Snook wrote:
> Al Boldi wrote:
> > IMHO, what everybody agrees on, is that swap-prefetch has a positive
> > effect in some cases, and nobody can prove an adverse effect (excluding
> > power consumption). The reason for this positive effect is also crystal
> > clear: It prefetches from swap on idle into free memory, ie: it doesn't
> > force anybody out, and they are the first to be dropped without further
> > swap-out, which sounds really smart.
> >
> > Conclusion: Either prove swap-prefetch is broken, or get this merged
> > quick.
>
> If you can't prove why it helps and doesn't hurt, then it's a hack, by
> definition.

Ok, slow down: swap-prefetch isn't a hack. It's a kernel-thread that adds
swap-prefetch functionality to the kernel.

> With swap prefetch, we're only optimizing the case when the box isn't
> loaded and there's RAM free, but we're not optimizing the case when the
> box is heavily loaded and we need for RAM to be free.

Exactly, swap-prefetch is very specific, and that's why it's so successful:
It does one thing, and it does that very well.

> I'm inclined to view swap prefetch as a successful scientific experiment,
> and use that data to inform a more reasoned engineering effort. If we can
> design something intelligent which happens to behave more or less like
> swap prefetch does under the circumstances where swap prefetch helps, and
> does something else smart under the circumstances where swap prefetch
> makes no discernable difference, it'll be a much bigger improvement.

Well, a swapless OS would really be the ultimate, but that's another thread
entirely (see thread: '[RFC] VM: I have a dream...')

Don't mistake swap-prefetch as trying to additionally fix swap-in slowdown,
and if it did, then that would be a hack, but it doesn't.

Instead, understand that swap-prefetch is viable even if all swapper issues
have been solved, because swapping implies pages being swapped in when
needed, and swap-prefetch smartly uses idle time to do so.

> Because we cannot prove why the existing patch helps, we cannot say what
> impact it will have when things like virtualization and solid state drives
> radically change the coefficients of the equation we have not solved.
> Providing a sysctl to turn off a misbehaving feature is a poor substitute
> for doing it right the first time, and leaving it off by default will
> ensure that it only gets used by the handful of people who know enough to
> rebuild with the patch anyway.

But we do know why it helps: a proc eats memory, then page-cache, then swaps
others out, and then dies to free its memory, and now swap-prefetch comes in
if the system is idle. Sounds really smart.

While many people may definitely benefit, others may just want to turn it
off. No harm done.


Thanks!

--
Al
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