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Subject[PATCH v10 2/4] xen/blkback: Squeeze page pools if a memory pressure is detected
From: SeongJae Park <>

Each `blkif` has a free pages pool for the grant mapping. The size of
the pool starts from zero and is increased on demand while processing
the I/O requests. If current I/O requests handling is finished or 100
milliseconds has passed since last I/O requests handling, it checks and
shrinks the pool to not exceed the size limit, `max_buffer_pages`.

Therefore, host administrators can cause memory pressure in blkback by
attaching a large number of block devices and inducing I/O. Such
problematic situations can be avoided by limiting the maximum number of
devices that can be attached, but finding the optimal limit is not so
easy. Improper set of the limit can results in memory pressure or a
resource underutilization. This commit avoids such problematic
situations by squeezing the pools (returns every free page in the pool
to the system) for a while (users can set this duration via a module
parameter) if memory pressure is detected.


The `blkback`'s original shrinking mechanism returns only pages in the
pool which are not currently be used by `blkback` to the system. In
other words, the pages that are not mapped with granted pages. Because
this commit is changing only the shrink limit but still uses the same
freeing mechanism it does not touch pages which are currently mapping

Once memory pressure is detected, this commit keeps the squeezing limit
for a user-specified time duration. The duration should be neither too
long nor too short. If it is too long, the squeezing incurring overhead
can reduce the I/O performance. If it is too short, `blkback` will not
free enough pages to reduce the memory pressure. This commit sets the
value as `10 milliseconds` by default because it is a short time in
terms of I/O while it is a long time in terms of memory operations.
Also, as the original shrinking mechanism works for at least every 100
milliseconds, this could be a somewhat reasonable choice. I also tested
other durations (refer to the below section for more details) and
confirmed that 10 milliseconds is the one that works best with the test.
That said, the proper duration depends on actual configurations and
workloads. That's why this commit allows users to set the duration as a
module parameter.

Memory Pressure Test

To show how this commit fixes the memory pressure situation well, I
configured a test environment on a xen-running virtualization system.
On the `blkfront` running guest instances, I attach a large number of
network-backed volume devices and induce I/O to those. Meanwhile, I
measure the number of pages that swapped in (pswpin) and out (pswpout)
on the `blkback` running guest. The test ran twice, once for the
`blkback` before this commit and once for that after this commit. As
shown below, this commit has dramatically reduced the memory pressure:

pswpin pswpout
before 76,672 185,799
after 212 3,325

Optimal Aggressive Shrinking Duration

To find a best squeezing duration, I repeated the test with three
different durations (1ms, 10ms, and 100ms). The results are as below:

duration pswpin pswpout
1 852 6,424
10 212 3,325
100 203 3,340

As expected, the memory pressure has decreased as the duration is
increased, but the reduction stopped from the `10ms`. Based on this
results, I chose the default duration as 10ms.

Performance Overhead Test

This commit could incur I/O performance degradation under severe memory
pressure because the squeezing will require more page allocations per
I/O. To show the overhead, I artificially made a worst-case squeezing
situation and measured the I/O performance of a `blkfront` running

For the artificial squeezing, I set the `blkback.max_buffer_pages` using
the `/sys/module/xen_blkback/parameters/max_buffer_pages` file. In this
test, I set the value to `1024` and `0`. The `1024` is the default
value. Setting the value as `0` is same to a situation doing the
squeezing always (worst-case).

If the underlying block device is slow enough, the squeezing overhead
could be hidden. For the reason, I use a fast block device, namely the

# xl block-attach guest phy:/dev/ram0 xvdb w

For the I/O performance measurement, I run a simple `dd` command 5 times
directly to the device as below and collect the 'MB/s' results.

$ for i in {1..5}; do dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/xvdb \
bs=4k count=$((256*512)); sync; done

The results are as below. 'max_pgs' represents the value of the
`blkback.max_buffer_pages` parameter.

max_pgs Min Max Median Avg Stddev
0 417 423 420 419.4 2.5099801
1024 414 425 416 417.8 4.4384682
No difference proven at 95.0% confidence

In short, even worst case squeezing on ramdisk based fast block device
makes no visible performance degradation. Please note that this is just
a very simple and minimal test. On systems using super-fast block
devices and a special I/O workload, the results might be different. If
you have any doubt, test on your machine with your workload to find the
optimal squeezing duration for you.


Reviewed-by: Roger Pau Monné <>
Signed-off-by: SeongJae Park <>
.../ABI/testing/sysfs-driver-xen-blkback | 10 +++++++++
drivers/block/xen-blkback/blkback.c | 7 +++++--
drivers/block/xen-blkback/common.h | 1 +
drivers/block/xen-blkback/xenbus.c | 21 ++++++++++++++++++-
4 files changed, 36 insertions(+), 3 deletions(-)

diff --git a/Documentation/ABI/testing/sysfs-driver-xen-blkback b/Documentation/ABI/testing/sysfs-driver-xen-blkback
index 4e7babb3ba1f..f01224231f3f 100644
--- a/Documentation/ABI/testing/sysfs-driver-xen-blkback
+++ b/Documentation/ABI/testing/sysfs-driver-xen-blkback
@@ -25,3 +25,13 @@ Description:
allocated without being in use. The time is in
seconds, 0 means indefinitely long.
The default is 60 seconds.
+What: /sys/module/xen_blkback/parameters/buffer_squeeze_duration_ms
+Date: December 2019
+KernelVersion: 5.5
+Contact: SeongJae Park <>
+ When memory pressure is reported to blkback this option
+ controls the duration in milliseconds that blkback will not
+ cache any page not backed by a grant mapping.
+ The default is 10ms.
diff --git a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/blkback.c b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/blkback.c
index fd1e19f1a49f..79f677aeb5cc 100644
--- a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/blkback.c
+++ b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/blkback.c
@@ -656,8 +656,11 @@ int xen_blkif_schedule(void *arg)
ring->next_lru = jiffies + msecs_to_jiffies(LRU_INTERVAL);

- /* Shrink if we have more than xen_blkif_max_buffer_pages */
- shrink_free_pagepool(ring, xen_blkif_max_buffer_pages);
+ /* Shrink the free pages pool if it is too large. */
+ if (time_before(jiffies, blkif->buffer_squeeze_end))
+ shrink_free_pagepool(ring, 0);
+ else
+ shrink_free_pagepool(ring, xen_blkif_max_buffer_pages);

if (log_stats && time_after(jiffies, ring->st_print))
diff --git a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/common.h b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/common.h
index 1d3002d773f7..536c84f61fed 100644
--- a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/common.h
+++ b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/common.h
@@ -319,6 +319,7 @@ struct xen_blkif {
/* All rings for this device. */
struct xen_blkif_ring *rings;
unsigned int nr_rings;
+ unsigned long buffer_squeeze_end;

struct seg_buf {
diff --git a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/xenbus.c b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/xenbus.c
index b90dbcd99c03..4f6ea4feca79 100644
--- a/drivers/block/xen-blkback/xenbus.c
+++ b/drivers/block/xen-blkback/xenbus.c
@@ -824,6 +824,24 @@ static void frontend_changed(struct xenbus_device *dev,

+/* Once a memory pressure is detected, squeeze free page pools for a while. */
+static unsigned int buffer_squeeze_duration_ms = 10;
+ buffer_squeeze_duration_ms, int, 0644);
+"Duration in ms to squeeze pages buffer when a memory pressure is detected");
+ * Callback received when the memory pressure is detected.
+ */
+static void reclaim_memory(struct xenbus_device *dev)
+ struct backend_info *be = dev_get_drvdata(&dev->dev);
+ be->blkif->buffer_squeeze_end = jiffies +
+ msecs_to_jiffies(buffer_squeeze_duration_ms);
/* ** Connection ** */

@@ -1115,7 +1133,8 @@ static struct xenbus_driver xen_blkbk_driver = {
.ids = xen_blkbk_ids,
.probe = xen_blkbk_probe,
.remove = xen_blkbk_remove,
- .otherend_changed = frontend_changed
+ .otherend_changed = frontend_changed,
+ .reclaim_memory = reclaim_memory,

int xen_blkif_xenbus_init(void)
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