Performance Monitoring Tools for Linux
For the last few years, I have been supporting users on various flavors of UNIX systems and have found the System Accounting Reports data invaluable for performance analysis. When I began using Linux for my personal workstation, the lack of a similar performance data collection and reporting tool set was a real problem. It's hard to get management to upgrade your system when you have no data to back up your claims of “I need more POWER!”. Thus, I started looking for a package to get the information I needed, and found out there wasn't any. I fell back on the last resort—I wrote my own, using as many existing tools as possible. I came up with scripts that collect data and display it graphically in an X11 window or hard copy.
To get a good idea of how a system is performing, watch key system resources over a period of time to see how their usage and availability changes depending upon what's running on the system. The following categories of system resources are ones I wished to track.
CPU Utilization: The central processing unit, as viewed from Linux, is always in one of the following states:
idle: available for work, waiting
user: high-level functions, data movement, math, etc.
system: performing kernel functions, I/O and other hardware interaction
nice: like user, a job with low priority will yield the CPU to another task with a higher priority
By noting the percentage of time spent in each state, we can discover overloading of one state or another. Too much idle means nothing is being done; too much system time indicates a need for faster I/O or additional devices to spread the load. Each system will have its own profile when running its workload, and by watching these numbers over time, we can determine what's normal for that system. Once a baseline is established, we can easily detect changes in the profile.
Interrupts: Most I/O devices use interrupts to signal the CPU when there is work for it to do. For example, SCSI controllers will raise an interrupt to signal that a requested disk block has been read and is available in memory. A serial port with a mouse on it will generate an interrupt each time a button is pressed/released or when the mouse is moved. Watching the count of each interrupt can give you a rough idea of how much load the associated device is handling.
Context Switching: Time slicing is the term often used to describe how computers can appear to be doing multiple jobs at once. Each task is given control of the system for a certain “slice” of time, and when that time is up, the system saves the state of the running process and gives control of the system to another process, making sure that the necessary resources are available. This administrative process is called context switching. In some operating systems, the cost of this switching can be fairly expensive, sometimes using more resources than the processes it is switching. Linux is very good in this respect, but by watching the amount of this activity, you will learn to recognize when a system has a lot of tasks actively consuming resources.
Memory: When many processes are running and using up available memory, the system will slow down as processes get paged or swapped out to make room for other processes to run. When the time slice is exhausted, that task may have to be written out to the paging device to make way for the next process. Memory-utilization graphs help point out memory problems.
Paging: As mentioned above, when available memory begins to get scarce, the virtual memory system will start writing pages of real memory out to the swap device, freeing up space for active processes. Disk drives are fast, but when paging gets beyond a certain point, the system can spend all of its time shuttling pages in and out. Paging on a Linux system can also be increased by the loading of programs, as Linux “demand pages” each portion of an executable as needed.
Swapping: Swapping is much like paging. However, it migrates entire process images, consisting of many pages of memory, from real memory to the swap devices rather than the usual page-by-page mechanism normally used for paging.
Disk I/O: Linux keeps statistics on the first four disks; total I/O, reads, writes, block reads and block writes. These numbers can show uneven loading of multiple disks and show the balance of reads versus writes.
Network I/O: Network I/O can be used to diagnose problems and examine loading of the network interface(s). The statistics show traffic in and out, collisions, and errors encountered in both directions.
These charts can also help in the following instances:
The system is running jobs you aren't aware of during hours when you are not present.
Someone is logging on or remotely running commands on the system without your knowledge.
This sort of information will often show up as a spike in the charts at times when the system should have been idle. Sudden increases in activity can also be due to jobs run by crontab.