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Transparent huge memory pages and Splunk performance

Some distributions of Linux (for example, Red Hat, CentOS, and Ubuntu) have an advanced memory management scheme called Transparent Huge Pages (THP). THP acts as an abstraction layer that lets the memory management units (MMUs) in a Linux host work with huge memory pages. With THP, this work occurs without specific action on the behalf of the administrator or the software that runs on the host.

Every CPU in a modern host has an MMU. The MMU manages memory in pages, and huge pages are structures that let MMUs manage multiple gigabytes and terabytes of memory more efficiently.

THP has been associated with degradation of Splunk Enterprise performance in at least some Linux kernel versions (for example, the 2.6.32 kernel used in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6). When enabled, THP can significantly degrade overall system performance on systems that run Splunk Enterprise because of several issues:

  • The implementation is too aggressive at coalescing memory pages for short-lived processes (such as many Splunk searches)
  • It can prevent the jemalloc memory allocation implementation from releasing memory back to the operating system after use. The jemalloc implementation is more scalable version of the malloc implementation and has been used in newer distributions of Linux.
  • For some workloads, it can cause I/O regressions surrounding swapping of huge pages.

On systems with THP enabled, Splunk has observed a minimum of a 30% degradation in indexing and search performance, with a similar percentage increase in latency. For this reason, Splunk recommends that you disable THP in your Linux system configuration unless that system runs an application that requires THP.

In future versions of Linux, kernel engineers might find ways to improve the behavior of THP for the Splunk workload.

See the following pages for additional information about THP and how to disable it. Specific steps on disabling the feature are not shown here because the procedure differs on each distribution.

Workaround for Windows universal forwarder enabling inputs unexpectedly on installation or upgrade
Workaround for search optimization issues

This documentation applies to the following versions of Splunk® Enterprise: 6.0, 6.0.1, 6.0.2, 6.0.3, 6.0.4, 6.0.5, 6.0.6, 6.0.7, 6.0.8, 6.0.9, 6.0.10, 6.0.11, 6.0.12, 6.0.13, 6.1, 6.1.1, 6.1.2, 6.1.3, 6.1.4, 6.1.5, 6.1.6, 6.1.7, 6.1.8, 6.1.9, 6.1.10, 6.1.11, 6.1.12, 6.2.0, 6.2.1, 6.2.2, 6.2.3, 6.2.4, 6.2.5, 6.2.6, 6.2.7, 6.2.8, 6.2.9, 6.2.10, 6.2.11, 6.2.12, 6.2.13, 6.3.0, 6.3.1, 6.3.2, 6.3.3, 6.3.4, 6.3.5, 6.3.6, 6.3.7, 6.3.8, 6.3.9, 6.4.0, 6.4.1, 6.4.2, 6.4.3, 6.4.4, 6.4.5, 6.5.0, 6.5.1, 6.5.1612 (Splunk Cloud only), 6.5.2


Splunk Engineering (via a Support Case) just confirmed that disabled THP is still required in RHEL7. Engineering's comment was:

"AFAIK, the severe performance bug was fixed in later Linux kernels (circa kernel 4.x+, but not back-ported to rhel/centos 7.2) so that madvise is the default, and is reasonably safe to use. However, if the box is performing double duty, cycles will be spent to manage and defrag any use of THP outside of the Splunk process. Since we require dedicated ownership/use of the system, enabling THP for "alien" processes is not recommended."

I've given the Docs Team more details so they can update the page.

January 31, 2017

Thanks for reporting, Lewis! I filed a bug (SPL-133708).

Jlaw splunk, Splunker
December 8, 2016

I believe there is a problem with the script that checks to see if THP is disabled:
From https://access.redhat.com/solutions/46111


NOTE: Some third party application install scripts check value of above files and complain even if THP is disabled at boot time using transparent_hugepage=never, this is due to the fact when THP is disabled at boot time, the value of /sys/kernel/mm/redhat_transparent_hugepage/defrag will not be changed, however this is expected and system will never go in THP defragmentation code path when it is disabled at boot and THP defrag need not to be disabled separately.

A warning should not be raised in the Health Check if THP is disabled at boot time even if the defrag file is set to "always". Currently the Health Check is raising false warnings...

December 7, 2016

Question: This article seems to apply to Linux Kernel versions 2.6.32 Which is RHEL 6.

Does this THP issue also applies with to RHEL 7.2 Kernel 3.10.0-327.36.1.el7.x86_64 ?

October 3, 2016

This is a recommendation for all servers that run Splunk Enterprise.<br /><br />We specifically did not include detailed instructions because we want customers to proactively ensure that they have the most up-to-date information on disabling the setting, depending on the distribution they have.

December 19, 2013

Is this recommendation directed at only at hosts performing indexing? Or is this best practice on search heads too?<br /><br />To disable for RHEL/CentOS: echo never > /sys/kernel/mm/redhat_transparent_hugepage/enabled<br />or try with grub but maybe broken: see https://access.redhat.com/site/solutions/422283

December 19, 2013

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