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64-bit Asynchronous Page Fault Service (PFAULT)


The purpose of this experiment was to measure the effect of a Linux guest's exploitation of z/VM's PFAULT asynchronous page fault service and compare that effect to the same guest's exploitation of z/VM's similar (but much older) PAGEX asynchronous page fault service.

Executive Summary of Results

As an SPE to z/VM Version 4 Release 2.0, and as service to z/VM 4.1.0 and z/VM 3.1.0, IBM introduced a new asynchronous page fault service, PFAULT. This differs from our previous service, PAGEX, in that PFAULT is both 31-bit-capable and 64-bit-capable. PAGEX is 31-bit only.

We constructed a Linux workload that was both page-fault-intensive and continuously dispatchable. We used said workload to evaluate the benefit Linux could gain from using an asynchronous page fault service such as PFAULT or PAGEX.

We found that the benefit was dramatic. In our experiments, the Linux guest was able to run other work a large fraction of the time it was waiting for a page fault to resolve.

We also found that in our experiments with 31-bit Linux guests, the benefits of PAGEX and PFAULT could not be distinguished from one another.


2064-109, LPAR with 2 dedicated CPUs, 1 GB real storage, 2 GB expanded storage, LPAR dedicated to this experiment. DASD is RAMAC-1 behind 3990-6 controller.


System Software  z/VM 4.2.0, with the PFAULT APAR (VM62840) installed. A 31-bit Linux 2.4.7 internal development driver, close to GA level. A 64-bit Linux 2.4.7 internal development driver. We configured each Linux virtual machine with 128 MB of main storage, no swap partition, and its root file system residing on a DEDICATEd 3390 volume.

Applications  We wrote two applications for this measurement:

  • The first program was a "thrasher" that randomized page visits. This program allocated 96 MB worth of 4 KB buffers and then ran 10 60-second experiments, sequentially. For each experiment, the program printed a "score" indicating the number of randomized buffer references it completed. It then printed the mean and standard deviation of the scores, released all of the 4 KB buffers, and exited.

  • The second was a "CPU burner" that ran a tight loop incrementing a counter. It ran 10 60-second experiments, sequentially, for each experiment printing a "score" indicative of the number of times it incremented the counter. At the end of the 10 experiments, the program printed the mean and standard deviation of the scores and then exited.


The basic experiment consisted of this sequence of operations:

  1. Create three telnet sessions into the Linux guest: a control connection, a thrasher connection, and a burner connection. Log in on all three sessions.

  2. On the thrasher connection, start the thrasher. Wait for it to print a message indicating that thrashing has begun.

  3. On the burner connection, start the burner. Wait for it to print a message indicating that looping has begun.

  4. On the control connection, use Neale Ferguson's cpint package to issue CP QUERY TIME and capture the response.

  5. Wait for the thrasher and burner to both print the mean and standard deviation of their 10 scores.

  6. On the control connection, use Neale Ferguson's cpint package to issue CP QUERY TIME and capture the response.

  7. Wait for the thrasher and burner to return to the shell prompt.

  8. Logout on all three connections.

We ran our experiment in several different environments:

  • Choice of Linux: 31-bit or 64-bit

  • Asynchronous page fault method: none, PAGEX, or PFAULT (note: 64-bit Linux does not support PAGEX)

  • Storage: storage-rich or storage-constrained

During each experiment, the only virtual machines logged on were the Linux guest itself and a PVM machine.

Some notes about the two storage models we ran:

  • For the storage-rich environment, we made sure that the AVAIL value printed by CP QUERY FRAMES showed us that all of our virtual machines completely fit into the CP dynamic paging area (DPA), so that no paging would happen. (In fact we had about four times as much DPA as we needed.)

  • For the storage-constrained environment, we used CP's LOCK command to lock the PVM machine's entire address spaces into real storage. We then used CP SET TRACEFRAMES to push AVAIL down to 16384 frames (64 MB) -- that is, 50% of the Linux guest's virtual storage size. We also disabled expanded storage so that all paging would occur to DASD.


In the following table, the run ID aas8nXm encodes the test environment, like this:

aa Architecture mode: 31-bit or 64-bit
s Storage: Rich or Constrained
8n 80 for PFAULT disabled; 81 for PFAULT enabled
Xm X0 for PAGEX disabled; X1 for PAGEX enabled

Run ID Run duration (mm:ss) Virtual CPU time (mm:ss.hh) CP CPU time (mm:ss.hh) Thrasher score (N/m/sd) Burner score (N/m/sd)
31R80X0 10:06 10:05.75 0.21 10/39536259/1763419 10/2901/45
31R80X1 10:06 10:05.86 0.20 10/39152366/1767989 10/2903/42
31R81X0 10:06 10:05.20 0.19 10/38868525/1515762 10/2903/64
31C80X0 11:54 4:26.05 0.80 10/14380/2766 10/2576/116
31C80X1 10:51 9:44.23 0.63 10/2489/326 10/5672/137
31C81X0 10:06 9:49.56 0.52 10/2545/802 10/5652/226
64R80X0 10:06 10:05.46 0.20 10/25875895/1132750 10/1342/37
64R81X0 10:06 10:05.36 0.19 10/25884417/1145848 10/1342/47
64C80X0 10:07 4:27.41 0.69 10/16179/2755 10/1210/55
64C81X0 9:59 8:58.97 2.12 10/27202/3120 10/2425/102
Note: 2064-109, LPAR with 2 dedicated CPUs, 1 GB real, 2 GB XSTORE, LPAR dedicated to these runs. RAMAC-1 behind 3990-6. z/VM 4.2.0 with PFAULT APAR. Linux 2.4, 31-bit and 64-bit, internal lab drivers. 128 MB Linux virtual machine, no swap partition, Linux DASD is DEDICATEd 3390 volume, not CMS formatted. Table values of the form N/m/sd decode as number of samples taken, mean of the samples, and standard deviation of the samples.


  • We used a twin-tailed t-test to compare the thrasher and burner scores for the 31-bit storage-rich cases. There was no statistically significant difference among either.

  • For the storage-rich cases, notice that the Linux guest used almost all of the available wall clock time as CPU time. This is to be expected since the guest was not taking any page faults.

  • For the 31-bit, storage-constrained, unassisted case, notice that the Linux machine used only about 4-1/2 minutes of virtual CPU during the run, even though it always had a runnable process. This points out the amount of CPU opportunity the guest missed by not taking advantage of some kind of page fault assist. The "missing CPU time" is the time the Linux guest spent waiting for faults to be resolved instead of running something else.

  • For the 31-bit, storage-constrained, PAGEX and PFAULT cases, notice that the guest returned to using nearly all of the run elapsed time as virtual CPU time. This is good news, for it shows that the page fault assist functioned as intended. The Linux guest overlapped execution of the burner process with waiting for CP to resolve page faults for the thrasher.

  • We used a twin-tailed t-test to compare the thrasher and burner scores for the two 31-bit, storage-constrained, assisted cases (PAGEX and PFAULT). We found no statistically significant difference between them.

  • Comparing the 31-bit, storage-constrained, unassisted case to either of the corresponding assisted cases, we see from the thrasher and burner scores that the burner got more CPU time in the assisted case and the thrasher got less. This makes sense because each time the Linux guest takes a page fault, it stops running the thrasher, switches to the burner, and runs the burner for a whole timer tick. Contrast this with the unassisted case where the thrasher can squeeze in several page faults during its timer tick, even though it spends much of the tick waiting for synchronous resolution of page faults.

  • We used a twin-tailed t-test to compare the thrasher and burner scores for the 64-bit storage-rich cases. We found no statistically significant difference.

  • For the 64-bit, storage-constrained, unassisted case, notice once again that the Linux guest used just a little less than half of the available CPU time. We again see the missed opportunity for CPU consumption.

  • For the 64-bit, storage-constrained, PFAULT-assisted case, notice that the CPU consumption rose dramatically compared to the unassisted case. Here again we see the benefit of the assist.

  • In the storage-constrained cases we sometimes found that it took a nontrivial amount of wall clock time to load and run the cpint package in the control connection, especially at the end of the experiment. This was why in some cases the recorded elapsed time was significantly longer than 10 minutes.

  • We recognize that using cpint to collect our CPU time samples slightly skews the results, for the package itself uses virtual and CP time to run. We believe the skew is least severe in the storage-rich cases, because no faults happen when cpint runs. We believe the skew is most severe in the storage-constrained, asynchronous-page-fault case, because faults are happening and asynchronous faults are the most expensive ones in terms of CPU time used per fault. Here again we can reinforce the fact that using asynchronous page faults does not decrease the cost of page faults; it just gives the virtual machine an opportunity to run something else while it is waiting for CP to resolve a fault.


It is important to realize that the goal of our experiment was to determine whether Linux would consume all of a given wall clock period as virtual CPU, if the Linux guest were known to be continuously dispatchable and if CP were able to inform the Linux guest about page fault waits. We specifically constructed our test case so that the Linux guest always had a runnable process to dispatch. We then played with our machine's real storage configuration so as to force Linux to operate in a page-fault-intensive environment. We watched how Linux responded to the notifications. We saw that Linux did in fact do other work while waiting for CP to resolve faults. We considered this result to constitute "better performance" for our experiment.

In some customer environments, asynchronous page fault resolution might hurt performance rather than help it. If the Linux workload consists of one paging-intensive application and no other runnable work, the extra CPU cost (both CP and virtual) of resolving page faults asynchronously (interrupt delivery, Linux redispatch, and so on) is incurred to no benefit. In other words, because the Linux guest has no other work to which it can switch while waiting for faults to resolve, spending the extra CPU to notify it of these opportunities is pointless and in fact wasteful. In such environments, it would be better to configure the system so that the Linux guest's faults are resolved synchronously. 1

Taking advantage of ready CPU time is not the only reason to configure a Linux system for asynchronous page faults. Improving response time is another possible benefit. If the Linux guest's workload consists of a paging-intensive application and an interactive application, resolving faults asynchronously might let the Linux guest start terminal I/Os while waiting for faults to complete. This might result in the Linux guest exhibiting faster or more consistent response time, albeit at a higher CPU utilization rate.

The bottom line here is that each customer must evaluate the asynchronous page fault technology in his specific environment. He must gather data for both the synchronous and asynchronous page fault cases, compare the two cases, decide which configuration exhibits "better performance", and then deploy accordingly.


PAGEX and PFAULT both give the Linux guest an opportunity to run other work while waiting for a page fault to be resolved. The Linux guest does a good job of putting that time to use. But whether the change in execution characteristics produced by asynchronous page faults constitutes "better performance" is something each customer must decide for himself.


#CP DISABLE DIAGNOSE 258 to disable PFAULT system-wide, or put "nopfault" in the Linux boot parameters to disable it for a specific guest. There is no corresponding "nopagex" parameter, but #CP SET PAGEX OFF when the Linux guest finishes IPLing is a safe way to disable PAGEX.

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