Watching performance on a DHCP Server

Blake Hudson blake at
Fri Feb 8 17:32:57 UTC 2008

-------- Original Message  --------
Subject: Re: Watching performance on a DHCP Server
From: David W. Hankins <David_Hankins at>
To: dhcp-users at
Date: Friday, February 08, 2008 10:55:14 AM
> On Thu, Feb 07, 2008 at 06:07:51PM -0600, Blake Hudson wrote:
>> By default in my distribution the leases file is stored in 
>> /var/lib/dhcpd/dhcpd.leases. This happens to be on a RAID1 array with 
>> 15k scsi disks and iostat shows the array as being maxed out once it 
>> reaches ~ 300 I/O's per second. DHCP logging is done asynchronously to 
>> the same array (which normally experiences ~ 50 I/O ops). With CPU and 
>> memory barely breaking a sweat, this leads me to believe that the 
>> limitation is with the disks (lots of tiny writes).
>> I could move the leases file to a different array, or to tmpfs, but 
>> before I do I just want to know if these results are typical and that I 
>> have interpreted the test data correctly and made the correct 
>> determination as to the bottleneck.
> those results are typical for that kind of hardware, and you have
> interpreted the test data correctly: fsync() is the biggest
> bottleneck.
> in 4.1.0a1, you will find a feature, however, which was provided to
> us in a patch by Christof Chen.  it permits the server to queue
> multiple ACKs behind a single fsync(); default 28 (576 byte DHCP
> packets filling default socket buffer send sizes).  the burst of acks
> are sent presently if the sockets go dry, and shortly will be backed
> up with a sub-second timeout.
> it has some bugs we're working on, particularly with failover, but
> we'll address those in alpha.
> you may find that it provides some form of multiplicative benefit to
> your performance stats, since fsync() is the bottleneck, and now there
> are 28 acks per fsync max.
> so if you are only pushing 50 requests/s currently, you may live
> comfortably in a 250 request/s buffer for some months until the
> 4.1.x code is stable?
>> Also, I would appreciate any anecdotal evidence with regards to how many 
>> requests are typical in a large network under normal (or abnormal) 
>> conditions. If 10,000 users all of a sudden came online, how many 
>> requests would they really generate per second?
> there have been a few folks who suffered mass power outages, i don't
> know what search query to use, but you can find them on the old
> dhcp-server mailing list.  they did not report problems, rather the
> surprise at the lack of problem.
Thanks for the follow up David, I was actually just typing a response to 
your 2006 post entitled "Synthetic benchmarks". Which confirmed the 
results being typical and lead me to take another look at my disk 
subsystem. I was able to increase speed dramatically by enabling the 
write-back cache on this array.

As I mentioned, these are beefy servers with redundant CPU, PSU, battery 
backed up RAID, and redundant uninterrupted power sources. They've never 
experienced any downtime of any kind since being put in place 1 to 2 
years ago. -Perhaps I was just a bit paranoid by using write-through. 
But perhaps so is DHCP with its frequent fsync calls.

Half of my hosts are manually assigned within the dhcpd config file, 
which should speed up the process greatly, though I am going to be 
adding dynamically assigned leases in the near future. dhcperf has shown 
me that even if I am inundated with a deluge of requests, I should be 
able to successfully answer several hundred each minute leading to a 
relatively short period of convergence.

Perhaps the folks that I referenced who had problems (1-3 days of 
downtime), really just need a clue about how to properly configure their 

I'm glad that ISC is continuing development on DHCP, it seems like major 
gains in performance can be accomplished relatively easily by either 
combining writes or writing asynchronously. Although, I was a bit 
surprised that the leases table is not kept (and managed) in memory. And 
that since dhcpd currently relies so heavily on disk, that it has not 
taken advantage of any file system or disk performance enhancing 
features. I look forward to upgrading to 4.1, though I will likely wait 
until it has been integrated into my distribution for further testing.


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