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I have a virtual server hosting multiple small sites in a LAMP environment. The system was originally a Debian 4, later dist-upgraded to Debian 5. It has 1GB dedicated and 1GB shared RAM and 20GB storage space.

Recently the system has started to display some alarming tendencies to randomly slow down when writing files to the file system (/dev/vzfs). When these bursts of slowness happen, the loads start going up but the processor stays mainly idle - even the IO wait percentage stays mostly at zero. Here's an overview of the most recent time I encountered the problem, while saving a 1kB Apache configuration file that took about 20 seconds to save:

top - 18:05:38 up 274 days, 11:50,  4 users,  load average: 0.71, 0.25, 0.08
Tasks:  54 total,   1 running,  53 sleeping,   0 stopped,   0 zombie
Cpu(s):  0.0%us,  0.0%sy,  0.0%ni, 99.9%id,  0.0%wa,  0.0%hi,  0.0%si,  0.0%st
Mem:   2097152k total,   471044k used,  1626108k free,        0k buffers
Swap:        0k total,        0k used,        0k free,        0k cached

I'm mainly a coder and don't have much system administration experience, so I'm not sure where I should start looking. Any pointers are much appreciated.

Update: The standard system logs didn't contain anything useful information regarding this case, so I contacted the service provider asking if the host system is overloaded. They responded that the system load is normal, but my container seems to be occasionally exceeding it's resource allocations. Here are the lines from /proc/user_beancounters that have a failcnt > 0:

       uid  resource                     held              maxheld              barrier                limit              failcnt
            shmpages                     9744                19470                19567                19567                    1
            tcpsndbuf                  306232              2453448              2449232              3598712             42347113
            tcprcvbuf                  299568              2459056              2449232              3598712                 1640
            othersockbuf               101640               843592               844366              1481926                  140
            numfile                      3100                 6000                 6000                 6000                   11

The one I'm exceeding the most is tcpsndbuf by a clear margin. However, I'm guessing this shouldn't affect the file system performance. The numfile has been exceeded 11 times (is this number an all-time total or since the last reboot?) and sounds like something that could be the cause of the problem. Half of the open files seem to belong to apache2, who has every log file and .so open for all of it's processes. Maybe switching to Lighttpd or Nginx could help? I'll check the beancounters next time the system slows down and see if that gives any clues.

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Have a look at /var/log/messages and dmesg first. – quanta Jul 30 '11 at 15:29

Your VPS host is overloaded. You're not doing very much, but other people on the host are and it's slowing things down for everyone. Welcome to the fun world of VPSes (and, worse, Parallels VPSes, where profit is made by adding customers infinitely). I'd recommend finding a decent VPS provider, not the cheapest.

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That's what I'm afraid of. Up until recently it has worked fine, especially for a dirt cheap VPS. Is there some reliable way to distinguish a good provider from one who is just charging more? – Kaivosukeltaja Jul 30 '11 at 18:07
That would be an excellent question to ask on Server Fault. <grin> Asking questions in comments doesn't get you good answers. – womble Jul 30 '11 at 18:09
Point taken. :) – Kaivosukeltaja Jul 30 '11 at 18:43

"vzfs" may also be a "hint" here to the use of zfs, which can be very load intensive depending which of its features are being utilized - e.g. compression, deduplication, etc. You might consider taking an inventory of what is being used and how effective it may for your particular use.


If deduplication is enabled, but the deduplicaiton ratios are relatively low, then it may be worthy consideration in disabling it to recover some processing/performance headroom.

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No, vzfs is a "hint" that it's a Virtuozzo VM. – womble Jul 30 '11 at 16:06
Thanks for the clarification - yet another case of acronym confusion. – user48838 Jul 30 '11 at 16:10

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