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I'm having a problem with libvirt. On a system restart all virtual machines (VMs) are started without a problem and keep running. Then at some point in time a set of machines shuts down according to their log. When I try to restart the machine, I'm getting an error that the memory allocation failed, although more than enough memory is free.

server ~ # free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:      16176648   16025476     151172          0     285432     950300
-/+ buffers/cache:   14789744    1386904
Swap:            0          0          0
server ~ # virsh start zimbra
error: Failed to start domain zimbra
error: Unable to read from monitor: Connection reset by peer

server ~ # tail -n 4 /var/log/libvirt/qemu/zimbra.log
LC_ALL=C PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/bin QEMU_AUDIO_DRV=none /usr/bin/kvm -S -M pc-0.12 -enable-kvm -m 3072 -smp 2,sockets=2,cores=1,threads=1 -name zimbra -uuid d05ddb7a-83c4-a77b-d8bc-a322648520cf -nodefconfig -nodefaults -chardev socket,id=charmonitor,path=/var/lib/libvirt/qemu/zimbra.monitor,server,nowait -mon chardev=charmonitor,id=monitor,mode=control -rtc base=utc -no-shutdown -drive file=/var/lib/libvirt/images/zimbra.img,if=none,id=drive-ide0-0-0,format=raw -device ide-drive,bus=ide.0,unit=0,drive=drive-ide0-0-0,id=ide0-0-0,bootindex=1 -netdev tap,fd=19,id=hostnet0 -device rtl8139,netdev=hostnet0,id=net0,mac=52:54:00:21:a9:ad,bus=pci.0,addr=0x3 -chardev pty,id=charserial0 -device isa-serial,chardev=charserial0,id=serial0 -usb -vnc -k de -vga cirrus -device virtio-balloon-pci,id=balloon0,bus=pci.0,addr=0x4
char device redirected to /dev/pts/2
Failed to allocate 3221225472 B: Cannot allocate memory
2012-07-06 08:42:56.076+0000: shutting down
server ~ # uname -a
Linux server 3.2.0-26-generic #41-Ubuntu SMP Thu Jun 14 17:49:24 UTC 2012 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

The system is a Ubuntu 12.04 server. The problem seems to occurs since the last restart, which was due to a number of package upgrades and a kernel upgrade. I tried booting with the previous kernel, the problem persists. The machines fail one after another. The buffers used by the kernel is always increasing. What I'm not sure of is whether this is the cause of the crash or is just a reaction to the available free space.

Munin Memory by Day Munin Memory by Week

Any suggestions on how to debug this?


Best regards, elm

share|improve this question

Based on the error message you pasted, you don't have enough free memory, though -- something's trying to allocate 3221225472 bytes (3.2GB or so), and free(1) is saying you've got at MOST (if you use no buffers or cache) about 1.3GB of available memory.

It looks like you're running without swap. That certainly won't be helping your memory allocation problems. If you normally run with swap (which I'd consider a very good idea on a virtualisation server), then something's gone a bit wrong, and you'll want to fix that.

The other possibility is that you've configured things to run with hugepages, and now that the system's been running for a while you don't have enough unfragmented memory to allocate all the hugepages your VM wants.

share|improve this answer
I thought the buffers part of 'free' is only cached data, i.e. available when needed. Because when I take a look at 'top' and the memory usage of the top processes, at most 2 GB are used. – Elmar Weber Jul 6 '12 at 11:55
Yes, but you've only got about 280MB of buffers and 950MB of cache, which isn't anywhere near enough to be able to accomodate an extra 3.2GB of allocation. – womble Jul 6 '12 at 11:57
Thanks, I just read up on the values. I thought buffers were space that is freed on, i.e. is used at the moment but available when requested. So basically the kernel somehow uses up 14G of space for caching that is not freed? – Elmar Weber Jul 6 '12 at 12:10
I added the munin graphs of the memory around the time of the crashes, maybe this helps. I'm unsure whether the space used for buffers is the cause of the crash or just happens because more memory is free. – Elmar Weber Jul 6 '12 at 12:14
Oooooh... I see what you're misunderstanding. That second line in the output of free isn't "buffers/cache used" and "buffers/cache free", it's "the amount of memory used/free once buffers and cache are considered free memory". The -/+ at the beginning of the line is a (subtle) hint in that direction. You can learn more at – womble Jul 6 '12 at 12:16

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