Take the 2-minute tour ×
Server Fault is a question and answer site for professional system and network administrators. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have a TileMill/PostGIS stack running on an 8 core Ubuntu 12.04 VM on an OpenStack cloud. It's a rebuild of a very similar system which was running nicely on very similar hardware (same cloud, but different physical hardware, I believe) last week. I've attempted to rebuild the stack exactly the same as it was (using some scripts I had built).

Everything runs, but the database is carrying out queries excruciatingly slowly, which manifests itself ultimately with very slow tile generation. An example query (count the number of pubs within a radius of every town in Australia), which previously took something like 10-20 seconds is now taking over 10 minutes:

explain (analyze, buffers) update places set pubs = 
(select count(*) from planet_osm_point p where p.amenity = 'pub' and st_dwithin(p.way,places.way,scope)) +
(select count(*) from planet_osm_polygon p where p.amenity = 'pub' and st_dwithin(p.way,places.way,scope)) ;
 Update on places  (cost=0.00..948254806.93 rows=9037 width=160) (actual time=623321.558..623321.558 rows=0 loops=1)
   Buffers: shared hit=132126300
   ->  Seq Scan on places  (cost=0.00..948254806.93 rows=9037 width=160) (actual time=68.130..622931.130 rows=9037 loops=1)
         Buffers: shared hit=132107781
         SubPlan 1
           ->  Aggregate  (cost=12.95..12.96 rows=1 width=0) (actual time=0.187..0.188 rows=1 loops=9037)
                 Buffers: shared hit=158171
                 ->  Index Scan using planet_osm_point_index on planet_osm_point p  (cost=0.00..12.94 rows=1 width=0) (actual time=0.163..0.179 rows=0 loops=9037)
                       Index Cond: (way && st_expand(places.way, (places.scope)::double precision))
                       Filter: ((amenity = 'pub'::text) AND (places.way && st_expand(way, (places.scope)::double precision)) AND _st_dwithin(way, places.way, (places.scope)::double precision))
                       Buffers: shared hit=158171
         SubPlan 2
           ->  Aggregate  (cost=104917.24..104917.25 rows=1 width=0) (actual time=68.727..68.728 rows=1 loops=9037)
                 Buffers: shared hit=131949237
                 ->  Seq Scan on planet_osm_polygon p  (cost=0.00..104917.24 rows=1 width=0) (actual time=68.138..68.716 rows=0 loops=9037)
                       Filter: ((amenity = 'pub'::text) AND (way && st_expand(places.way, (places.scope)::double precision)) AND (places.way && st_expand(way, (places.scope)::double precision)) AND _st_dwithin(way, places.way, (places.scope)::double precision))
                       Buffers: shared hit=131949237
 Total runtime: 623321.801 ms

(I'm including this query as a symptom, not directly the problem to be solved. This particular query only gets run once a week or so.)

The server has 32 GB of RAM, and I've configured Postgres as follows (following advice found on the web):

shared_buffers = 8GB
autovacuum = on
effective_cache_size = 8GB
work_mem = 128MB
maintenance_work_mem = 64MB
wal_buffers = 1MB
checkpoint_segments = 10

iostat shows nothing being read, a bit of data being written (no idea where or why), and 95% idle CPU:

avg-cpu:  %user   %nice %system %iowait  %steal   %idle
           5.40    0.00    0.00    0.11    0.00   94.49

Device:            tps    kB_read/s    kB_wrtn/s    kB_read    kB_wrtn
vda               0.20         0.00         0.80          0          8
vdb               2.30         0.00        17.58          0        176

Sample output from vmstat:

  procs -----------memory---------- ---swap-- -----io---- -system-- ----cpu----
 r  b   swpd   free   buff  cache   si   so    bi    bo   in   cs us sy id wa
 1  0      0 18329748 126108 12600436    0    0     0    18  148  140  5  0 95  0
 2  0      0 18329400 126124 12600436    0    0     0     9  173  228  5  0 95  0

Clutching at straws, I moved the Postgres data directory from vda to vdb but of course that made no difference.

So I'm at a loss. Why is Postgres only using 5% of available CPU when it's not waiting for any I/O? I'd welcome any suggestions for further investigation, other tools, random things to try.


I snapshotted the server and launched it on a different part of the same cloud (a different availability zone). The results were a bit weird. vmstat on this server reports 12% CPU usage (which I now understand as the expected value for a single Postgres query on an 8 core VM) - although the actual query execution time is virtually identical (630 seconds vs 623).

I now realise that this particular query is probably not a good sample for this reason: it can only use one core, and it's an update (whereas tile rendering is just selects).

I also didn't notice in the explain that apparently planet_osm_polygon isn't using an index. That could well be the cause, so I'll chase that next.


The problem definitely seems to be that the planet_osm_polygon index(es) is/aren't being used. There are two (one created by osm2pgsql, one created by me following some random guide):

CREATE INDEX idx_planet_osm_polygon_tags
  ON planet_osm_polygon
  USING gist

CREATE INDEX planet_osm_polygon_pkey
  ON planet_osm_polygon
  USING btree

The stats on planet_osm_polygon and planet_osm_point are pretty revealing, I think:


Sequential Scans    194204  
Sequential Tuples Read  60981018608 
Index Scans 1574    
Index Tuples Fetched    0


Sequential Scans    1142    
Sequential Tuples Read  12960604    
Index Scans 183454  
Index Tuples Fetched    43427685

If I read that right, Postgres has searched the planet_osm_polygon 1574 times, but never actually found anything, so has done a ridiculously large number of brute force searches.

The new question: why?

Mystery solved

Thanks to Frederik Ramm's answer, the answer turns out to be fairly simple: there was no spatial index, for some reason. It was trivial to regenerate them:

create index planet_osm_polygon_point on planet_osm_polygon using gist(way);
create index planet_osm_polygon_point on planet_osm_point using gist(way);

Running that query now takes 4.6 seconds. Spatial indexes matter! :)

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Running your Explain Anlayze output through explain.depesz.com highlights that the bulk of the slowness comes from this action:

Seq Scan on planet_osm_polygon p 

Was that indexed before? Can you index it now?

By searching for that problem area, I also found a related Q&A on an Open Street Map site:

share|improve this answer
Thanks for pointing this out - I missed that. There are in fact two indexes on this table. Updating my question with more info. –  Steve Bennett Aug 26 '13 at 0:55
Oh - that link had the answer. Yes, although there was "an index", it was just on the ID field, not the actual geometry field ("way") - so useless for spatial indexing. Frederik's comments contained the answer. –  Steve Bennett Aug 26 '13 at 1:02

PostgreSQL can only use one core for any given query. It achieves good parallel performance with many concurrent queries, but doesn't benefit from large core counts for workloads of just a couple of very big queries. So if you're only running a single query that 5% isn't all that surprising, though I'd expect it to be 12% on an 8-core system.

The lack of iowait suggests that it's probably not suffering for disk I/O.

So - it doesn't appear to be bottlenecked on CPU or on I/O.

Is it possible the query is simply blocked for a time by a lock? Check pg_stat_activity for the query, and join with pg_locks to see if there are any un-granted locks. (There are canned queries about for Pg lock monitoring).

The next thing to do is run some lower level system tests. Run pg_test_fsync, use sysbench's CPU and I/O tests, etc. If these perform miserably as well, raise it with your hosting provider.

You should also collect perf top -a output for a bit, see what it's actually doing.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.