Linux Performance Hunting Tips - Take Copious Notes (Save Everything)

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Probably the most important thing that you can do when investigating a performance problem is to record every output that you see, every command that you execute, and every piece of information that you research. A well-organized set of notes allows you to test a theory about the cause of a performance problem by simply looking at your notes rather than rerunning tests. This saves a huge amount of time. Write it down to create a permanent record.

When starting a performance investigation, create a directory for the investigation, open a new "Notes" file in GNU emacs, and start to record information about the system. Then store performance results in this directory and store interesting and related pieces of information in the Notes file. Suggest that you add the following to your performance investigation file and directory:

Record the hardware/software configuration— This involves recording information about the hardware configuration (amount of memory and type of CPU, network, and disk subsystem) as well as the software environment (the OS and software versions and the relevant configuration files). This information may seem easy to reproduce later, but when tracking down a problem, you may significantly change a system's configuration. Careful and meticulous notes can be used to figure out the system's configuration during a particular test.

Example: Save the output of cat /proc/pci, dmesg, and uname -a for each test.

Save and organize performance results— It can be valuable to review performance results a long time after you run them. Record the results of a test with the configuration of the system. This allows you to compare how different configurations affect the performance results. It would be possible just to rerun the test if needed, but usually testing a configuration is a time-consuming process. It is more efficient just to keep your notes well organized and avoid repeating work

Write down the command-line invocations— As you run performance tools, you will often create complicated and complex command lines that measure the exact areas of the system that interest you. If you want to rerun a test, or run the same test on a different application, reproducing these command lines can be annoying and hard to do right on the first try. It is better just to record exactly what you typed. You can then reproduce the exact command line for a future test, and when reviewing past results, you can also see exactly what you measured.

Record research information and URLs— As you investigate a performance problem, it is import to record relevant information you found on the Internet, through e-mail, or through personal interactions. If you find a Web site that seems relevant, cut and paste the text into your notes. (Web sites can disappear.) However, also save the URL, because you might need to review the page later or the page may point to information that becomes important later in an investigation.


As you collect and record all this information, you may wonder why it is worth the effort. Some information may seem useless or misleading now, but it might be useful in the future. (A good performance investigation is like a good detective show: Although the clues are confusing at first, everything becomes clear in the end.) Keep the following in mind as you investigate a problem:

The implications of results may be fuzzy— It is not always clear what a performance tool is telling you. Sometimes, you need more information to understand the implications of a particular result. At a later point, you might look back at seemingly useless test results in a new light. The old information may actually disprove or prove a particular theory about the nature of the performance problem.

All information is useful information (which is why you save it)— It might not be immediately clear why you save information about what tests you have run or the configuration of the system. It can prove immensely useful when you try to explain to a developer or manager why a system is performing poorly. By recording and organizing everything you have seen during your investigation, you have proof to support a particular theory and a large base of test results to prove or disprove other theories.

Periodically reviewing your notes can provide new insights— When you have a big pool of information about your performance problem, review it periodically. Taking a fresh look allows you to concentrate on the results, rather than the testing. When many test results are aggregated and reviewed at the same time, the cause of the problem may present itself. Looking back at the data you have collected allows you test theories without actually running any tests.

Although it is inevitable that you will have to redo some work as you investigate a problem, the less time that you spend redoing old work, the more efficient you will be. If you take copious notes and have a method to record the information as you discover it, you can rely on the work that you have already done and avoid rerunning tests and redoing research. To save yourself time and frustration, keep reliable and consistent notes.

For example, if you investigate a performance problem and eventually determine the cause to be a piece of hardware (slow memory, slow CPU, and so on), you will probably want to test this theory by upgrading that slow hardware and rerunning the test. It often takes a while to get new hardware, and a large amount of time might pass before you can rerun your test. When you are finally able, you want to be able to run an identical test on the new and old hardware. If you have saved your old test invocations and your test results, you will know immediately how to configure the test for the new hardware, and will be able to compare the new results with the old results that you have stored.

Source of Information : Optimizing Linux® Performance

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