Varnish on 32-bit systems


We run three small EC2 instances for content caching purposes at OneSpot. These systems are 32-bit machines with 1.7GB of RAM. Originally we figured even on a small system Varnish could flood a 100Mb line so we wouldn’t need a more expensive, large EC2 instance. This blog post explains why this turned out to be a poor choice.

Executive summary: Varnish really, really wants to run on a 64-bit system. Don’t run it on 32-bit systems if possible.

Varnish wants to memory map the entire cache. This means the entire cache needs to be able to fit into virtual memory. On a 64-bit system, VM is virtually unlimited. On a 32-bit system, processes usually have access to a maximum of 3GB of virtual memory. Since you also need to allocate stack space and other standard process requirements, in practice people don’t recommend more than 2GB of cache space for Varnish on 32-bit systems. Pretty small for a web content cache. If you want Varnish to use an entire disk for a cache, it must run on a 64-bit system.

We had a few minutes of outage recently due to this architecture. We read some Varnish tuning tips and decided to modify our default configuration. Specifically we raised the minimum thread count from 1 to 500. Because, after all, “* idle threads are cheap*”. But they are only cheap on 64-bit systems where allocating hundreds of MB for extra stack space is a no brainer! When we rolled out this change, the process ran out of memory and couldn’t allocate the extra threads. Klaxons went off and I rolled back the changes. Over the next few months, we’ll be upgrading our caches to 64 bit so that we don’t need to worry about sizing issues moving forward.