In my last post about large pages in 126.96.36.199 I promised a little more background information on how large pages and NUMA are related.
Background and some history about processor architecture
For quite some time now the CPUs you get from AMD and Intel both are NUMA, or better: cache coherent NUMA CPUs. They all have their own “local” memory directly attached to them, in other words the memory distribution is not uniform across all CPUs. This isn’t really new, Sequent has pioneered this concept on x86 a long time ago but that’s in a different context. You really should read Scaling Oracle 8i by James Morle which has a lot of excellent content related to NUMA in it, with contributions from Kevin Closson. It doesn’t matter that it reads “8i” most of it is as relevant today as it was then.
So what is the big deal about NUMA architecture anyway? To explain NUMA and why it is important to all of us a little more background information is on order.
Some time ago processor designers and architects of industry standard hardware could no longer ignore the fact that a front side bus (FSB) proved to be a bottleneck. There were two reasons for this: it was a) too slow and b) too much data had to go over it. As one direct consequence DRAM memory has been directly attached to the CPUs. AMD has done this first with it’s Opteron processors in its AMD64 micro architecture, followed by Intel’s Nehalem micro architecture. By removing the requirement of data retrieved from DRAM to travel across a slow bus latencies could be removed.
Now imagine that every processor has a number of memory channels to which DDR3 (DDR4 could arrive soon!) SDRAM is attached to. In a dual socket system, each socket is responsible for half the memory of the system. To allow the other socket to access the corresponding other half of memory some kind of interconnect between processors is needed. Intel has opted for the Quick Path Interconnect, AMD (and IBM for p-Series) use Hyper Transport. This is (comparatively) simple when you have few sockets, up to 4 each socket can directly connect to every other without any tricks. For 8 sockets it becomes more difficult. If every socket can directly communicate with its peers the system is said to be glue-less which is beneficial. The last production glue-less system Intel released was based on the Westmere architecture. Sandy Bridge (current until approximately Q3/2013) didn’t have an eight-way glue-less variant, and this is exactly why you get Westmere-EX in the X3-8, and not Sandy Bridge as in the X3-2.
Anyway, your system will have local and remote memory. For most of us, we are not going to notice this at all since there is little point in enabling NUMA on systems with two sockets. Oracle still recommends that you only enable NUMA on 8 way systems, and this is probably the reason the oracle-validated and preinstall RPMs add “numa=off” to the kernel command line in your GRUB boot loader.