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RDMA cat

Today I wrote a small RDMA test program using libibverbs. That library has a pretty steep learning curve.

Anyhow. To use libibverbs and librdmacm on CentOS, install rdma-core-devel and compile your things with -lrdmacm -libverbs.

My test setup is two IBM-branded Mellanox ConnectX-2 QDR InfiniBand adapters connected over a Voltaire 4036 QDR switch. These things are operating at PCIe 2.0 x8 speed, which is around 3.3 GB/s. Netcat and friends get around 1 GB/s transfer rates piping data over the network. Iperf3 manages around 2.9 GB/s. With that in mind, let's see what we can reach.

I was basing my test programs on these amazingly useful examples: and of course . At one point after banging my head on the ibverbs library for a bit too long I was thinking of just using MPI to write the thing and wound up on - but I didn't have the agility to jump from host-to-host programs to strange new worlds, so kept on using ibverbs for these tests.

First light

The first test program was just reading some data from STDIN, sending it to the server, which reverses it and sends it back. From there I worked towards sending multiple blocks of data (my goal here was to write an RDMA version of cat).

I had some trouble figuring out how to make the two programs have a repeatable back-and-forth dialogue. First I was listening to too many events with the blocking ibv_get_cq_event -call, and that was hanging the program. Only call it as many times as you're expecting replies.

The other fib was that my send and receive work requests shared the sge struct, and the send-part of the dialogue was setting the sge buffer length to 1 since it was only sending acks back to the other server. Set it back to the right size before sending each work request, problem solved.


Once I got the rdma-cat working, performance wasn't great. I was reading in a file from page cache, sending it to the receiver, and writing it to the STDOUT of the receiver. The program was sending 4k messages, doing a 4k acks, and a mutex-requiring event ack after each message. This ran at around 100 MB/s. Changing the 4k acks to single-byte acks and doing the event acks for all the events at once got me to 140 MB/s.

How about doing larger messages? Change the message size to 65k and the cat goes at 920 MB/s. That's promising! One-megabyte messages and 1.4 GB/s. With eight meg messages I was up to 1.78 GB/s and stuck there.

I did another test program that was just sending an 8 meg buffer to the other machine, which didn't do anything to the data. This is useful to get an optimal baseline and gauge perf for a single process use case. The test program was running at 2.9 GB/s.

Adding a memcpy to the receive loop roughly halved the bandwidth to 1.3 GB/s. Moving to a round-robin setup with one buffer receiving data while another buffer is having the data copied out of it boosted the bandwidth to 3 GB/s.

The send loop could read in data at 5.8 GB/s from the page cache, but the RDMA pipe was only doing 1.8 GB/s. Moving the read to happen right after each send got them both moving in parallel, which got the full rdma_send < inputfile ; rdma_recv | wc -c -pipe running at 2.8 GB/s.

There was an issue with the send buffer contents getting mangled by an incoming receive. Gee, it's almost like I shouldn't use the same buffer for sending and receiving messages. Using a different buffer for the received messages resolved the issue.

It works!

I sent a 4 gig file and ran diff on it, no probs. Ditto for files less than buffer size in size and small strings sent with echo.

RDMA cat! 2.9 GB/s over the network.

Let's try sending video frames next. Based on these CUDA bandwidth timings, I should be able to do 12 GB/s up and down. Now I just need to get my workstation on the IB network (read: buy a new workstation with more than one PCIe slot.)

[Update] For the heck of it, I tried piping through two hosts.

[A]$ rdma_send B < inputfile
[B]$ rdma_recv | rdma_send C
[C]$ rdma_recv | wc -c

2.5 GB/s. Not bad, could do networked stream processing. Wonder if it would help if I zero-copy passed the memory regions along the pipe.

And IB is capable of multicast as well... 

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