Improving Performance

Many Unix-like operating systems and distributions are tuned for desktop or light use out of the box and not for a production database. This guide describes recommended system performance tunings for operators of new and existing Riak clusters. The tunings present in this guide should be considered as a starting point. It is important to make note of what changes are made and when in order to measure the impact of those changes.

For performance and tuning recommendations specific to running Riak clusters on the Amazon Web Services EC2 environment, see AWS Performance Tuning.

Note on other operating systems
Unless otherwise specified, the tunings recommended below are for Linux distributions. Users implementing Riak on BSD and Solaris distributions can use these tuning recommendations to make analogous changes in those operating systems.

Storage and File System Tuning

Virtual Memory

Due to the heavily I/O-focused profile of Riak, swap usage can result in the entire server becoming unresponsive. We recommend setting vm.swappiness to 0 in /etc/sysctl.conf to prevent swapping as much as possible:

vm.swappiness = 0

Ideally, you should disable swap to ensure that Riak’s process pages are not swapped. Disabling swap will allow Riak to crash in situations where it runs out of memory. This will leave a crash dump file, named erl_crash.dump, in the /var/log/riak directory which can be used to determine the cause of the memory usage.

Transparent Huge Pages (THP)

Owing to the way that THP handles memory usage, disproportionately large amounts of memory can become held up in any large database application. We recommend disabling THP at boot time. Unfortunately this operation is rather OS specific. As many of our customers are running Red Hat 6, we have included instructions on how to do so underneath. If you are using a different operating system, please refer to documentation for your OS.

In Red Hat 6, you can disable THP by editing grub.conf and adding the following line:


For the change to become effective, a server reboot is required.

Note on Kernel Tuning Tools

Some Kernel tuning tools such as ktune specify that THP should be enabled. This can cause THP to seem to be enabled even though transparent_hugepage=never has already been added to grub.conf and the system rebooted. Should this occur, please refer to the documentation for the Kernel tuning tool you are using as to how to disable THP.


Riak makes heavy use of disk I/O for its storage operations. It is important that you mount volumes that Riak will be using for data storage with the noatime flag, meaning that filesystem inodes on the volume will not be touched when read. This flag can be set temporarily using the following command:

mount -o remount,noatime <riak_data_volume>

Replace <riak_data_volume> in the above example with your actual Riak data volume. The noatime can be set in /etc/fstab to mount permanently.


I/O or disk scheduling is a blanket term used to describe the method by which an operating system chooses how to order input and output operations to and from storage.

The default I/O scheduler (elevator) on Linux is completely fair queuing or cfq, which is designed for desktop use. While a good general-purpose scheduler, is not designed to provide the kind of throughput expected in production database deployments.

Scheduler recommendations:

  • The noop scheduler when deploying on iSCSI over HBAs, or any hardware-based RAID.
  • The deadline scheduler when using SSD-based storage.

To check the scheduler in use for block device sda, for example, use the following command:

cat /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler

To set the scheduler to deadline, use the following command:

echo deadline > /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler

The default I/O scheduler queue size is 128. The scheduler queue sorts writes in an attempt to optimize for sequential I/O and reduce seek time. Changing the depth of the scheduler queue to 1024 can increase the proportion of sequential I/O that disks perform and improve overall throughput.

To check the scheduler depth for block device sda, use the following command:

cat /sys/block/sda/queue/nr_requests

To increase the scheduler depth to 1024, use the following command:

echo 1024 > /sys/block/sda/queue/nr_requests


Advanced journaling filesystems like ZFS and XFS are recommended on some operating systems for greater reliability and recoverability.

At this time, Basho can recommend using ZFS on Solaris, SmartOS, and OmniOS. ZFS may work well with Riak on direct Solaris clones like IllumOS, but we cannot yet recommend this. ZFS on Linux is still too early in its project lifetime to be recommendable for production use due to concerns that have been raised about excessive memory use. ZFS on FreeBSD is more mature than ZFS on Linux, but Basho has not yet performed sufficient performance and reliability testing to recommend using ZFS and Riak on FreeBSD.

In the meantime, the ext3 and ext4 filesystems are sufficient on operating systems on which ZFS or XFS are not available or recommended.

The ext4 file system defaults include two options that increase integrity but slow performance. Because Riak’s integrity is based on multiple nodes holding the same data, these two options can be changed to boost I/O performance. We recommend setting barrier=0 and data=writeback when using the ext4 filesystem.

Similarly, the XFS file system defaults can be optimized to improve performance. We recommend setting nobarrier, logbufs=8, logbsize=256k, and allocsize=2M when using the XFS filesystem.

As with the noatime setting, these settings should be added to /etc/fstab so that they are persisted across server restarts.

Kernel and Network Tuning

The following settings are minimally sufficient to improve many aspects of Riak usage on Linux, and should be added or updated in /etc/sysctl.conf:

net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog = 40000
net.core.somaxconn = 40000
net.core.wmem_default = 8388608
net.core.rmem_default = 8388608
net.ipv4.tcp_sack = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_window_scaling = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_fin_timeout = 15
net.ipv4.tcp_keepalive_intvl = 30
net.ipv4.tcp_tw_reuse = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_moderate_rcvbuf = 1
Note on system default
In general, these recommended values should be compared with the system defaults and only changed if benchmarks or other performance metrics indicate that networking is the bottleneck.

The following settings are optional, but may improve performance on a 10Gb network:

net.core.rmem_max = 134217728
net.core.wmem_max = 134217728
net.ipv4.tcp_mem  = 134217728 134217728 134217728
net.ipv4.tcp_rmem = 4096 277750 134217728
net.ipv4.tcp_wmem = 4096 277750 134217728
net.core.netdev_max_backlog = 300000

Certain network interfaces ship with on-board features that have been shown to hinder Riak network performance. These features can be disabled via ethtool.

For an Intel chipset NIC using the ixgbe driver running as eth0, for example, run the following command:

ethtool -K eth0 lro off

For a Broadcom chipset NIC using the bnx or bnx2 driver, run:

ethtool -K eth0 tso off

ethtool settings can be persisted across reboots by adding the above command to the /etc/rc.local script.

Pro tip
Tuning these values will be required if they are changed, as they affect all network operations.

Optional I/O Settings

If your cluster is experiencing excessive I/O blocking, the following settings may help prevent disks from being overwhelmed during periods of high write activity at the expense of peak performance for spiky workloads:

vm.dirty_background_ratio = 0
vm.dirty_background_bytes = 209715200
vm.dirty_ratio = 40
vm.dirty_bytes = 0
vm.dirty_writeback_centisecs = 100
vm.dirty_expire_centisecs = 200

These settings have been tested and benchmarked by Basho in nodes with 16 GB of RAM.

Open Files Limit

Riak and supporting tools can consume a large number of open file handles during normal operation. For stability, increasing the number of open files limit is necessary. See Open Files Limit for more details.

Other Tuning Docs