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I recently added some Cacti-based graphing to a number of Linux-based servers prior to rolling out a new service. When I was looking over the performance graphs of the initial testing, I noticed that memory usage on our rsyslog server was near 98%. Looking at top(1), I saw numbers that agreed, though processor usage was around 99% idle, and no process appeared to be using more than 1% of memory. It took me a minute or two to open my eyes and see past the panic of memory usage, and finally look at the complete output from free(1):

             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:       8171508    8032632     138876          0     162084    7253716
-/+ buffers/cache:     616832    7554676
Swap:      4192956        152    4192804

The pertinent part is the last column: “cached”. It slipped my mind that while rsyslog is writing vast amounts of data to disk, which may or may not ever be read back, the kernel is using free memory to cache as much of that as it reliably can. Hence the difference between what the kernel and userland tools call “free”, and what most human beings (or at least sysadmins) would consider “free” - or, more correctly, “available for use”.

When I get a chance, maybe I’ll submit patches to the Cacti Memory Usage Percent (SNMP) template to either graph cache separately, or remove it from the total.

Interestingly, I also found a somewhat cute page entitled “Help! Linux ate my RAM!” at http://www.linuxatemyram.com/.


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