Tracing flash reads (and writes) during boot

On OpenPOWER POWER9 systems, we typically talk to the flash chips that hold firmware for the host (i.e. the POWER9) processor through a daemon running on the BMC (aka service processor) rather than directly.

We have host firmware map “windows” on the LPC bus to parts of the flash chip. This flash chip can in fact be a virtual one, constructed dynamically from files on the BMC.

Since we’re mapping windows into this flash address space, we have some knowledge as to what IO the host is doing to/from the pnor. We can use this to output data in the blktrace format and feed into existing tools used to analyze IO patterns.

So, with a bit of learning of the data format and learning how to drive the various tools, I was ready to patch the BMC daemon (mboxbridge) to get some data out.

An initial bit of data is a graph of the windows into PNOR opened up during an normal boot (see below).

PNOR windows created over the course of a normal boot.

This shows us that over the course of the boot, we open a bunch of windows, and switch them around a fair bit early on. This makes sense as early in boot we do not yet have DRAM working and page in firmware on-demand into L3 cache.

Later in boot, you can see the loading of larger chunks of firmware into memory. It’s also possible to see that this seems to take longer than it should – and indeed, we have a bug there.

Next, by modifying the code again, I introduced recording of when we used a window that the BMC had already cached. While the host will only see one window at a time, the BMC can keep around the ones it prepared earlier in order to avoid IO to the actual flash chips (which are SPI flash, so aren’t incredibly fast).

Here we can see that we’re likely not doing the most efficient things during boot, and there’s probably room for some optimization.

Normal boot but including re-used Windows rather than just created ones

Finally, in order to get finer grained information, I reduced the window size from one megabyte down to 4096 bytes. This will impose a heavy speed penalty as it’ll mean we will have to create a lot more windows to do the same amount of IO, but it means that since we’re using the page size of hostboot, we’ll see each individual page in/out operation that it does during boot.

So, from the next graph, we can see that there’s several “hot” areas of the image, and on the whole it’s not too many pages. This gives us a hint that a bit of effort to reduce binary image size a little bit could greatly reduce the amount of IO we have to do.

4096 byte (i.e. page) size window, capturing the bits of flash we need to read in several times due to being low on memory when we’re L3 cache constrained.

The iowatcher tool also can construct a video of the boot and what “blocks” are being read.

Video of what blocks are read from flash during booting

So, what do we get from this adventure? Well, we get a good list of things to look into in order to improve boot performance, and we get to back these up with data rather than guesswork. Since this also works on unmodified host firmware, we’re measuring what we really boot rather than changing it in order to measure it.

What you need to reproduce this:

Optimizing database access in Django: A patchwork story

tl;dr: I made Patchwork a lot faster by looking at what database queries were being generated and optimizing them either by making Django produce better queries or by adding better indexes.

Introduction to Patchwork

One of the key bits of infrastructure a bunch of maintainers of Open Source Software use is a tool called Patchwork. We use it for a bunch of OpenPOWER firmware development, several Linux subsystems use it as well as

The purpose of Patchwork is to supplement the patches-to-a-mailing-list development work flow. It allows a maintainer to see all the patches that have been posted on the list, How many Acked-by/Reviewed-by/Tested-by replies they have, delegate responsibility for the patch to a co-maintainer, track (and change) the state of the patch (e.g. to “Under Review”, “Changes Requested”, or “Accepted”), and create bundles of patches to help in review and testing.

Since patchwork is an open source project itself, there’s several instances of it out there in common use. One of the main instances is which is (funnily enough) used by a bunch of people connected to OzLabs for projects that are somewhat connected to OzLabs. e.g. the linuxppc-dev project and the skiboot and petitboot projects. There’s also a instance, which is used by some kernel subsystems.

Recent versions of Patchwork have added some pretty cool features such as the ability to integrate with CI systems such as Snowpatch which helps maintainers see if patches submitted are likely to break things.

Unfortunately, there’s also been some complaints that recent version of patchwork have gotten slower than previous ones. This may well be the case, or it could just be that the volume of patches is much higher and there’s load on the database. Anyway, after asking a few questions about what the size and scope was of the patchwork database on, I went “hrm… this sounds like it shouldn’t really be a problem… perhaps I should look into this”.

Attacking the problem…

Every so often it is revealed that I know a little bit about databases.

Getting a development environment up for Patchwork is amazingly easy thanks to Docker and the great work of the Patchwork maintainers. The only thing you need to load in is an example dataset. I started by importing mail from a few mailing lists I’m subscribed to, which was Good Enough(TM) for an initial look.

Due to how Django forces us to design a database schema though, the suggested method of getting a sample data set will not mirror what occurs in a production system with multiple lists. It’s for this reason that I ended up using a copy of a live dataset for much of my work rather than constructing an artificial one.

Patchwork supports both a MySQL and PostgreSQL database backend. Since the one on is backed by PostgreSQL, I ended up loading a large dataset into PostgreSQL for most of my work, although I also did some testing with MySQL.

The current instance has a database of around 13GB in side, with about a million patches. You may think this is big, my database brain goes “no, this is actually quite small and everything should be a lot faster than it is even on quite limited hardware”

The problem with ORMs

It turns out that Patchwork is written in Django, an ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) framework in Python – and thus something that pretty effectively obfuscates application code from the SQL being run.

There is one thing that Django misses that could be a pretty big general performance boost to many applications: it doesn’t support composite primary keys. For some databases (e.g. MySQL’s InnoDB engine) the PRIMARY KEY is a clustered index – that is, the physical layout of the rows on disk reflect primary key order. You can use this feature to your advantage and have much higher cache hits of your database pages.

Unfortunately though, we cannot do that with Django, so we lose a bunch of possible performance because of it (especially for queries that are going to have to bring in data from disk). In fact, we’re forced to use an ID field that’ll scatter our rows all over the place rather than do something efficient. You can somewhat get back some of the performance by creating covering indexes, but this costs in terms of index maintenance and disk space.

It should be noted that PostgreSQL doesn’t have a similar concept, although there is a (locking) CLUSTER statement that can (as an offline operation for the table) re-arrange existing rows to be in index order. In my testing, this can give a bit of a boost to performance of some of the Patchwork queries.

With MySQL, you’d look at a bunch of statistics on what pages are being brought in and paged out of the InnoDB buffer pool. With PostgreSQL it’s a bit more complex as it relies heavily on the OS page cache.

My main experience is with MySQL like environment, so I’ve had to re-learn a bunch of PostgreSQL things in this work which was kind of fun. It may be “because of my upbringing” but it seems as if there’s a lot more resources and documentation out in the wild about optimizing MySQL environments than PostgreSQL ones, especially when it comes to documentation around a bunch of things inside the database server. A lot of credit should go to the MySQL Documentation team – I wish the PostgreSQL documentation was up to the same standard.

Another issue is that fetching BLOBs is generally an expensive operation that you want to avoid unless you’re going to use them. Thus, fetching the whole “object” at once isn’t always optimal. The Django query generation appears to be somewhat buggy when it comes to “hey, don’t fetch these columns, I don’t need them”, so you do have to watch what query is produced not just what query you expect to be produced. For example, [01/11] Improve patch listing performance (~3x).

Another issue with Django is how you go from your Python code to an actual SQL query, especially when the produced SQL query is needlessly complex or inefficient. I’ve seen Django always produce an ORDER BY for one table, even when not needed, I’ve also seen it always join tables even when you’re getting no columns from one of them and there’s no way you’re asking for it. In fact, I had to revert to raw SQL for one of my performance improvements as I just couldn’t beat it into submission: [10/11] Be sensible computing project patch counts.

An ORM can be great for getting apps out quickly, or programming in a familiar way. But like many things, an understanding of what is going on underneath is key for extracting maximum performance.

Also, if you ever hear something like “ORM $x doesn’t scale” then maybe that person just hasn’t looked at how to use the ORM better. The same goes for if they say “database $y doesn’t scale”- especially if it’s a long existing relational database such as MySQL or PostgreSQL.

Speeding up listing current patches for a project

17 SQL queries in 4477ms
More than 4 seconds in the database
does not make page load time great.

Fortunately though, the Django development environment lets you really easily dive into what queries are being generated and (at least roughly) where they’re being generated from. There’s a sidebar in your browser that shows how many SQL queries were needed to generate the page and how long they took. The key to making your application go faster is to run fewer queries in less time.

I was incredibly impressed with how easy it was to see what queries were run, where they were run from, and the EXPLAIN output for them.

By clicking on that SQL button on the right side of your browser, you get this wonderful chart of what queries were executed, when, and how long they took. From this, it is incredibly obvious which query is the most problematic: the one that took more than four seconds!

In the dim dark days of web development, you’d have to turn on a Slow Query Log on the database server and then grep through your source code or some other miserable activity. I am so glad I didn’t have to do that.

More than four seconds for a single database query does not make for a nice UX.

This particular query was a real hairy one, the EXPLAIN output from PostgreSQL (and MySQL) was certainly long and involved and would most certainly not feature in the first half of an “Introduction to query optimization” day long workshop. If you haven’t brushed up on various bits of documentation on understanding EXPLAIN, you should! The MySQL EXPLAIN FORMAT=JSON is especially fantastic for getting deep details as to what’s going on with query execution.

The big performance gain here was to have the database be able to execute the query in a much more efficient way by creating two covering indexes for part of the query. To work out what indexes to create, one has to look at the EXPLAIN output and work out why the database is choosing to do either a sequential scan of a large table, or use an index that doesn’t exclude that many rows. In this case, I tweaked the code to slightly change the query that was generated as well as adding a covering index. What we ended up with is something that is dramatically faster.

The main query is ~350x faster than before

You’ll notice that it appears that the first query there takes a lot more time but it doesn’t, it just takes a lot more time relative to the main query.

In fact, this particular page is one that people have mentioned at being really, really slow to load. With the main query now about 350 times faster than it was originally, it shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

A future improvement would be to cache the COUNT() for the common case, as it’s pretty easily computed when new patches come in or states change.

The patches that help this particular page have been submitted upstream here:

Making viewing a patch with comments faster

Now that we can list patches faster, can we make other pages that Patchwork has quicker?

One such page is viewing a patch (or cover letter) that has a lot of comments on it. One feature of Patchwork is that it will display all the email replies to a patch or cover letter in the Web UI. But… this seemed slow

On one of the most commented patches I could find, we ended up executing one hundred and seventy seven SQL queries to view it! If we dove into it, a bunch of the queries looked really really similar…

I’ve got 99 queries where I only need 1.

The problem here is that the Patchwork UI is wanting to find out the name of each person who submitted a comment, and is doing that by querying the ID from a table. What it should be doing instead is a SQL JOIN on the original query and just fetching all that information in one go: make the database server do the work, it’s really good at it.

My patch [02/11] 4x performance improvement for viewing patch with many comments   does just that by using the select_related() method correctly, as well as being explicit about what information we want to retrieve.

We’re now only a few milliseconds to grab all the comments

With that patch, we’re down to a constant number of queries and around a 3x-7x faster time executing them depending if we have a warm cache or not.

The one time I had to use raw SQL

When viewing a project page (such as ) it displays the number of patches (archived and not archived) for the project. By looking at what SQL queries are executed to collect these numbers, you’ll notice two things. First, here are the queries:

COUNT() queries can be expensive

First thing you’ll notice is that they took a loooooong time to execute (more than a second each). The second thing, if you look closer, is that they contain a join which is completely unneeded.

I spent a good long while trying to make Django behave, and I just could not. I believe it’s due to the model having some inheritance in it. Writing the query by hand ended up being the best solution, and it gave a significant performance improvement:

Unfortunately, only 4x faster.

Arguably, a better way would be to precompute the count for the archived/non-archived patches and just display them. I (or someone else who knows more about Django) may want to look at that for a future improvement.

Conclusion and final thoughts

There’s a few more places where there could be some optimizations, but currently I cannot get any single page to take more than between 40-400ms in the database when running on my laptop – and that’s Good Enough(TM) for now.

The next steps are getting these patches through a round or two of review, and then getting them into a Patchwork release and deployed out on and see if people can find any new ways to make things slow.

If you’re interested, the full patchset with cover letter is here: [00/11] Performance for ALL THE THINGS!

The diffstat is interesting, as most of the added code is auto-generated by Django for database migrations (adding of indexes).

 .../migrations/ | 23 +++++++++++++++++
 .../           | 19 ++++++++++++++
 .../     | 19 ++++++++++++++
 patchwork/                           | 21 ++++++++++++++--
 patchwork/templates/patchwork/submission.html | 16 ++++++------
 patchwork/views/                   |  8 +++++-
 patchwork/views/                      |  5 ++++
 patchwork/views/                      |  7 ++++++
 patchwork/views/                    | 25 ++++++++++++++++---
 9 files changed, 128 insertions(+), 15 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 patchwork/migrations/
 create mode 100644 patchwork/migrations/
 create mode 100644 patchwork/migrations/

I think the lesson is that making dramatic improvements to performance of your Django based app does not mean you have to write a lot of code or revert to raw SQL or abandon your ORM. In fact, use it properly and you can get a looong way. It’s just that to use it properly, you’re going to have to understand the layer below the ORM, and not just treat the database as a magic black box.

A (simplified) view of OpenPOWER Firmware Development

I’ve been working on trying to better document the whole flow of code that goes into a build of firmware for an OpenPOWER machine. This is partially to help those not familiar with it get a better grasp of the sheer scale of what goes into that 32/64MB of flash.

I also wanted to convey the components that we heavily re-used from other Open Source projects, what parts are still “IBM internal” (as they relate to the open source workflow) and which bits are primarily contributed to by IBMers (at least at this point in time).

As such, let’s start with the legend of the diagram:

Now, the diagram:

Simplified development flow for OpenPOWER firmware

The end thing that a user with a machine will download and apply (or that comes shipped with a box) is the purple “Installable Firmware Release” nodes (bottom center). In this diagram, there are 4 of them. One for POWER9 systems such as the just-announced AC922 system (this is the “OP910 Release” node, which is the witherspoon_defconfig in the op-build tree); one for the p9dsu platform (p9dsu_defconfig in op-build) and one is for IBM FSP based systems such as the S812L and S822L systems (or S812/S822 in OPAL mode).

There are more platforms out there, but this diagram is meant to be simplified. The key difference with the p9dsu platform is that this is produced by somebody other than IBM.

All of these releases are based off the upstream op-build project, op-build is the light blue box in the center of the diagram. We do regular X.Y releases and sometimes do X.Y.Z releases. It’s primarily a pull request based workflow currently, so everything goes via a pull request. The op-build project brings together all the POWER specific firmware components (pretty much everything in every other light blue/blue box) along with a Linux kernel and buildroot.

The kernel and buildroot are the two big yellow boxes on the top right. Buildroot brings together a lot of open source components that are in our firmware image (including some power specific ones that we get through upstream buildroot).

For Linux, this is a pretty simplified view of the process, but we primarily ship the stable tree (with maybe up to half a dozen patches).

The skiboot and petitboot components both use a mailing list based workflow (similar to kernel) as well as X.Y and X.Y.Z releases (again, similar to the linux kernel).

On the far left of the diagram, we have Hostboot, SBE and OCC. These are three firmware components that come from the traditional IBM POWER Firmware group, and are shared with the IBM non-OpenPOWER POWER systems (“traditional” POWER). These components have part of their code from from an (internal) repository called “ekb” which also goes into a (very) low level debug tool and the FSP based systems. There’s also an (internal) gerrit instance that’s the primary place where code review/development discussions are for these components.

In future posts, I’ll probably delve into more specifics of the current development process, and how we may try and change things for the better.

How I do email (at work)

Recently, I blogged on my home email setup and in that post, I hinted that my work setup was rather different. I have entirely separate computing devices for work and personal, a setup I strongly recommend. This also lets me “go home” from work even when working from home, I use a different physical machine!

Since I work for IBM I have (at least) two email accounts for work: a Lotus Notes one and a internet standards compliant one. It’s “easy” enough to get the Notes one to forward to the standards compliant one, from which I can just use fetchmail or similar to pull down mail.

I run mail through a rather simple procmail script: it de-mangles some URL mangling that can happen in the current IBM email infrastructure, runs things through SpamAssassin and deliver to a date based Maildir (or one giant pile for spam).

My ~/.procmailrc looks something like this:


DATE=`date +"%Y%m"`

| magic_script_to_unmangle_things

| spamc

* ^X-Spam-Status: Yes

I use tail -f mail_log as a really dumb kind of biff replacement.

Now, what do I read and write mail with? Notmuch! It is the only thing that even comes close to being able to deal with a decent flow of mail. I have a couple of saved searches just to track how much mail I pull in a day/week. Today (on Monday), it says 442 today and 10,403 over the past week.

For the most part, my workflow is kind of INBOX-ZERO like, except that I currently view victory as INBOX 2000. Most mail does go into my INBOX, the notable exceptions are two main mailing lists I’m subscribed to mostly as FYI and to search/find things when needed. Those are the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) and the buildroot mailing list. Why notmuch rather than just searching the web for mailing list archives? Notmuch can return the result of a query in less time it takes light to get to and from the United States in ideal conditions.

For work, I don’t sync my mail anywhere. It’s just on my laptop. Not having it on my phone is a feature. I have a notmuch post-new hook that does some initial tagging of mail, and as such I have this in my ~/.notmuch-config:


My post-new hook looks like this:


# immediately archive all messages from "me"
notmuch tag -new -- tag:new and

# tag all message from lists
notmuch tag +devicetree +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:devicetree and
notmuch tag +listinbox +unread +list -new -- tag:new and tag:devicetree and not

notmuch tag +linuxppc +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +linuxppc +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:linuxppc
notmuch tag +openbmc +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:openbmc

notmuch tag +lkml +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:lkml and
notmuch tag +listinbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:lkml and not tag:linuxppc and not

notmuch tag +qemuppc +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:qemuppc and
notmuch tag +listinbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:qemuppc and not

notmuch tag +qemu +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:qemu and
notmuch tag +listinbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:qemu and not

notmuch tag +buildroot +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +buildroot +list -- tag:new and
notmuch tag +buildroot +list -- tag:newa nd
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:buildroot and
notmuch tag +listinbox +unread -new -- tag:new and tag:buildroot and not

notmuch tag +ibmbugzilla -- tag:new and

# finally, retag all "new" messages "inbox" and "unread"
notmuch tag +inbox +unread -new -- tag:new

This leaves me with both an inbox and a listinbox. I do not look at the overwhelming majority of mail that hits the listinbox – It’s mostly for following up on individual things. If I started to need to care more about specific topics, I’d probably add something in there for them so I could easily find them.

My notmuch emacs setup has a bunch of saved searches, so my notmuch-hello screen looks something like this:

This gets me a bit of a state-of-the-world-of-email-to-look-at view for the day. I’ll often have meetings first thing in the morning that may reference email I haven’t looked at yet, and this generally lets me quickly find mail related to the problems of the day and start being productive.

ZMODEM saves the day! Or, why my firmware for a machine with a CPU from 2017 contains a serial file transfer protocol from the 1980s

Recently, I added the package lrzsz to op-build in this commit. This package provides the rz and sz commands – for receive zmodem and send zmodem respectively. For those who don’t know, op-build builds a firmware image for OpenPOWER machines, and adding this package adds the commands to the petitboot shell (the busybox environment you get when you “exit to shell” from the boot menu).

For those who aren’t familiar with ZMODEM, you should first get off my lawn, and secondly, know that it’s a method for sending/receiving files over something akin to a serial port, e.g. a modem. The basic protocol is “I want to send you this file named FOO”, “okay, I would like to receive it”, “here’s some data and a checksum, did you get it and does it match the checksum?”, “yes!”, “okay, great, here’s the next bit” until the file is transferred. Importantly, it has a provision for “no, I didn’t get that right” and for bits to be resent.

The one thing that pretty much always somewhat works on a computer is a serial port (or something that looks like a serial port to software). When you connect to the IPMI console (“ipmitool sol activate”), the host sees this as a serial port that it pumps bytes over. With OpenBMC, you can actually connect to this serial port via SSH.

When diagnosing weird problems during firmware bringup such as “why doesn’t PCI work” or “why does my network adapter not work” (or, perhaps, somebody helpfully didn’t plug the network cable in), it can be useful to copy off a bunch of debug information from the machine.

You may say “can’t you just print the log file to the screen and save it?” and you’d be right, you can do that for text – it’s really annoying for binary data though. Plus, there have been bugs in the console implementations on pretty much every BMC I’ve ever used that makes them not as reliable as you’d like.

So, how could we transfer a file over the serial connection we have to the machine? The same way we did on a BBS! Enter ZMODEM. The error recovery properties are perfect in this situation.

So, how do you use it? I’ve found two ways that work well: GNU screen and zssh. For GNU Screen, you’ll want to configure it to catch zmodem traffic by doing “control-a:zmodem catch<ENTER>” (you need the colon there). After that if you execute “sz” on the host and the rest should be obvious! If you wanted to send a file to the host, run “rz” rather than “sz”.

Fast Reset, Trusted Boot and the security of /sbin/reboot

In OpenPOWER land, we’ve been doing some work on Secure and Trusted Boot while at the same time doing some work on what we call fast-reset (or fast-reboot, depending on exactly what mood someone was in at any particular time…. we should start being a bit more consistent).

The basic idea for fast-reset is that when the OS calls OPAL reboot, we gather all the threads in the system using a combination of patching the reset vector and soft-resetting them, then cleanup a few bits of hardware (we do re-probe PCIe for example), and reload & restart the bootloader (petitboot).

What this means is that typing “reboot” on the command line goes from a ~90-120+ second affair (through firmware to petitboot, linux distros still take ages to shut themselves down) down to about a 20 second affair (to petitboot).

If you’re running a (very) recent skiboot, you can enable it with a special hidden NVRAM configuration option (although we’ll likely enable it by default pretty soon, it’s proving remarkably solid). If you want to know what that NVRAM option is… Use the source, Luke! (or git history, but I’ve yet to see a neat Star Wars reference referring to git commit logs).

So, there’s nothing like a demo. Here’s a demo with Ubuntu running off an NVMe drive on an IBM S822LC for HPC (otherwise known as Minsky or Garrison) which was running the HTX hardware exerciser, through fast-reboot back into Petitboot and then booting into Ubuntu and auto-starting the exerciser (HTX) again.

Apart from being stupidly quick when compared to a full IPL (Initial Program Load – i.e. boot), since we’re not rebooting out of band, we have no way to reset the TPM, so if you’re measuring boot, each subsequent fast-reset will result in a different set of measurements.

This may be slightly confusing, but it’s not really a problem. You see, if a machine is compromised, there’s nothing stopping me replacing /sbin/reboot with something that just prints things to the console that look like your machine rebooted but in fact left my rootkit running. Indeed, fast-reset and a full IPL should measure different values in the TPM.

It also means that if you ever want to re-establish trust in your OS, never do a reboot from the host – always reboot out of band (e.g. from a BMC). This, of course, means you’re trusting your BMC to not be compromised, which I wouldn’t necessarily do if you suspect your host has been.

Workaround for opal-prd using 100% CPU

opal-prd is the Processor RunTime Diagnostics daemon, the userspace process that on OpenPower systems is responsible for some of the runtime diagnostics. Although a userspace process, it memory maps (as in mmap) in some code loaded by early firmware (Hostboot) called the HostBoot RunTime (HBRT) and runs it, using calls to the kernel to accomplish any needed operations (e.g. reading/writing registers inside the chip). Running this in user space gives us benefits such as being able to attach gdb, recover from segfaults etc.

The reason this code is shipped as part of firmware rather than as an OS package is that it is very system specific, and it would be a giant pain to update a package in every Linux distribution every time a new chip or machine was introduced.

Anyway, there’s a bug in the HBRT code that means if there’s an ECC error in the HBEL (HostBoot Error Log) partition in the system flash (“bios” or “pnor”… the flash where your system firmware lives), the opal-prd process may get stuck chewing up 100% CPU and not doing anything useful. There’s for this.

You will notice a problem if the opal-prd process is using 100% CPU and the last log messages are something like:

HBRT: ERRL:>>ErrlManager::ErrlManager constructor.
HBRT: ERRL:iv_hiddenErrorLogsEnable = 0x0
HBRT: ERRL:>>setupPnorInfo
HBRT: PNOR:>>RtPnor::getSectionInfo
HBRT: PNOR:>>RtPnor::readFromDevice: i_offset=0x0, i_procId=0 sec=11 size=0x20000 ecc=1
HBRT: PNOR:RtPnor::readFromDevice: removing ECC...
HBRT: PNOR:RtPnor::readFromDevice> Uncorrectable ECC error : chip=0,offset=0x0

(the parameters to readFromDevice may differ)

Luckily, there’s a simple workaround to fix it all up! You will need the pflash utility. Primarily, pflash is meant only for developers and those who know what they’re doing. You can turn your computer into a brick using it.

pflash is packaged in Ubuntu 16.10 and RHEL 7.3, but you can otherwise build it from source easily enough:

git clone
cd skiboot/external/pflash

Now that you have pflash, you just need to erase the HBEL partition and write (ECC) zeros:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/tmp/hbel bs=1 count=147456
pflash -P HBEL -e
pflash -P HBEL -p /tmp/hbel

Note: you cannot just erase the partition or use the pflash option to do an ECC erase, you may render your system unbootable if you get it wrong.

After that, restart opal-prd however your distro handles restarting daemons (e.g. systemctl restart opal-prd.service) and all should be well.

MySQL removes the FRM (7 years after Drizzle did)

The new MySQL 8.0.0 milestone release that was recently announced brings something that has been a looooong time coming: the removal of the FRM file. I was the one who implemented this in Drizzle way back in 2009 (July 28th 2009 according to Brian)- and I may have had a flashback to removing the tentacles of the FRM when reading the MySQL 8.0.0 announcement.

As an idea for how long this has been on the cards, I’ll quote Brian from when we removed it in Drizzle:

We have been talking about getting rid of FRM since around 2003. I remember a drive up to northern Finland with Kaj Arnö, where we spent an hour talking about this. I, David, and MontyW have talked about this for years.

Soo… it was a known problem for at least thirteen years. One of the issues removing it was how pervasive all of the FRM related things were. I shudder at the mention of “pack_flag” and Jay Pipes probably does too.

At the time, we tried a couple of approaches as to how things should look. Our philosophy with Drizzle was that it should get out of the way at let the storage engines be the storage engines and not try to second guess them or keep track of things behind their back. I still think that was the correct architectural approach: the role of Drizzle was to put SQL on top of a storage engine, not to also be one itself.

Looking at the MySQL code, there’s one giant commit 31350e8ab15179acab5197fa29d12686b1efd6ef. I do mean giant too, the diffstat is amazing:

 786 files changed, 58471 insertions(+), 25586 deletions(-)

How anyone even remotely did code review on that I have absolutely no idea. I know the only way I could get it to work in Drizzle was to do it incrementally, a series of patches that gradually chiseled out what needed to be taken out so I could put it an API and the protobuf code.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering:

- uint offset,pack_flag;
+ uint offset;

Thank goodness. Now, you may not appreciate that as much as I might, but pack_flag was not the height of design, it was… pretty much a catchalll for some kind of data about a field that wasn’t something that already had a field in the FRM. So it may include information on if the field could be null or not, if it’s decimal, how many bytes an integer takes, that it’s a number and how many oh, just don’t ask.

Also gone is the weird interval_id and a whole bunch of limitations because of the FRM format, including one that I either just discovered or didn’t remember: if you used all 256 characters in an enum, you couldn’t create the table as MySQL would pick either a comma or an unused character to be the separator in the FRM!?!

Also changed is how the MySQL server handles default values. For those not aware, the FRM file contains a static copy of the row containing default values. This means the default values are computed once on table creation and never again (there’s a bunch of work arounds for things like AUTO_INCREMENT and DEFAULT NOW()). The new sql/ is where this is done now.

For now at least, table metadata is also written to a file that appears to be JSON format. It’s interesting that a SQL database server is using a schemaless file format to describe schema. It appears that these files exist only for disaster recovery or perhaps portable tablespaces. As such, I’m not entirely convinced they’re needed…. it’s just a thing to get out of sync with what the storage engine thinks and causes extra IO on DDL (as well as forcing the issue that you can’t have MVCC into the data dictionary itself).

What will be interesting is to see the lifting of these various limitations and how MariaDB will cope with that. Basically, unless they switch, we’re going to see some interesting divergence in what you can do in either database.

There’s certainly differences in how MySQL removed the FRM file to the way we did it in Drizzle. Hopefully some of the ideas we had were helpful in coming up with this different approach, as well as an extra seven years of in-production use.

At some point I’ll write something up as to the fate of Drizzle and a bit of a post-mortem, I think I may have finally worked out what I want to say…. but that is a post for another day.

First look at MySQL 8.0.0 Milestone

So, about ten days ago the MySQL Server Team released MySQL 8.0.0 Milestone to the world. One of the most unfortunate things about MySQL development is that it’s done behind closed doors, with the only hints of what’s to come arriving in maybe a note on a bug or such milestone releases that contain a lot of code changes. How much code change? Well, according to the text up on github for the 8.0 branch “This branch is 5714 commits ahead, 4 commits behind 5.7. ”

Way back in 2013, I looked at MySQL Code Size over releases, which I can again revisit and include both MySQL 5.7 and 8.0.0.

While 5.7 was a big jump again, we seem to be somewhat leveling off, which is a good thing. Managing to add features and fix long standing problems without bloating code size is good for software maintenance. Honestly, hats off to the MySQL team for keeping it to around a 130kLOC code size increase over 5.7 (that’s around 5%).

These days I’m mostly just a user of MySQL, pointing others in the right direction when it comes to some issues around it and being the resident MySQL grey(ing)beard(well, if I don’t shave for a few days) inside IBM as a very much side project to my day job of OPAL firmware.

So, personally, I’m thrilled about no more FRM, better Unicode, SET PERSIST and performance work. With my IBM hat on, I’m thrilled about the fact that it compiled on POWER out of the box and managed to work (I haven’t managed to crash it yet). There seems to be a possible performance issue, but hey, this is a huge improvement over the 5.7 developer milestones when run on POWER.

A lot of the changes are focused around usability, making it easier to manage and easier to run at at least a medium amount of scale. This is long overdue and it’s great to see even seemingly trivial things like SET PERSIST coming (I cannot tell you how many times that has tripped me up).

In a future post, I’ll talk about the FRM removal!

Lesson 124 in why scales on a graph matter…

The original article presented two graphs: one of MariaDB searches (which are increasing) and the other showing MySQL searches (decreasing or leveling out). It turns out that the y axis REALLY matters.

I honestly expected better….

Compiling your own firmware for Barreleye (OpenCompute OpenPOWER system)

Aaron Sullivan announced on the Rackspace Blog that you can now get your own Barreleye system! What’s great is that the code for the Barreleye platform is upstream in the op-build project, which means you can build your own firmware for them (just like garrison, the “IBM S822LC for HPC” system I blogged about a few days ago).

Remarkably, to build an image for the host firmware, it’s eerily similar to any other platform:

git clone --recursive
cd op-build
. op-build-env
op-build barreleye_defconfig

…and then you wait. You can cross compile on x86.

You’ve been able to build firmware for these machines with upstream code since Feb/March (I wouldn’t recommend running with builds from then though, try the latest release instead).

Hopefully, someone involved in OpenBMC can write on how to build the BMC firmware.

Compiling your own firmware for the S822LC for HPC

IBM (my employer) recently announced  the new S822LC for HPC POWER8+NVLINK NVIDIA P100 GPUs server (press release, IBM Systems Blog, The Register). The “For HPC” suffix on the model number is significant, as the S822LC is a different machine. What makes the “for HPC” variant different is that the POWER8 CPU has (in addition to PCIe), logic for NVLink to connect the CPU to NVIDIA GPUs.

There’s also the NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPUs which are NVIDIA’s latest in an SXM2 form factor, but instead of delving into GPUs, I’m going to tell you how to compile the firmware for this machine.

You see, this is an OpenPOWER machine. It’s an OpenPOWER machine where the vendor (in this case IBM) has worked to get all the needed code upstream, so you can see exactly what goes into a firmware build.

To build the latest host firmware (you can cross compile on x86 as we use buildroot to build a cross compiler):

git clone --recursive
cd op-build
. op-build-env
op-build garrison_defconfig

That’s it! Give it a while and you’ll end up with output/images/garrison.pnor – which is a firmware image to flash onto PNOR. The machine name is garrison as that’s the code name for the “S822LC for HPC” (you may see Minsky in the press, but that’s a rather new code name, Garrison has been around for a lot longer as a name).

Using Smatch static analysis on OpenPOWER OPAL firmware

For Skiboot, I’m always looking at new automated systems to find bugs in the code. A little while ago, I read about the Smatch tool developed by some folks at Oracle (they also wrote about using it on the Linux kernel).

I was eager to try it with skiboot to see if it could find anything.

Luckily, it was pretty easy. I built Smatch according to their documentation and then built skiboot:

make CHECK="/home/stewart/smatch/smatch" C=1 -j20 all check

Due to some differences in how we implement abort() and assert() in skiboot, I added “_abort”, “abort” and “assert_fail” to smatch_data/no_return_funcs in the Smatch source tree to silence some false positives.

It seems that there’s a few useful warnings there (some of which I’ve fixed in skiboot master already), along with some false positives around the preprocessor/complier tricks we do to ensure at compile time that an OPAL call definition has the correct number of arguments specified.

So far, so good though. Try it on your project!

Building OPAL firmware for POWER9

Recently, we merged into the op-build project (the build scripts for OpenPOWER Firmware) a defconfig for building OPAL for (certain) POWER9 simulators. I won’t bother linking over to articles on the POWER9 chip or schedule (there’s search engines for that), but with this commit – if you happen to be able to get your hands on a POWER9 simulator, you can now boot to the petitboot bootloader on it!

We’re using upstream Linux 4.7.0-rc3 and upstream skiboot (master), so all of this code is already upstream!

Now, by no means is this complete. There’s some fairly fundamental things that are missing (e.g. PCI) – but how many other platforms can you build open source firmware for before you can even get your hands on a simulator?

Fuzzing Firmware – afl-fuzz + skiboot

In what is likely to be a series on how firmware makes some normal tools harder to use, first I’m going to look at american fuzzy lop – a tool for fuzz testing that if you’re not using then you most certainly have bugs it’ll find for you.

I first got interested in afl-fuzz during Erik de Castro Lopo’s excellent 2016 in Geelong earlier this year: “Fuzz all the things!“. In a previous life, the Random Query Generator managed to find a heck of a lot of bugs in MySQL (and Drizzle). For randgen info, see Philip Stoev’s talk on it from way back in 2009, a recent (2014) blog post on how Tokutek uses it and some notes on how it was being used at Oracle from 2013. Basically, the randgen was a specialized fuzzer that (given a grammar) would randomly generate SQL queries, and then (if the server didn’t crash), compare the result to some other database server (e.g. your previous version).

The afl-fuzz fuzzer takes a different approach – it’s a much more generic fuzzer rather than a targeted tool. Also, while tools such as the random query generator are extremely powerful and find specialized bugs, they’re hard to get started with. A huge benefit of afl-fuzz is that it’s really, really simple to get started with.

Basically, if you have a binary that takes input on stdin or as a (relatively small) file, afl-fuzz will just work and find bugs for you – read the Quick Start Guide and you’ll be finding bugs in no time!

For firmware of course, we’re a little different than a simple command line program as, well, we aren’t one! Luckily though, we have unit tests. These are just standard binaries that include a bunch of firmware code and get run in user space as part of “make check”. Also, just like unit tests for any project, people do send me patches that break tests (which I reject).

Some of these tests act on data we get from a place – maybe reading other parts of firmware off PNOR or interacting with data structures we get from other bits of firmware. For testing this code, it can be relatively easy to (for the test), read these off disk.

For skiboot, there’s a data structure we get from the service processor on FSP machines called HDAT. Basically, it’s just like the device tree, but different. Because yet another binary format is always a good idea (yes, that is laced with a heavy dose of sarcasm). One of the steps in early boot is to parse the HDAT data structure and convert it to a device tree. Luckily, we structured our code so that creating a unit test that can run in userspace was relatively easy, we just needed to dump this data structure out from a running machine. You can see the test case here. Basically, hdat_to_dt is a binary that reads the HDAT structure out of a pair of files and prints out a device tree. One of the regression tests we have is that we always produce the same output from the same input.

So… throwing that into AFL yielded a couple of pretty simple bugs, especially around aborting out on invalid data (it’s better to exit the process with failure rather than hit an assert). Nothing too interesting here on my simple input file, but it does mean that our parsing code exits “gracefully” on invalid data.

Another utility we have is actually a userspace utility for accessing the gard records in the flash. A GARD record is a record of a piece of hardware that has been deconfigured due to a fault (or a suspected fault). Usually this utility operates on PNOR flash through /dev/mtd – but really what it’s doing is talking to the libflash library, that we also use inside skiboot (and on OpenBMC) to read/write from flash directly, via /dev/mtd or just from a file. The good news? I haven’t been able to crash this utility yet!

So I modified the pflash utility to read from a file to attempt to fuzz the partition reading code we have for the partitioning format that’s on PNOR. So far, no crashes – although to even get it going I did have to fix a bug in the file handling code in pflash, so that’s already a win!

But crashing bugs aren’t the only type of bugs – afl-fuzz has exposed several cases where we act on uninitialized data. How? Well, we run some test cases under valgrind! This is the joy of user space unit tests for firmware – valgrind becomes a tool that you can run! Unfortunately, these bugs have been sitting in my “todo” pile (which is, of course, incredibly long).

Where to next? Fuzzing the firmware calls themselves would be nice – although that’s going to require a targeted tool that knows about what to pass each of the calls. Another round of afl-fuzz running would also be good, I’ve fixed a bunch of the simple things and having a better set of starting input files would be great (and likely expose more bugs).

First POWER9 bits merged into skiboot master

I just merged in some base POWER9 support patches into skiboot. While this is in no way near complete or really enough to be interesting to anyone that isn’t heavily involved in POWER9 development, it’s nice to take upstream first and open source first so seriously that this level of base enablement patches is easy to merge in.

Other work that has gone on for POWER9 in open source projects include way back in November 2015 where work for the updated PowerISA 3.0 was merged into binutils and this year there’s been kernel work too.

Video of my Percona Live Talk: Why would I run MySQL/MariaDB on POWER anyway?

Good news everyone! There’s video up for the talk I gave at Percona Live in April 2016 up: Why would I run MySQL/MariaDB on POWER anyway?

The talk is a general overview of POWER and why MySQL/MariaDB may be a good fit.

OpenPOWER, OpenCompute and fostering a firmware development community

Recently, I was at the OpenPOWER Summit in San Jose where people could see the Barreleye server (specs and design here, initial Rackspace blog post here). Barreleye is an OpenCompute form factor POWER8 server. It’s not only an OpenPOWER machine, which means all of the host firmware is free and open source software, but there’s also OpenBMC meaning that the source to the OS and userspace running on the BMC (service processor) is also open!

In addition, the firmware enablement came from Foxconn (see this skiboot commit), which means we’re being successful in enabling people who aren’t part of IBM to join the development community for OpenPOWER firmware and get the changes needed to support their machines accepted upstream.

Granted, the size of a firmware development community is always likely to be relatively small, but I really like how Foxconn has shown leadership to other ODMs on interacting with and becoming part of the OpenPOWER firmware community.

“Toy” database on mainframes

While much less common than 10 or 15 (err… even 20) years ago, you still sometimes hear MySQL being called a “toy” database. The good news is, when somebody says that, they’re admitting ignorance and you can help educate them!

Recently, a fellow IBMer submitted a pull request (and bug) to start having MySQL support on Z Series (s390x).

Generally speaking, when there’s effort being spent on getting something to run on Z, it is in no way considered a toy by those who’ll end up using it.