How we made Git fetch performance improvements in 2021, part 1

Jan 20, 2022 · 6 min read · Leave a comment
Jacob Vosmaer GitLab profile

In this post we look back on a series of projects from the Scalability team that improved GitLab server-side efficiency for serving Git fetch traffic. In the benchmark described below we saw a 9x reduction in GitLab server CPU utilization. Most of the performance comes from the Gitaly pack-objects cache, which has proven very effective at reducing the Gitaly server load caused by highly concurrent CI pipelines.

These changes are not user-visible but they benefit the stability and availability of GitLab.com. If you manage a GitLab instance yourself you may want to enable the pack-objects cache on your instance too.

We discuss how we achieved these improvements in part 2.

Background

Within the GitLab application, Gitaly is the component that acts as a remote procedure call (RPC) server for Git repositories. On GitLab.com, repositories are stored on persistent disks attached to dedicated Gitaly servers, and the rest of the application accesses repositories by making RPC calls to Gitaly.

In 2020 we encountered several incidents on GitLab.com caused by the fact that our Gitaly server infrastructure could not handle the Git fetch traffic generated by CI on our own main repository, gitlab-org/gitlab. The only reason the situation at the time worked was because we had a custom CI caching solution for gitlab-org/gitlab only, commonly referred to as the "CI pre-clone script".

The CI pre-clone script

The CI pre-clone script was an implementation of the clone bundle CI fetching strategy. We had originally set up the CI pre-clone script one year earlier, in December 2019. It consisted of two parts.

  1. A CI cron job that would clone gitlab-org/gitlab, pack up the result into a tarball, and upload it to a known Google Cloud Storage bucket.
  2. A shell script snippet, stored in the gitlab-org/gitlab project settings, that was injected into each gitlab-org/gitlab CI job. This shell script would download and extract the latest tarball from the known URL. After that the CI job did an incremental Git fetch, relative to the tarball contents, to retrieve the actual CI pipeline commit.

This system was very effective. Our CI pipelines run against shallow Git clones of gitlab-org/gitlab, which require over 100MB of data to be transfered per CI job. Because of the CI pre-clone script, the amount of Git data per job was closer to 1MB. The rest of the data was already there because of the tarball. The amount of repository data downloaded by each CI job stayed the same, but only 1% of this data had to come from a Gitaly server. This saved a lot of computation and bandwidth on the Gitaly server hosting gitlab-org/gitlab.

Although this solution worked well, it had a number of downsides.

  1. It was not part of the application and required per-project manual set-up and maintenance.
  2. It did not work for forks of gitlab-org/gitlab.
  3. It had to be maintained in two places: the project that created the tarball and the project settings of gitlab-org/gitlab.
  4. We had no version control for the download script; this was just text stored in the project's CI settings.
  5. The download script was fragile. We had one case where we added an exit statement in the wrong place, and all gitlab-org/gitlab builds started silently using stale checkouts left behind by other pipelines.
  6. In case of a Google Cloud Storage outage, the full uncached traffic would saturate the Gitaly server hosting gitlab-org/gitlab. Such outages are rare but they do happen.
  7. A user who would want to copy our solution would have to set up their own Google Cloud Storage bucket and pay the bills for it.

The biggest issue really was that one year on, the CI pre-clone script had not evolved from a custom one-off solution into an easy to use feature for everyone.

We solved this problem by building the pack-objects cache, which we will describe in more detail in the next blog post. Unlike the CI pre-clone script, which was a separate component, the pack-objects cache sits inside Gitaly. It is always on, for all repositories and all users on GitLab.com. If you run your own GitLab server you can also use the pack-objects cache, but you do have to turn it on first.

Performance comparison

To illustrate what has changed we have created a benchmark. We set up a GitLab server with a clone of gitlab-org/gitlab on it, and we configured a client machine to perform 20 simultaneous shallow clones of the same commit using Git HTTP.1 This simulates having a CI pipeline with 20 parallel jobs. The pack data is about 87MB so in terms of bandwidth, we are transferring 20 * 87 = 1740MB of data.

We did this experiment with two GitLab servers. Both were Google Compute Engine c2-standard-8 virtual machines with 8 CPU cores and 32GB RAM. The operating system was Ubuntu 20.04 and we installed GitLab using our Omnibus packages.

Before

The 30-second Perf flamegraph below was captured at 99Hz across all CPU's.

Flamegraph of GitLab 13.7 performance

Source: SVG

After

gitaly['pack_objects_cache_enabled'] = true

Flamegraph of GitLab 14.6 performance with
cache

Source: SVG

Analysis

Server CPU profile distribution:

Value Before After
Benchmark run time 27s 7.5s
git profile samples 18 552 923
gitaly samples (Git RPC server process) 1 247 331
gitaly-hooks samples (pack-objects cache client)   258
gitlab-workhorse samples (application HTTP frontend) 1 057 237
nginx samples (main HTTP frontend) 474 251
Total CPU busy samples 21 720 2 328
CPU utilization during benchmark 100% 40%

Conclusion

Compared to GitLab 13.6 (December 2020), GitLab 14.6 (December 2021) plus the pack-objects cache makes the CI fetch benchmark in this post run 3.6x faster. Average server CPU utilization during the benchmark dropped from 100% to 40%.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post, in which we will go over the changes we made to make this happen.

  1. As of GitLab 14.6, Git HTTP is 3x more CPU-efficient on the server than Git SSH. We are working on improving the efficiency of Git SSH in GitLab. We prioritized optimizing Git HTTP because that is what GitLab CI uses. 

“We improved server-side efficiency for Git fetch traffic. Here's how we did it and why you might want to enable it on your instances too. This is part 1 of a 2-part series.” – Jacob Vosmaer

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