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Paper Notes – RAPL In Action

Paper #

Khan, K.N., Hirki, M., Niemi, T., Nurminen, J.K., Ou, Z., 2018. RAPL in Action: Experiences in Using RAPL for Power Measurements. ACM Transactions on Modeling and Performance Evaluation of Computing Systems 3, 9:1-9:26.

General Notes #

  • This paper presents an analysis of accessing and validating process power consumption metrics available for Intel CPUs via the Running Average Power Limit (RAPL) interface. This is a commonly used method for examining power consumption, such as when comparing programming language efficiency.
  • RAPL is not the only method for measuring power consumption. The Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is also an option, but it was considered to be insufficiently accurate.
  • An advantage of using RAPL is that it is built into the chip hardware. It can measure the entire chipset including embedded DRAM and GPUs, although this paper focuses on the CPU. This also means there is no measurement overhead because the metrics are enabled from boot, managed by the SoC, and are running regardless of whether you want them or not.
  • RAPL was introduced in the Intel Sandy Bridge architecture, and is available in all subsequent processors. It measures a particular power domain, which was expanded in the Skylake architecture from Powerplane 0 and Powerplane 1 to include a new domain called Psys which covers the entire SoC.

Illustration of power domains supported by RAPL
Power domains supported by RAPL.

  • Access to the metrics are via Model Specific Registers (MSRs). These are 32-bit registers with different units depending on the chip (Sandy Bridge uses energy units of 15.3μJ, whereas Haswell and Skylake uses units of 61μJ.) and are updated every ~1ms. This presents several challenges:
    • The 32-bit register will roll over. No timestamps are provided, so you must track this yourself. The paper provides a method for calculating the overflow time based on the energy units and the power consumption. The higher the power consumption, the faster the counters are incremented. They use the example of a Haswell processor consuming 84 W triggering an overflow after 52 mins, however that is quite low power. It is quite easy to benchmark processors to 5 times that (400-600 W), which would significantly reduce the time between rollovers.
    • You will need to determine the chip type to know which registers to query their units.
    • Directly accessing the registers is only available to the root user on Linux, although there are alternative methods of polling them, such as via the /sys/class/powercap filesystem, via perf events, or via the PAPI library. Using the PAPI interface can add up to 30% of overhead to the measurement, although it depends on which RAPL attributes you request.
    • The 1ms update period is not consistent and has some jitter. This is a problem if you need measurements with more granularity e.g. where you want to profile a single function or code which executes faster than 1ms.
  • The system temperature has an impact on power consumption. The paper reports that for Haswell, the package power grows by approximately 10–12% between 37C and 74C. For Skylake, this is 8-10% for between 23C and 32C. As the temperature increases, the cooling system, e.g. the fan, has to do more work. Getting accurate measurements requires warming up the processor from a cold start to avoid a sudden spike in power consumption as the cooling kicks in.

Graph of temperature vs power over time
Package Temperature and Package Power over time with a constant load on CPU.

  • Registers are updated non-atomically, which means you need to know in which order they are updated and allow an appropriate time in between each one to ensure that you are getting the right result.
  • Individual core measurement is not supported, which limits the usefulness of power consumption against real world multi-threaded code or where hyperthreading is used.

RAPL and cloud instances #

This paper was published in 2018, which is a long time ago in the cloud computing world! They have a section on using RAPL on Amazon EC2 where they were able to query the RAPL interface without any problems. However, the temperature metric remained at a constant 25C (probably falsified by the hypervisor), which meant they couldn’t calibrate their tests against temperature.

Furthermore, the EC2 hypervisor intercepted the readings and the clock speed was lower than their other tests, which created a polling delay. Virtualized CPUs are not guaranteed to map directly to physical CPUs, which is a particular problem in shared cloud environments where the resources are shared amongst other users. They could not perform the same validation as with the rest of the paper where the register values were compared against power meter measurements.

Since then, other researchers have found that the newer EC2 KVM hypervisor instances no longer provide access to the RAPL metrics. This is not a bad thing because the limitations above mean the results are probably not that useful. Using bare metal cloud instances seems like the only way to get access to the RAPL data now.

Although we do now have carbon calculators for Amazon, Google, and Microsoft cloud environments, these are abstracted away from the underlying energy data. This makes it difficult to optimize cloud applications for energy efficiency.