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Why is my CPU spiking?

Authors: MichaelAfshar
Build basis: CLM 4.x and later

This section outlines the suggested approach for analyzing and investigating sporadic high CPU loads on Collaborative Lifecycle Management (CLM) servers.


This page focuses only on CPU spikes on the application server host.

Is the CPU spike actually causing a problem?

Variability in CPU consumption (depending on system workload) is, of course, not unusual. High CPU consumption is not, in itself, a problem.

However, 100 percent CPU consumption can be, and almost always is, a problem because it means there are insufficient resources at peak times to execute the workload presented to the system.

High CPU consumption can be perceived as a problem if system administrators worry about capacity with the projected growth in team size or end-user population. High CPU consumption is also a problem if it correlates with a degradation in end-user response times. Only in these cases is the effort associated with tracking down the source of the CPU spike(s) likely to be worthwhile.

Data gathering basics

First, obtain an overview of the system and insight into the temporal behavior of this symptom.

System overview and temporal behavior

Is this a virtual or physical system?

First, determine whether the system on which this application is running is a real (physical) machine, or a virtual machine (VM).

If it is a physical system, operating system statistics present a complete picture of CPU availability and consumption.

However, if it is a virtual machine, a complete understanding of CPU availability and consumption must include information only available from the hypervisor.

Operating system perspective

Next, you must identify how many processors the (possibly guest) operating system is managing. What level of multi-threading (or simultaneous multi-processing) is each processor capable of performing? Is each processor operating at its full theoretical clock speed, or is power-saving enabled and active?

What is happening when the CPU load is spiking?

It is the detailed answer to this question that will eventually lead to the root cause of the CPU spike.

Because this is usually an easier thing to do, it is best to first understand and eliminate possible 'external' sources of CPU consumption before undertaking the data gathering and analysis required of the application itself. Activities in the environment that might sporadically affect CPU consumption are:

  1. If this is a VM, activities (CPU demands) from other VMs sharing the same physical resources as this VM.
  2. Specific system administrative activities (such as virus scans or backups) .
  3. More generally, other processes sharing the same operating system as this application.

Once you are sure that the problem is with the application itself (or, more specifically, the Java process) you then need to determine which tier in the Java process might be responsible for the elevated CPU.

The methodical approach to doing this is to identify which Java threads are consuming the most CPU at the time that the Java process itself is peaking in CPU consumption. This is not always straight forward and involves rather tricky and lengthy data gathering and analysis. So again, before undertaking this methodical approach, it might be more efficient to first attempt to correlate the CPU spike with certain activities. Answering the following questions might help:

  1. Do the spikes correlate with any of the administrative activities in
    (a) the infrastructure (such as: WebSphere Application Server, JVM, or database)
    (b) the application (such as: asynchronous tasks, or report generation)
  2. Do the spikes correlate with any known end-user activity (such as: launching of system builds, periodicity of feeds, and others)

If there is nothing in the timing of the spikes that suggests a cause, understanding the cause of spikes will require characterizing the CPU spike and this in turn will require more detailed and protracted data gathering, depending on the mean time between spikes. The purpose of this data gathering is to collect concrete data that will tell you (among other things):

  1. The amplitude of the CPU spike
  2. The frequency with which the CPU spikes
  3. Whether the CPU spike is in kernel, user, or I/O wait times.
  4. Whether other metrics show correlating deleterious behavior (such as interrupts, paging, file I/O).
  5. What the threads in the application are doing at the time of the spike.

Setting up scripts to collect this data is described in each of the platform-specific sections below.

Detailed data gathering

Monitoring of system activity is dependent on the operating system. An outline of how this can be performed is provided at the following links:

  1. AIX
  2. RedHat Linux

Possible causes and solutions

Antivirus software enabled on production machine

Antivirus software has been known to cause slow performance when running on a production server. Check whether your antivirus software is running when you experience slow performance.

Related topics: None

External links:

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Additional contributors: None

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