5. Performance Metrics Inference Engine

The Performance Metrics Inference Engine (pmie) is a tool that provides automated monitoring of, and reasoning about, system performance within the Performance Co-Pilot (PCP) framework.

The major sections in this chapter are as follows:

Section 5.1, “Introduction to pmie”, provides an introduction to the concepts and design of pmie.

Section 5.2, “Basic pmie Usage”, describes the basic syntax and usage of pmie.

Section 5.3, “Specification Language for pmie”, discusses the complete pmie rule specification language.

Section 5.4, “pmie Examples”, provides an example, covering several common performance scenarios.

Section 5.5, “Developing and Debugging pmie Rules”, presents some tips and techniques for pmie rule development.

Section 5.6, “Caveats and Notes on pmie”, presents some important information on using pmie.

Section 5.7, “Creating pmie Rules with pmieconf”, describes how to use the pmieconf command to generate pmie rules.

Section 5.8, “Management of pmie Processes”, provides support for running pmie as a daemon.

5.1. Introduction to pmie

Automated reasoning within Performance Co-Pilot (PCP) is provided by the Performance Metrics Inference Engine, (pmie), which is an applied artificial intelligence application.

The pmie tool accepts expressions describing adverse performance scenarios, and periodically evaluates these against streams of performance metric values from one or more sources. When an expression is found to be true, pmie is able to execute arbitrary actions to alert or notify the system administrator of the occurrence of an adverse performance scenario. These facilities are very general, and are designed to accommodate the automated execution of a mixture of generic and site-specific performance monitoring and control functions.

The stream of performance metrics to be evaluated may be from one or more hosts, or from one or more PCP archive logs. In the latter case, pmie may be used to retrospectively identify adverse performance conditions.

Using pmie, you can filter, interpret, and reason about the large volume of performance data made available from PCP collector systems or PCP archives.

Typical pmie uses include the following:

  • Automated real-time monitoring of a host, a set of hosts, or client-server pairs of hosts to raise operational alarms when poor performance is detected in a production environment

  • Nightly processing of archive logs to detect and report performance regressions, or quantify quality of service for service level agreements or management reports, or produce advance warning of pending performance problems

  • Strategic performance management, for example, detection of slightly abnormal to chronic system behavior, trend analysis, and capacity planning

The pmie expressions are described in a language with expressive power and operational flexibility. It includes the following operators and functions:

  • Generalized predicate-action pairs, where a predicate is a logical expression over the available performance metrics, and the action is arbitrary. Predefined actions include the following:

    • Launch a visible alarm with pmconfirm; see the pmconfirm(1) man page.

    • Post an entry to the system log file; see the syslog(3) man page.

    • Post an entry to the PCP noticeboard file ${PCP_LOG_DIR}/NOTICES; see the pmpost(1) man page.

    • Execute a shell command or script, for example, to send e-mail, initiate a pager call, warn the help desk, and so on.

    • Echo a message on standard output; useful for scripts that generate reports from retrospective processing of PCP archive logs.

  • Arithmetic and logical expressions in a C-like syntax.

  • Expression groups may have an independent evaluation frequency, to support both short-term and long-term monitoring.

  • Canonical scale and rate conversion of performance metric values to provide sensible expression evaluation.

  • Aggregation functions of sum, avg, min, and max, that may be applied to collections of performance metrics values clustered over multiple hosts, or multiple instances, or multiple consecutive samples in time.

  • Universal and existential quantification, to handle expressions of the form “for every….” and “at least one…”.

  • Percentile aggregation to handle statistical outliers, such as “for at least 80% of the last 20 samples, …”.

  • Macro processing to expedite repeated use of common subexpressions or specification components.

  • Transparent operation against either live-feeds of performance metric values from PMCD on one or more hosts, or against PCP archive logs of previously accumulated performance metric values.

The power of pmie may be harnessed to automate the most common of the deterministic system management functions that are responses to changes in system performance. For example, disable a batch stream if the DBMS transaction commit response time at the ninetieth percentile goes over two seconds, or stop accepting uploads and send e-mail to the sysadmin alias if free space in a storage system falls below five percent.

Moreover, the power of pmie can be directed towards the exceptional and sporadic performance problems. For example, if a network packet storm is expected, enable IP header tracing for ten seconds, and send e-mail to advise that data has been collected and is awaiting analysis. Or, if production batch throughput falls below 50 jobs per minute, activate a pager to the systems administrator on duty.

Obviously, pmie customization is required to produce meaningful filtering and actions in each production environment. The pmieconf tool provides a convenient customization method, allowing the user to generate parameterized pmie rules for some of the more common performance scenarios.

5.2. Basic pmie Usage

This section presents and explains some basic examples of pmie usage. The pmie tool accepts the common PCP command line arguments, as described in Chapter 3, Common Conventions and Arguments. In addition, pmie accepts the following command line arguments:


Enables interactive debug mode.


Verbose mode: expression values are displayed.


Verbose mode: annotated expression values are displayed.


When-verbose mode: when a condition is true, the satisfying expression bindings are displayed.

One of the most basic invocations of this tool is this form:

pmie filename

In this form, the expressions to be evaluated are read from filename. In the absence of a given filename, expressions are read from standard input, which may be your system keyboard.

5.2.1. pmie use of PCP services

Before you use pmie, it is strongly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the concepts from the Section 1.2, “Conceptual Foundations”. The discussion in this section serves as a very brief review of these concepts.

PCP makes available thousands of performance metrics that you can use when formulating expressions for pmie to evaluate. If you want to find out which metrics are currently available on your system, use this command:


Use the pmie command line arguments to find out more about a particular metric. In Example 5.1. pmie with the -f Option, to fetch new metric values from host dove, you use the -f flag:

Example 5.1. pmie with the -f Option

pminfo -f -h dove disk.dev.total

This produces the following response:

    inst [0 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target81/lun0/disc"] value 131233
    inst [4 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target82/lun0/disc"] value 4
    inst [8 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target83/lun0/disc"] value 4
    inst [12 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target84/lun0/disc"] value 4
    inst [16 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target85/lun0/disc"] value 4
    inst [18 or "xscsi/pci00.01.0/target86/lun0/disc"] value 4

This reveals that on the host dove, the metric disk.dev.total has six instances, one for each disk on the system.

Use the following command to request help text (specified with the -T flag) to provide more information about performance metrics:

pminfo -T network.interface.in.packets

The metadata associated with a performance metric is used by pmie to determine how the value should be interpreted. You can examine the descriptor that encodes the metadata by using the -d flag for pminfo, as shown in Example 5.2. pmie with the -d and -h Options :

Example 5.2. pmie with the -d and -h Options

pminfo -d -h somehost mem.util.cached kernel.percpu.cpu.user

In response, you see output similar to this:

    Data Type: 64-bit unsigned int  InDom: PM_INDOM_NULL 0xffffffff
    Semantics: instant  Units: Kbyte

    Data Type: 64-bit unsigned int  InDom: 60.0 0xf000000
    Semantics: counter  Units: millisec


A cumulative counter such as kernel.percpu.cpu.user is automatically converted by pmie into a rate (measured in events per second, or count/second), while instantaneous values such as mem.util.cached are not subjected to rate conversion. Metrics with an instance domain (InDom in the pminfo output) of PM_INDOM_NULL are singular and always produce one value per source. However, a metric like kernel.percpu.cpu.user has an instance domain, and may produce multiple values per source (in this case, it is one value for each configured CPU).

5.2.2. ⁠Simple pmie Usage

Example 5.3. pmie with the -v Option directs the inference engine to evaluate and print values (specified with the -v flag) for a single performance metric (the simplest possible expression), in this case disk.dev.total, collected from the local PMCD:

Example 5.3. pmie with the -v Option

pmie -v
iops = disk.dev.total;
iops:      ?      ?
iops:   14.4      0
iops:   25.9  0.112
iops:   12.2      0
iops:   12.3   64.1
iops:  8.594  52.17
iops:  2.001  71.64

On this system, there are two disk spindles, hence two values of the expression iops per sample. Notice that the values for the first sample are unknown (represented by the question marks [?] in the first line of output), because rates can be computed only when at least two samples are available. The subsequent samples are produced every ten seconds by default. The second sample reports that during the preceding ten seconds there was an average of 14.4 transfers per second on one disk and no transfers on the other disk.

Rates are computed using time stamps delivered by PMCD. Due to unavoidable inaccuracy in the actual sampling time (the sample interval is not exactly 10 seconds), you may see more decimal places in values than you expect. Notice, however, that these errors do not accumulate but cancel each other out over subsequent samples.

In Example 5.3. pmie with the -v Option, the expression to be evaluated was entered using the keyboard, followed by the end-of-file character [Ctrl+D]. Usually, it is more convenient to enter expressions into a file (for example, myrules) and ask pmie to read the file. Use this command syntax:

pmie -v myrules

Please refer to the pmie(1) man page for a complete description of pmie command line options.

5.2.3. ⁠Complex pmie Examples

This section illustrates more complex pmie expressions of the specification language. Section 5.3, “Specification Language for pmie”, provides a complete description of the pmie specification language.

The following arithmetic expression computes the percentage of write operations over the total number of disk transfers.

(disk.all.write / disk.all.total) * 100;

The disk.all metrics are singular, so this expression produces exactly one value per sample, independent of the number of disk devices.


If there is no disk activity, disk.all.total will be zero and pmie evaluates this expression to be not a number. When -v is used, any such values are displayed as question marks.

The following logical expression has the value true or false for each disk:

disk.dev.total > 10 &&
disk.dev.write > disk.dev.read;

The value is true if the number of writes exceeds the number of reads, and if there is significant disk activity (more than 10 transfers per second). Example 5.4. Printed pmie Output demonstrates a simple action:

Example 5.4. Printed pmie Output

some_inst disk.dev.total > 60
          -> print "[%i] high disk i/o";

This prints a message to the standard output whenever the total number of transfers for some disk (some_inst) exceeds 60 transfers per second. The %i (instance) in the message is replaced with the name(s) of the disk(s) that caused the logical expression to be true.

Using pmie to evaluate the above expressions every 3 seconds, you see output similar to Example 5.5. Labelled pmie Output. Notice the introduction of labels for each pmie expression.

Example 5.5. Labelled pmie Output

pmie -v -t 3sec
pct_wrt = (disk.all.write / disk.all.total) * 100;
busy_wrt = disk.dev.total > 10 &&
           disk.dev.write > disk.dev.read;
busy = some_inst disk.dev.total > 60
           -> print "[%i] high disk i/o ";
pct_wrt:       ?
busy_wrt:      ?      ?
busy:          ?

pct_wrt:   18.43
busy_wrt:  false  false
busy:      false

Mon Aug  5 14:56:08 2012: [disk2] high disk i/o
pct_wrt:   10.83
busy_wrt:  false  false
busy:      true

pct_wrt:   19.85
busy_wrt:   true  false
busy:      false

pct_wrt:       ?
busy_wrt:  false  false
busy:      false

Mon Aug  5 14:56:17 2012: [disk1] high disk i/o [disk2] high disk i/o
pct_wrt:   14.8
busy_wrt:  false  false
busy:   true

The first sample contains unknowns, since all expressions depend on computing rates. Also notice that the expression pct_wrt may have an undefined value whenever all disks are idle, as the denominator of the expression is zero. If one or more disks is busy, the expression busy is true, and the message from the print in the action part of the rule appears (before the -v values).

5.3. Specification Language for pmie

This section describes the complete syntax of the pmie specification language, as well as macro facilities and the issue of sampling and evaluation frequency. The reader with a preference for learning by example may choose to skip this section and go straight to the examples in Section 5.4, “pmie Examples”.

Complex expressions are built up recursively from simple elements:

  1. Performance metric values are obtained from PMCD for real-time sources, otherwise from PCP archive logs.

  2. Metrics values may be combined using arithmetic operators to produce arithmetic expressions.

  3. Arithmetic expressions may be compared using relational operators to produce logical expressions.

  4. Logical expressions may be combined using Boolean operators, including powerful quantifiers.

  5. Aggregation operators may be used to compute summary expressions, for either arithmetic or logical operands.

  6. The final logical expression may be used to initiate a sequence of actions.

5.3.1. Basic pmie Syntax

The pmie rule specification language supports a number of basic syntactic elements. ⁠Lexical Elements

All pmie expressions are composed of the following lexical elements:


Begins with an alphabetic character (either upper or lowercase), followed by zero or more letters, the numeric digits, and the special characters period (.) and underscore (_), as shown in the following example:

x, disk.dev.total and my_stuff

As a special case, an arbitrary sequence of letters enclosed by apostrophes (‘) is also interpreted as an identifier; for example:



The aggregate operators, units, and predefined actions are represented by keywords; for example, some_inst, print, and hour.

Numeric constant

Any likely representation of a decimal integer or floating point number; for example, 124, 0.05, and -45.67

String constant

An arbitrary sequence of characters, enclosed by double quotation marks (“x”).

Within quotes of any sort, the backslash () may be used as an escape character as shown in the following example:

"A \"gentle\" reminder" Comments

Comments may be embedded anywhere in the source, in either of these forms:

/* text */

Comment, optionally spanning multiple lines, with no nesting of comments.

// text

Comment from here to the end of the line. ⁠Macros

When they are fully specified, expressions in pmie tend to be verbose and repetitive. The use of macros can reduce repetition and improve readability and modularity. Any statement of the following form associates the macro name identifier with the given string constant.

identifier = "string";

Any subsequent occurrence of the macro name identifier is replaced by the string most recently associated with a macro definition for identifier.


For example, start with the following macro definition:

disk = "disk.all";

You can then use the following syntax:

pct_wrt = ($disk.write / $disk.total) * 100;


Macro expansion is performed before syntactic parsing; so macros may only be assigned constant string values. Units

The inference engine converts all numeric values to canonical units (seconds for time, bytes for space, and events for count). To avoid surprises, you are encouraged to specify the units for numeric constants. If units are specified, they are checked for dimension compatibility against the metadata for the associated performance metrics.

The syntax for a units specification is a sequence of one or more of the following keywords separated by either a space or a slash (/), to denote per: byte, KByte, MByte, GByte, TByte, nsec, nanosecond, usec, microsecond, msec, millisecond, sec, second, min, minute, hour, count, Kcount, Mcount, Gcount, or Tcount. Plural forms are also accepted.

The following are examples of units usage:

disk.dev.blktotal > 1 Mbyte / second;
mem.util.cached < 500 Kbyte;


If you do not specify the units for numeric constants, it is assumed that the constant is in the canonical units of seconds for time, bytes for space, and events for count, and the dimensionality of the constant is assumed to be correct. Thus, in the following expression, the 500 is interpreted as 500 bytes.

mem.util.cached < 500

5.3.2. Setting Evaluation Frequency

The identifier name delta is reserved to denote the interval of time between consecutive evaluations of one or more expressions. Set delta as follows:

delta = number [units];

If present, units must be one of the time units described in the preceding section. If absent, units are assumed to be seconds. For example, the following expression has the effect that any subsequent expressions (up to the next expression that assigns a value to delta) are scheduled for evaluation at a fixed frequency, once every five minutes.

delta = 5 min;

The default value for delta may be specified using the -t command line option; otherwise delta is initially set to be 10 seconds.

5.3.3. pmie Metric Expressions

The performance metrics namespace (PMNS) provides a means of naming performance metrics, for example, disk.dev.read. PCP allows an application to retrieve one or more values for a performance metric from a designated source (a collector host running PMCD, or a set of PCP archive logs). To specify a single value for some performance metric requires the metric name to be associated with all three of the following:

  1. A particular host (or source of metrics values)

  2. A particular instance (for metrics with multiple values)

  3. A sample time

The permissible values for hosts are the range of valid hostnames as provided by Internet naming conventions.

The names for instances are provided by the Performance Metrics Domain Agents (PMDA) for the instance domain associated with the chosen performance metric.

The sample time specification is defined as the set of natural numbers 0, 1, 2, and so on. A number refers to one of a sequence of sampling events, from the current sample 0 to its predecessor 1, whose predecessor was 2, and so on. This scheme is illustrated by the time line shown in Figure 5.1. Sampling Time Line.


Figure 5.1. Sampling Time Line

Each sample point is assumed to be separated from its predecessor by a constant amount of real time, the delta. The most recent sample point is always zero. The value of delta may vary from one expression to the next, but is fixed for each expression; for more information on the sampling interval, see Section 5.3.2, “Setting Evaluation Frequency”.

For pmie, a metrics expression is the name of a metric, optionally qualified by a host, instance and sample time specification. Special characters introduce the qualifiers: colon (:) for hosts, hash or pound sign (#) for instances, and at (@) for sample times. The following expression refers to the previous value (@1) of the counter for the disk read operations associated with the disk instance #disk1 on the host moomba.

disk.dev.read :moomba #disk1 @1

In fact, this expression defines a point in the three-dimensional (3D) parameter space of {host} x {instance} x {sample time} as shown in Figure 5.2. Three-Dimensional Parameter Space.


Figure 5.2. Three-Dimensional Parameter Space

A metric expression may also identify sets of values corresponding to one-, two-, or three-dimensional slices of this space, according to the following rules:

  1. A metric expression consists of a PCP metric name, followed by optional host specifications, followed by optional instance specifications, and finally, optional sample time specifications.

  2. A host specification consists of one or more host names, each prefixed by a colon (:). For example: :indy :far.away.domain.com :localhost

  3. A missing host specification implies the default pmie source of metrics, as defined by a -h option on the command line, or the first named archive in an -a option on the command line, or PMCD on the local host.

  4. An instance specification consists of one or more instance names, each prefixed by a hash or pound (#) sign. For example: #eth0 #eth2

    Recall that you can discover the instance names for a particular metric, using the pminfo command. See Section 5.2.1, “pmie use of PCP services”.

Within the pmie grammar, an instance name is an identifier. If the instance name contains characters other than alphanumeric characters, enclose the instance name in single quotes; for example, #\’/boot\’ #\’/usr\’

  1. A missing instance specification implies all instances for the associated performance metric from each associated pmie source of metrics.

  2. A sample time specification consists of either a single time or a range of times. A single time is represented as an at (@) followed by a natural number. A range of times is an at (@), followed by a natural number, followed by two periods (..) followed by a second natural number. The ordering of the end points in a range is immaterial. For example, @0..9 specifies the last 10 sample times.

  3. A missing sample time specification implies the most recent sample time.

The following metric expression refers to a three-dimensional set of values, with two hosts in one dimension, five sample times in another, and the number of instances in the third dimension being determined by the number of configured disk spindles on the two hosts.

disk.dev.read :foo :bar @0..4

5.3.4. pmie Rate Conversion

Many of the metrics delivered by PCP are cumulative counters. Consider the following metric:


A single value for this metric tells you only that a certain number of disk I/O operations have occurred since boot time, and that information may be invalid if the counter has exceeded its 32-bit range and wrapped. You need at least two values, sampled at known times, to compute the recent rate at which the I/O operations are being executed. The required syntax would be this:

(disk.all.total @0 - disk.all.total @1) / delta

The accuracy of delta as a measure of actual inter-sample delay is an issue. pmie requests samples, at intervals of approximately delta, while the results exported from PMCD are time stamped with the high-resolution system clock time when the samples were extracted. For these reasons, a built-in and implicit rate conversion using accurate time stamps is provided by pmie for performance metrics that have counter semantics. For example, the following expression is unconditionally converted to a rate by pmie.


5.3.5. pmie Arithmetic Expressions

Within pmie, simple arithmetic expressions are constructed from metrics expressions (see Section 5.3.3, “pmie Metric Expressions”) and numeric constants, using all of the arithmetic operators and precedence rules of the C programming language.

All pmie arithmetic is performed in double precision.

Section 5.3.8, “pmie Intrinsic Operators”, describes additional operators that may be used for aggregate operations to reduce the dimensionality of an arithmetic expression.

5.3.6. ⁠pmie Logical Expressions

A number of logical expression types are supported:

  • Logical constants

  • Relational expressions

  • Boolean expressions

  • Quantification operators Logical Constants

Like in the C programming language, pmie interprets an arithmetic value of zero to be false, and all other arithmetic values are considered true. ⁠Relational Expressions

Relational expressions are the simplest form of logical expression, in which values may be derived from arithmetic expressions using pmie relational operators. For example, the following is a relational expression that is true or false, depending on the aggregate total of disk read operations per second being greater than 50.

disk.all.read > 50 count/sec

All of the relational logical operators and precedence rules of the C programming language are supported in pmie.

As described in Section 5.3.3, “pmie Metric Expressions”, arithmetic expressions in pmie may assume set values. The relational operators are also required to take constant, singleton, and set-valued expressions as arguments. The result has the same dimensionality as the operands. Suppose the rule in Example 5.6. Relational Expressions is given:

Example 5.6. Relational Expressions

hosts = ":gonzo";
intfs = "#eth0 #eth2";
all_intf = network.interface.in.packets
               $hosts $intfs @0..2 > 300 count/sec;

Then the execution of pmie may proceed as follows:

pmie -V uag.11
       gonzo: [eth0]      ?      ?      ?
       gonzo: [eth2]      ?      ?      ?
       gonzo: [eth0]  false      ?      ?
       gonzo: [eth2]  false      ?      ?
       gonzo: [eth0]   true  false      ?
       gonzo: [eth2]  false  false      ?
       gonzo: [eth0]   true   true  false
       gonzo: [eth2]  false  false  false

At each sample, the relational operator greater than (>) produces six truth values for the cross-product of the instance and sample time dimensions.

Section, “Quantification Operators”, describes additional logical operators that may be used to reduce the dimensionality of a relational expression. ⁠Boolean Expressions

The regular Boolean operators from the C programming language are supported: conjunction (&&), disjunction (||) and negation (!).

As with the relational operators, the Boolean operators accommodate set-valued operands, and set-valued results. Quantification Operators

Boolean and relational operators may accept set-valued operands and produce set-valued results. In many cases, rules that are appropriate for performance management require a set of truth values to be reduced along one or more of the dimensions of hosts, instances, and sample times described in Section 5.3.3, “pmie Metric Expressions”. The pmie quantification operators perform this function.

Each quantification operator takes a one-, two-, or three-dimension set of truth values as an operand, and reduces it to a set of smaller dimension, by quantification along a single dimension. For example, suppose the expression in the previous example is simplified and prefixed by some_sample, to produce the following expression:

intfs = "#eth0 #eth2";
all_intf = some_sample network.interface.in.packets
                     $intfs @0..2 > 300 count/sec;

Then the expression result is reduced from six values to two (one per interface instance), such that the result for a particular instance will be false unless the relational expression for the same interface instance is true for at least one of the preceding three sample times.

There are existential, universal, and percentile quantification operators in each of the host, instance, and sample time dimensions to produce the nine operators as follows:


True if the expression is true for at least one host for the same instance and sample time.


True if the expression is true for every host for the same instance and sample time.


True if the expression is true for at least N% of the hosts for the same instance and sample time.


True if the expression is true for at least one instance for the same host and sample time.


True if the expression is true for every instance for the same host and sample time.


True if the expression is true for at least N% of the instances for the same host and sample time.

some_sample time

True if the expression is true for at least one sample time for the same host and instance.

all_sample time

True if the expression is true for every sample time for the same host and instance.

N%_sample time

True if the expression is true for at least N% of the sample times for the same host and instance.

These operators may be nested. For example, the following expression answers the question: “Are all hosts experiencing at least 20% of their disks busy either reading or writing?”

Servers = ":moomba :babylon";
all_host (
    20%_inst disk.dev.read $Servers > 40 ||
    20%_inst disk.dev.write $Servers > 40

The following expression uses different syntax to encode the same semantics:

all_host (
    20%_inst (
        disk.dev.read $Servers > 40 ||
        disk.dev.write $Servers > 40


To avoid confusion over precedence and scope for the quantification operators, use explicit parentheses.

Two additional quantification operators are available for the instance dimension only, namely match_inst and nomatch_inst, that take a regular expression and a boolean expression. The result is the boolean AND of the expression and the result of matching (or not matching) the associated instance name against the regular expression.

For example, this rule evaluates error rates on various 10BaseT Ethernet network interfaces (such as ecN, ethN, or efN):

        match_inst "^(ec|eth|ef)"
                network.interface.total.errors > 10 count/sec
-> syslog "Ethernet errors:" " %i"

5.3.7. pmie Rule Expressions

Rule expressions for pmie have the following syntax:

lexpr -> actions ;

The semantics are as follows:

  • If the logical expression lexpr evaluates true, then perform the actions that follow. Otherwise, do not perform the actions.

  • It is required that lexpr has a singular truth value. Aggregation and quantification operators must have been applied to reduce multiple truth values to a single value.

  • When executed, an action completes with a success/failure status.

  • One or more actions may appear; consecutive actions are separated by operators that control the execution of subsequent actions, as follows:

    • action-1 & : Always execute subsequent actions (serial execution).

    • action-1 | : If action-1 fails, execute subsequent actions, otherwise skip the subsequent actions (alternation).

An action is composed of a keyword to identify the action method, an optional time specification, and one or more arguments.

A time specification uses the same syntax as a valid time interval that may be assigned to delta, as described in Section 5.3.2, “Setting Evaluation Frequency ”. If the action is executed and the time specification is present, pmie will suppress any subsequent execution of this action until the wall clock time has advanced by time.

The arguments are passed directly to the action method.

The following action methods are provided:


The single argument is passed to the shell for execution. This action is implemented using system in the background. The action does not wait for the system call to return, and succeeds unless the fork fails.


A notifier containing a time stamp, a single argument as a message, and a Cancel button is posted on the current display screen (as identified by the DISPLAY environment variable). Each alarm action first checks if its notifier is already active. If there is an identical active notifier, a duplicate notifier is not posted. The action succeeds unless the fork fails.


A message is written into the system log. If the first word of the first argument is -p, the second word is interpreted as the priority (see the syslog(3) man page); the message tag is pcp-pmie. The remaining argument is the message to be written to the system log. This action always succeeds.


A message containing a time stamp in ctime(3) format and the argument is displayed out to standard output (stdout). This action always succeeds.

Within the argument passed to an action method, the following expansions are supported to allow some of the context from the logical expression on the left to appear to be embedded in the argument:


The value of a host that makes the expression true.


The value of an instance that makes the expression true.


The value of a performance metric from the logical expression.

Some ambiguity may occur in respect to which host, instance, or performance metric is bound to a %-token. In most cases, the leftmost binding in the top-level subexpression is used. You may need to use pmie in the interactive debugging mode (specify the -d command line option) in conjunction with the -W command line option to discover which subexpressions contributes to the %-token bindings.

Example 5.7. Rule Expression Options illustrates some of the options when constructing rule expressions:

Example 5.7. Rule Expression Options

some_inst ( disk.dev.total > 60 )
       -> syslog 10 mins "[%i] busy, %v IOPS " &
          shell 1 hour "echo \
               'Disk %i is REALLY busy. Running at %v I/Os per second' \
               | Mail -s 'pmie alarm' sysadm";

In this case, %v and %i are both associated with the instances for the metric disk.dev.total that make the expression true. If more than one instance makes the expression true (more than one disk is busy), then the argument is formed by concatenating the result from each %-token binding. The text added to the system log file might be as shown in Example 5.8. System Log Text :

Example 5.8. System Log Text

Aug 6 08:12:44 5B:gonzo pcp-pmie[3371]:
                         [disk1] busy, 3.7 IOPS [disk2] busy, 0.3 IOPS


When pmie is processing performance metrics from a set of PCP archive logs, the actions will be processed in the expected manner; however, the action methods are modified to report a textual facsimile of the action on the standard output.

Consider the rule in Example 5.9. Standard Output :

Example 5.9. Standard Output

delta = 2 sec;  // more often for demonstration purposes
percpu  = "kernel.percpu";
// Unusual usr-sys split when some CPU is more than 20% in usr mode
// and sys mode is at least 1.5 times usr mode
cpu_usr_sys = some_inst (
        $percpu.cpu.sys > $percpu.cpu.user * 1.5 &&
        $percpu.cpu.user > 0.2
   ) ->  alarm "Unusual sys time: " "%i ";

When evaluated against an archive, the following output is generated (the alarm action produces a message on standard output):

pmafm ${HOME}/f4 pmie cpu.head cpu.00
alarm Wed Aug  7 14:54:48 2012: Unusual sys time: cpu0
alarm Wed Aug  7 14:54:50 2012: Unusual sys time: cpu0
alarm Wed Aug  7 14:54:52 2012: Unusual sys time: cpu0
alarm Wed Aug  7 14:55:02 2012: Unusual sys time: cpu0
alarm Wed Aug  7 14:55:06 2012: Unusual sys time: cpu0

5.3.8. pmie Intrinsic Operators

The following sections describe some other useful intrinsic operators for pmie. These operators are divided into three groups:

  1. Arithmetic aggregation

  2. The rate operator

  3. Transitional operators ⁠Arithmetic Aggregation

For set-valued arithmetic expressions, the following operators reduce the dimensionality of the result by arithmetic aggregation along one of the host, instance, or sample time dimensions. For example, to aggregate in the host dimension, the following operators are provided:


Computes the average value across all instances for the same host and sample time


Computes the total value across all instances for the same host and sample time


Computes the number of values across all instances for the same host and sample time


Computes the minimum value across all instances for the same host and sample time


Computes the maximum value across all instances for the same host and sample time

Ten additional operators correspond to the forms *_inst and *_sample.

The following example illustrates the use of an aggregate operator in combination with an existential operator to answer the question “Does some host currently have two or more busy processors?”

// note '' to escape - in host name
poke = ":moomba :'mac-larry' :bitbucket";
some_host (
    count_inst ( kernel.percpu.cpu.user $poke +
                 kernel.percpu.cpu.sys $poke > 0.7 ) >= 2
       -> alarm "2 or more busy CPUs"; ⁠The rate Operator

The rate operator computes the rate of change of an arithmetic expression as shown in the following example:

rate mem.util.cached

It returns the rate of change for the mem.util.cached performance metric; that is, the rate at which page cache memory is being allocated and released.

The rate intrinsic operator is most useful for metrics with instantaneous value semantics. For metrics with counter semantics, pmie already performs an implicit rate calculation (see the Section 5.3.4, “pmie Rate Conversion”) and the rate operator would produce the second derivative with respect to time, which is less likely to be useful. Transitional Operators

In some cases, an action needs to be triggered when an expression changes from true to false or vice versa. The following operators take a logical expression as an operand, and return a logical expression:

  • rising: Has the value true when the operand transitions from false to true in consecutive samples.

  • falling: Has the value false when the operand transitions from true to false in consecutive samples.

5.4. pmie Examples

The examples presented in this section are task-oriented and use the full power of the pmie specification language as described in Section 5.3, “Specification Language for pmie”.

Source code for the pmie examples in this chapter, and many more examples, is provided within the PCP Tutorials and Case Studies. Example 5.10. Monitoring CPU Utilization and Example 5.11. Monitoring Disk Activity illustrate monitoring CPU utilization and disk activity.

Example 5.10. Monitoring CPU Utilization

// Some Common Performance Monitoring Scenarios
// The CPU Group
delta = 2 sec;  // more often for demonstration purposes
// common prefixes
percpu  = "kernel.percpu";
all     = "kernel.all";
// Unusual usr-sys split when some CPU is more than 20% in usr mode
// and sys mode is at least 1.5 times usr mode
cpu_usr_sys =
       some_inst (
           $percpu.cpu.sys > $percpu.cpu.user * 1.5 &&
           $percpu.cpu.user > 0.2
           ->  alarm "Unusual sys time: " "%i ";
// Over all CPUs, syscall_rate > 1000 * no_of_cpus
cpu_syscall =
       $all.syscall > 1000 count/sec * hinv.ncpu
       ->  print "high aggregate syscalls: %v";
// Sustained high syscall rate on a single CPU
delta = 30 sec;
percpu_syscall =
       some_inst (
           $percpu.syscall > 2000 count/sec
           -> syslog "Sustained syscalls per second? " "[%i] %v ";
// the 1 minute load average exceeds 5 * number of CPUs on any host
hosts = ":gonzo :moomba";   // change as required
delta = 1 minute;           // no need to evaluate more often than this
high_load =
     some_host (
           $all.load $hosts #'1 minute' > 5 * hinv.ncpu
           -> alarm "High Load Average? " "%h: %v ";

Example 5.11. Monitoring Disk Activity

// Some Common Performance Monitoring Scenarios
// The Disk Group
delta = 15 sec;         // often enough for disks?
// common prefixes
disk    = "disk";
// Any disk performing more than 40 I/Os per second, sustained over
// at least 30 seconds is probably busy
delta = 30 seconds;
disk_busy =
       some_inst (
           $disk.dev.total > 40 count/sec
]      -> shell "Mail -s 'Heavy sustained disk traffic' sysadm";
// Try and catch bursts of activity ... more than 60 I/Os per second
// for at least 25% of 8 consecutive 3 second samples
delta = 3 sec;
disk_burst =
       some_inst (
           25%_sample (
               $disk.dev.total @0..7 > 60 count/sec
       -> alarm "Disk Burst? " "%i ";
// any SCSI disk controller performing more than 3 Mbytes per
// second is busy
// Note: the obscure 512 is to convert blocks/sec to byte/sec,
//       and pmie handles the rest of the scale conversion
some_inst $disk.ctl.blktotal * 512 > 3 Mbyte/sec
           -> alarm "Busy Disk Controller: " "%i ";

5.5. Developing and Debugging pmie Rules

Given the -d command line option, pmie executes in interactive mode, and the user is presented with a menu of options:

pmie debugger commands
     f [file-name]      - load expressions from given file or stdin
     l [expr-name]      - list named expression or all expressions
     r [interval]       - run for given or default interval
     S time-spec        - set start time for run
     T time-spec        - set default interval for run command
     v [expr-name]      - print subexpression for %h, %i and %v bindings
     h or ?             - print this menu of commands
     q                  - quit

If both the -d option and a filename are present, the expressions in the given file are loaded before entering interactive mode. Interactive mode is useful for debugging new rules.

5.6. Caveats and Notes on pmie

The following sections provide important information for users of pmie.

5.6.1. ⁠Performance Metrics Wraparound

Performance metrics that are cumulative counters may occasionally overflow their range and wraparound to 0. When this happens, an unknown value (printed as ?) is returned as the value of the metric for one sample (recall that the value returned is normally a rate). You can have PCP interpolate a value based on expected rate of change by setting the PCP_COUNTER_WRAP environment variable.

5.6.2. ⁠pmie Sample Intervals

The sample interval (delta) should always be long enough, particularly in the case of rates, to ensure that a meaningful value is computed. Interval may vary according to the metric and your needs. A reasonable minimum is in the range of ten seconds or several minutes. Although PCP supports sampling rates up to hundreds of times per second, using small sample intervals creates unnecessary load on the monitored system.

5.6.3. ⁠pmie Instance Names

When you specify a metric instance name (#identifier) in a pmie expression, it is compared against the instance name looked up from either a live collector system or an archive as follows:

  • If the given instance name and the looked up name are the same, they are considered to match.

  • Otherwise, the first two space separated tokens are extracted from the looked up name. If the given instance name is the same as either of these tokens, they are considered a match.

For some metrics, notably the per process (proc.xxx.xxx) metrics, the first token in the looked up instance name is impossible to determine at the time you are writing pmie expressions. The above policy circumvents this problem.

5.6.4. ⁠pmie Error Detection

The parser used in pmie is not particularly robust in handling syntax errors. It is suggested that you check any problematic expressions individually in interactive mode:

pmie -v -d
pmie> f

If the expression was parsed, its internal representation is shown:

pmie> l

The expression is evaluated twice and its value printed:

pmie> r 10sec

Then quit:

pmie> q

It is not always possible to detect semantic errors at parse time. This happens when a performance metric descriptor is not available from the named host at this time. A warning is issued, and the expression is put on a wait list. The wait list is checked periodically (about every five minutes) to see if the metric descriptor has become available. If an error is detected at this time, a message is printed to the standard error stream (stderr) and the offending expression is set aside.

5.7. Creating pmie Rules with pmieconf

The pmieconf tool is a command line utility that is designed to aid the specification of pmie rules from parameterized versions of the rules. pmieconf is used to display and modify variables or parameters controlling the details of the generated pmie rules.

pmieconf reads two different forms of supplied input files and produces a localized pmie configuration file as its output.

The first input form is a generalized pmie rule file such as those found below ${PCP_VAR_DIR}/config/pmieconf. These files contain the generalized rules which pmieconf is able to manipulate. Each of the rules can be enabled or disabled, or the individual variables associated with each rule can be edited.

The second form is an actual pmie configuration file (that is, a file which can be interpreted by pmie, conforming to the pmie syntax described in Section 5.3, “Specification Language for pmie”). This file is both input to and output from pmieconf.

The input version of the file contains any changed variables or rule states from previous invocations of pmieconf, and the output version contains both the changes in state (for any subsequent pmieconf sessions) and the generated pmie syntax. The pmieconf state is embedded within a pmie comment block at the head of the output file and is not interpreted by pmie itself.

pmieconf is an integral part of the pmie daemon management process described in Section 5.8, “Management of pmie Processes”. Procedure 5.1. Display pmieconf Rules and Procedure 5.2. Modify pmieconf Rules and Generate a pmie File introduce the pmieconf tool through a series of typical operations.

Procedure 5.1. Display pmieconf Rules

  1. Start pmieconf interactively (as the superuser).

pmieconf -f ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo
Updates will be made to ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo

  1. List the set of available pmieconf rules by using the rules command.

  2. List the set of rule groups using the groups command.

  3. List only the enabled rules, using the rules enabled command.

  4. List a single rule:

    pmieconf> list memory.swap_low
       rule: memory.swap_low  [Low free swap space]
       help: There is only threshold percent swap space remaining - the system
             may soon run out of virtual memory.  Reduce the number and size of
             the running programs or add more swap(1) space before it
             runs out.
             predicate =
               some_host (
                   ( 100 * ( swap.free $hosts$ / swap.length $hosts$ ) )
                     < $threshold$
                   && swap.length $hosts$ > 0        // ensure swap in use
       vars: enabled = no
             threshold = 10%
  5. List one rule variable:

    pmieconf> list memory.swap_low threshold
       rule: memory.swap_low  [Low free swap space]
             threshold = 10%

Procedure 5.2. Modify pmieconf Rules and Generate a pmie File

  1. Lower the threshold for the memory.swap_low rule, and also change the pmie sample interval affecting just this rule. The delta variable is special in that it is not associated with any particular rule; it has been defined as a global pmieconf variable. Global variables can be displayed using the list global command to pmieconf, and can be modified either globally or local to a specific rule.

    pmieconf> modify memory.swap_low threshold 5
    pmieconf> modify memory.swap_low delta "1 sec"
  2. Disable all of the rules except for the memory.swap_low rule so that you can see the effects of your change in isolation.

    This produces a relatively simple pmie configuration file:

    pmieconf> disable all
    pmieconf> enable memory.swap_low
    pmieconf> status
      verbose:  off
      enabled rules:  1 of 35
      pmie configuration file:  ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo
      pmie processes (PIDs) using this file:  (none found)
    pmieconf> quit

You can also use the status command to verify that only one rule is enabled at the end of this step.

  1. Run pmie with the new configuration file. Use a text editor to view the newly generated pmie configuration file (${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo), and then run the command:

    pmie -T "1.5 sec" -v -l ${HOME}/demo.log ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo
    memory.swap_low: false
    memory.swap_low: false
    cat ${HOME}/demo.log
    Log for pmie on venus started Mon Jun 21 16:26:06 2012
    pmie: PID = 21847, default host = venus
    [Mon Jun 21 16:26:07] pmie(21847) Info: evaluator exiting
    Log finished Mon Jun 21 16:26:07 2012
  2. Notice that both of the pmieconf files used in the previous step are simple text files, as described in the pmieconf(5) man page:

    file ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo
    ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo:  PCP pmie config (V.1)
    file ${PCP_VAR_DIR}/config/pmieconf/memory/swap_low
    ${PCP_VAR_DIR}/config/pmieconf/memory/swap_low:       PCP pmieconf rules (V.1)

5.8. Management of pmie Processes

The pmie process can be run as a daemon as part of the system startup sequence, and can thus be used to perform automated, live performance monitoring of a running system. To do this, run these commands (as superuser):

chkconfig pmie on
${PCP_RC_DIR}/pmie start

By default, these enable a single pmie process monitoring the local host, with the default set of pmieconf rules enabled (for more information about pmieconf, see Section 5.7, “Creating pmie Rules with pmieconf”). Procedure 5.3. Add a New pmie Instance to the pmie Daemon Management Framework illustrates how you can use these commands to start any number of pmie processes to monitor local or remote machines.

Procedure 5.3. Add a New pmie Instance to the pmie Daemon Management Framework

  1. Use a text editor (as superuser) to edit the pmie${PCP_PMIECONTROL_PATH} and ${PCP_PMIECONTROL_PATH}.d control files. Notice the default entry, which looks like this:

    #Host           P?  S?  Log File                                  Arguments
    LOCALHOSTNAME   y   n   PCP_LOG_DIR/pmie/LOCALHOSTNAME/pmie.log   -c config.default

    This entry is used to enable a local pmie process. Add a new entry for a remote host on your local network (for example, venus), by using your pmie configuration file (see Section 5.7, “Creating pmie Rules with pmieconf”):

    #Host           P?  S?  Log File                                  Arguments
    venus           n   n   PCP_LOG_DIR/pmie/venus/pmie.log           -c config.demo


    Without an absolute path, the configuration file (-c above) will be resolved using ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie - if config.demo was created in Procedure 5.2. Modify pmieconf Rules and Generate a pmie File it would be used here for host venus, otherwise a new configuration file will be generated using the default rules (at ${PCP_SYSCONF_DIR}/pmie/config.demo).

  2. Enable pmie daemon management:

    chkconfig pmie on

This simple step allows pmie to be started as part of your machine’s boot process.

  1. Start the two pmie daemons. At the end of this step, you should see two new pmie processes monitoring the local and remote hosts:

    ${PCP_RC_DIR}/pmie start
    Performance Co-Pilot starting inference engine(s) ...

Wait a few moments while the startup scripts run. The pmie start script uses the pmie_check script to do most of its work.

Verify that the pmie processes have started:

Performance Co-Pilot configuration on pluto:

 platform: Linux pluto 3.10.0-0.rc7.64.el7.x86_64 #1 SMP
 hardware: 8 cpus, 2 disks, 23960MB RAM
 timezone: EST-10
     pmcd: Version 3.11.3-1, 8 agents
     pmda: pmcd proc xfs linux mmv infiniband gluster elasticsearch
     pmie: pluto: ${PCP_LOG_DIR}/pmie/pluto/pmie.log
           venus: ${PCP_LOG_DIR}/pmie/venus/pmie.log

If a remote host is not up at the time when pmie is started, the pmie process may exit. pmie processes may also exit if the local machine is starved of memory resources. To counter these adverse cases, it can be useful to have a crontab entry running. Adding an entry as shown in Section 5.8.1, “Add a pmie crontab Entry” ensures that if one of the configured pmie processes exits, it is automatically restarted.


Depending on your platform, the crontab entry discussed here may already have been installed for you, as part of the package installation process. In this case, the file /etc/cron.d/pcp-pmie will exist, and the rest of this section can be skipped.

5.8.1. Add a pmie crontab Entry

To activate the maintenance and housekeeping scripts for a collection of inference engines, execute the following tasks while logged into the local host as the superuser (root):

  1. Augment the crontab file for the pcp user. For example:

crontab -l -u pcp > ${HOME}/crontab.txt
  1. Edit ${HOME}/crontab.txt, adding lines similar to those from the sample ${PCP_VAR_DIR}/config/pmie/crontab file for pmie_daily and pmie_check; for example:

    # daily processing of pmie logs
    10     0     *     *     *    ${PCP_BINADM_DIR}/pmie_daily
    # every 30 minutes, check pmie instances are running
    25,55  *     *     *     *    ${PCP_BINADM_DIR}/pmie_check
  2. Make these changes permanent with this command:

    crontab -u pcp < ${HOME}/crontab.txt

5.8.2. ⁠Global Files and Directories

The following global files and directories influence the behavior of pmie and the pmie management scripts:


Contains sample pmie rules that may be used as a basis for developing local rules.


Is the default pmie configuration file that is used when the pmie daemon facility is enabled. Generated by pmieconf if not manually setup beforehand.


Contains the pmieconf rule definitions (templates) in its subdirectories.


Defines which PCP collector hosts require a daemon pmie to be launched on the local host, where the configuration file comes from, where the pmie log file should be created, and pmie startup options.


Contains default crontab entries that may be merged with the crontab entries for root to schedule the periodic execution of the pmie_check script, for verifying that pmie instances are running. Only for platforms where a default crontab is not automatically installed during the initial PCP package installation.


Contains the pmie log files for the host. These files are created by the default behavior of the ${PCP_RC_DIR}/pmie startup scripts.

5.8.3. pmie Instances and Their Progress

The PMCD PMDA exports information about executing pmie instances and their progress in terms of rule evaluations and action execution rates.


This command is similar to the pmlogger support script, pmlogger_check.


This start script supports the starting and stopping of multiple pmie instances that are monitoring one or more hosts.


The statistics that pmie gathers are maintained in binary data structure files. These files are located in this directory.

pmcd.pmie metrics

If pmie is running on a system with a PCP collector deployment, the PMCD PMDA exports these metrics via the pmcd.pmie group of metrics.