Open vSwitch with DPDK

This document describes how to build and install Open vSwitch using a DPDK datapath. Open vSwitch can use the DPDK library to operate entirely in userspace.


The DPDK support of Open vSwitch is considered ‘experimental’.

Build requirements

In addition to the requirements described in Open vSwitch on Linux, FreeBSD and NetBSD, building Open vSwitch with DPDK will require the following:

  • DPDK 16.11

  • A DPDK supported NIC

    Only required when physical ports are in use

  • A suitable kernel

    On Linux Distros running kernel version >= 3.0, only IOMMU needs to enabled via the grub cmdline, assuming you are using VFIO. For older kernels, ensure the kernel is built with UIO, HUGETLBFS, PROC_PAGE_MONITOR, HPET, HPET_MMAP support. If these are not present, it will be necessary to upgrade your kernel or build a custom kernel with these flags enabled.

Detailed system requirements can be found at DPDK requirements.


Install DPDK

  1. Download the DPDK sources, extract the file and set DPDK_DIR:

    $ cd /usr/src/
    $ wget
    $ tar xf dpdk-16.11.tar.xz
    $ export DPDK_DIR=/usr/src/dpdk-16.11
    $ cd $DPDK_DIR
  2. (Optional) Configure DPDK as a shared library

    DPDK can be built as either a static library or a shared library. By default, it is configured for the former. If you wish to use the latter, set CONFIG_RTE_BUILD_SHARED_LIB=y in $DPDK_DIR/config/common_base.


    Minor performance loss is expected when using OVS with a shared DPDK library compared to a static DPDK library.

  3. Configure and install DPDK

    Build and install the DPDK library:

    $ export DPDK_TARGET=x86_64-native-linuxapp-gcc
    $ make install T=$DPDK_TARGET DESTDIR=install
  4. (Optional) Export the DPDK shared library location

    If DPDK was built as a shared library, export the path to this library for use when building OVS:

    $ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=$DPDK_DIR/x86_64-native-linuxapp-gcc/lib

Install OVS

OVS can be installed using different methods. For OVS to use DPDK datapath, it has to be configured with DPDK support (--with-dpdk).


This section focuses on generic recipe that suits most cases. For distribution specific instructions, refer to one of the more relevant guides.

  1. Ensure the standard OVS requirements, described in Build Requirements, are installed

  2. Bootstrap, if required, as described in Bootstrapping

  3. Configure the package using the --with-dpdk flag:

    $ ./configure --with-dpdk=$DPDK_BUILD

    where DPDK_BUILD is the path to the built DPDK library. This can be skipped if DPDK library is installed in its default location


    While --with-dpdk is required, you can pass any other configuration option described in Configuring.

  4. Build and install OVS, as described in Building

Additional information can be found in Open vSwitch on Linux, FreeBSD and NetBSD.


Setup Hugepages

Allocate a number of 2M Huge pages:

  • For persistent allocation of huge pages, write to hugepages.conf file in /etc/sysctl.d:

    $ echo 'vm.nr_hugepages=2048' > /etc/sysctl.d/hugepages.conf
  • For run-time allocation of huge pages, use the sysctl utility:

    $ sysctl -w vm.nr_hugepages=N  # where N = No. of 2M huge pages

To verify hugepage configuration:

$ grep HugePages_ /proc/meminfo

Mount the hugepages, if not already mounted by default:

$ mount -t hugetlbfs none /dev/hugepages``

Setup DPDK devices using VFIO

VFIO is prefered to the UIO driver when using recent versions of DPDK. VFIO support required support from both the kernel and BIOS. For the former, kernel version > 3.6 must be used. For the latter, you must enable VT-d in the BIOS and ensure this is configured via grub. To ensure VT-d is enabled via the BIOS, run:

$ dmesg | grep -e DMAR -e IOMMU

If VT-d is not enabled in the BIOS, enable it now.

To ensure VT-d is enabled in the kernel, run:

$ cat /proc/cmdline | grep iommu=pt
$ cat /proc/cmdline | grep intel_iommu=on

If VT-d is not enabled in the kernel, enable it now.

Once VT-d is correctly configured, load the required modules and bind the NIC to the VFIO driver:

$ modprobe vfio-pci
$ /usr/bin/chmod a+x /dev/vfio
$ /usr/bin/chmod 0666 /dev/vfio/*
$ $DPDK_DIR/tools/ --bind=vfio-pci eth1
$ $DPDK_DIR/tools/ --status

Setup OVS

Open vSwitch should be started as described in Open vSwitch on Linux, FreeBSD and NetBSD with the exception of ovs-vswitchd, which requires some special configuration to enable DPDK functionality. DPDK configuration arguments can be passed to ovs-vswitchd via the other_config column of the Open_vSwitch table. At a minimum, the dpdk-init option must be set to true. For example:

$ export DB_SOCK=/usr/local/var/run/openvswitch/db.sock
$ ovs-vsctl --no-wait set Open_vSwitch . other_config:dpdk-init=true
$ ovs-vswitchd unix:$DB_SOCK --pidfile --detach

There are many other configuration options, the most important of which are listed below. Defaults will be provided for all values not explicitly set.

Specifies whether OVS should initialize and support DPDK ports. This is a boolean, and defaults to false.
Specifies the CPU cores on which dpdk lcore threads should be spawned and expects hex string (eg ‘0x123’).
Comma separated list of memory to pre-allocate from hugepages on specific sockets.
Directory where hugetlbfs is mounted
Option to set the path to the vhost-user unix socket files.

If allocating more than one GB hugepage, you can configure the amount of memory used from any given NUMA nodes. For example, to use 1GB from NUMA node 0, run:

$ ovs-vsctl --no-wait set Open_vSwitch . \

Similarly, if you wish to better scale the workloads across cores, then multiple pmd threads can be created and pinned to CPU cores by explicity specifying pmd-cpu-mask. Cores are numbered from 0, so to spawn two pmd threads and pin them to cores 1,2, run:

$ ovs-vsctl set Open_vSwitch . other_config:pmd-cpu-mask=0x6

Refer to ovs-vswitchd.conf.db(5) for additional information on configuration options.


Changing any of these options requires restarting the ovs-vswitchd application


At this point you can use ovs-vsctl to set up bridges and other Open vSwitch features. Seeing as we’ve configured the DPDK datapath, we will use DPDK-type ports. For example, to create a userspace bridge named br0 and add two dpdk ports to it, run:

$ ovs-vsctl add-br br0 -- set bridge br0 datapath_type=netdev
$ ovs-vsctl add-port br0 myportnameone -- set Interface myportnameone \
    type=dpdk options:dpdk-devargs=0000:06:00.0
$ ovs-vsctl add-port br0 myportnametwo -- set Interface myportnametwo \
    type=dpdk options:dpdk-devargs=0000:06:00.1

DPDK devices will not be available for use until a valid dpdk-devargs is specified.

Refer to ovs-vsctl(8) and Using Open vSwitch with DPDK for more details.

Performance Tuning

To achieve optimal OVS performance, the system can be configured and that includes BIOS tweaks, Grub cmdline additions, better understanding of NUMA nodes and apt selection of PCIe slots for NIC placement.


This section is optional. Once installed as described above, OVS with DPDK will work out of the box.

PCIe Slot Selection

The fastpath performance can be affected by factors related to the placement of the NIC, such as channel speeds between PCIe slot and CPU or the proximity of PCIe slot to the CPU cores running the DPDK application. Listed below are the steps to identify right PCIe slot.

  1. Retrieve host details using dmidecode. For example:

    $ dmidecode -t baseboard | grep "Product Name"
  2. Download the technical specification for product listed, e.g: S2600WT2

  3. Check the Product Architecture Overview on the Riser slot placement, CPU sharing info and also PCIe channel speeds

    For example: On S2600WT, CPU1 and CPU2 share Riser Slot 1 with Channel speed between CPU1 and Riser Slot1 at 32GB/s, CPU2 and Riser Slot1 at 16GB/s. Running DPDK app on CPU1 cores and NIC inserted in to Riser card Slots will optimize OVS performance in this case.

  4. Check the Riser Card #1 - Root Port mapping information, on the available slots and individual bus speeds. In S2600WT slot 1, slot 2 has high bus speeds and are potential slots for NIC placement.

Advanced Hugepage Setup

Allocate and mount 1 GB hugepages.

  • For persistent allocation of huge pages, add the following options to the kernel bootline:

    default_hugepagesz=1GB hugepagesz=1G hugepages=N

    For platforms supporting multiple huge page sizes, add multiple options:

    default_hugepagesz=<size> hugepagesz=<size> hugepages=N



    number of huge pages requested


    huge page size with an optional suffix [kKmMgG]

  • For run-time allocation of huge pages:

    $ echo N > /sys/devices/system/node/nodeX/hugepages/hugepages-1048576kB/nr_hugepages



    number of huge pages requested


    NUMA Node


    For run-time allocation of 1G huge pages, Contiguous Memory Allocator (CONFIG_CMA) has to be supported by kernel, check your Linux distro.

Now mount the huge pages, if not already done so:

$ mount -t hugetlbfs -o pagesize=1G none /dev/hugepages

Enable HyperThreading

With HyperThreading, or SMT, enabled, a physical core appears as two logical cores. SMT can be utilized to spawn worker threads on logical cores of the same physical core there by saving additional cores.

With DPDK, when pinning pmd threads to logical cores, care must be taken to set the correct bits of the pmd-cpu-mask to ensure that the pmd threads are pinned to SMT siblings.

Take a sample system configuration, with 2 sockets, 2 * 10 core processors, HT enabled. This gives us a total of 40 logical cores. To identify the physical core shared by two logical cores, run:

$ cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpuN/topology/thread_siblings_list

where N is the logical core number.

In this example, it would show that cores 1 and 21 share the same physical core. As cores are counted from 0, the pmd-cpu-mask can be used to enable these two pmd threads running on these two logical cores (one physical core) is:

$ ovs-vsctl set Open_vSwitch . other_config:pmd-cpu-mask=0x200002

Isolate Cores

The isolcpus option can be used to isolate cores from the Linux scheduler. The isolated cores can then be used to dedicatedly run HPC applications or threads. This helps in better application performance due to zero context switching and minimal cache thrashing. To run platform logic on core 0 and isolate cores between 1 and 19 from scheduler, add isolcpus=1-19 to GRUB cmdline.


It has been verified that core isolation has minimal advantage due to mature Linux scheduler in some circumstances.


Ideally inter-NUMA datapaths should be avoided where possible as packets will go across QPI and there may be a slight performance penalty when compared with intra NUMA datapaths. On Intel Xeon Processor E5 v3, Cluster On Die is introduced on models that have 10 cores or more. This makes it possible to logically split a socket into two NUMA regions and again it is preferred where possible to keep critical datapaths within the one cluster.

It is good practice to ensure that threads that are in the datapath are pinned to cores in the same NUMA area. e.g. pmd threads and QEMU vCPUs responsible for forwarding. If DPDK is built with CONFIG_RTE_LIBRTE_VHOST_NUMA=y, vHost User ports automatically detect the NUMA socket of the QEMU vCPUs and will be serviced by a PMD from the same node provided a core on this node is enabled in the pmd-cpu-mask. libnuma packages are required for this feature.

Compiler Optimizations

The default compiler optimization level is -O2. Changing this to more aggressive compiler optimization such as -O3 -march=native with gcc (verified on 5.3.1) can produce performance gains though not siginificant. -march=native will produce optimized code on local machine and should be used when software compilation is done on Testbed.


For superior performance, DPDK pmd threads and Qemu vCPU threads needs to be affinitized accordingly.

  • PMD thread Affinity

    A poll mode driver (pmd) thread handles the I/O of all DPDK interfaces assigned to it. A pmd thread shall poll the ports for incoming packets, switch the packets and send to tx port. pmd thread is CPU bound, and needs to be affinitized to isolated cores for optimum performance.

    By setting a bit in the mask, a pmd thread is created and pinned to the corresponding CPU core. e.g. to run a pmd thread on core 2:

    $ ovs-vsctl set Open_vSwitch . other_config:pmd-cpu-mask=0x4


    pmd thread on a NUMA node is only created if there is at least one DPDK interface from that NUMA node added to OVS.

  • QEMU vCPU thread Affinity

    A VM performing simple packet forwarding or running complex packet pipelines has to ensure that the vCPU threads performing the work has as much CPU occupancy as possible.

    For example, on a multicore VM, multiple QEMU vCPU threads shall be spawned. When the DPDK testpmd application that does packet forwarding is invoked, the taskset command should be used to affinitize the vCPU threads to the dedicated isolated cores on the host system.

Multiple Poll-Mode Driver Threads

With pmd multi-threading support, OVS creates one pmd thread for each NUMA node by default. However, in cases where there are multiple ports/rxq’s producing traffic, performance can be improved by creating multiple pmd threads running on separate cores. These pmd threads can share the workload by each being responsible for different ports/rxq’s. Assignment of ports/rxq’s to pmd threads is done automatically.

A set bit in the mask means a pmd thread is created and pinned to the corresponding CPU core. For example, to run pmd threads on core 1 and 2:

$ ovs-vsctl set Open_vSwitch . other_config:pmd-cpu-mask=0x6

When using dpdk and dpdkvhostuser ports in a bi-directional VM loopback as shown below, spreading the workload over 2 or 4 pmd threads shows significant improvements as there will be more total CPU occupancy available:

NIC port0 <-> OVS <-> VM <-> OVS <-> NIC port 1

DPDK Physical Port Rx Queues

$ ovs-vsctl set Interface <DPDK interface> options:n_rxq=<integer>

The above command sets the number of rx queues for DPDK physical interface. The rx queues are assigned to pmd threads on the same NUMA node in a round-robin fashion.

DPDK Physical Port Queue Sizes

$ ovs-vsctl set Interface dpdk0 options:n_rxq_desc=<integer>
$ ovs-vsctl set Interface dpdk0 options:n_txq_desc=<integer>

The above command sets the number of rx/tx descriptors that the NIC associated with dpdk0 will be initialised with.

Different n_rxq_desc and n_txq_desc configurations yield different benefits in terms of throughput and latency for different scenarios. Generally, smaller queue sizes can have a positive impact for latency at the expense of throughput. The opposite is often true for larger queue sizes. Note: increasing the number of rx descriptors eg. to 4096 may have a negative impact on performance due to the fact that non-vectorised DPDK rx functions may be used. This is dependent on the driver in use, but is true for the commonly used i40e and ixgbe DPDK drivers.

Exact Match Cache

Each pmd thread contains one Exact Match Cache (EMC). After initial flow setup in the datapath, the EMC contains a single table and provides the lowest level (fastest) switching for DPDK ports. If there is a miss in the EMC then the next level where switching will occur is the datapath classifier. Missing in the EMC and looking up in the datapath classifier incurs a significant performance penalty. If lookup misses occur in the EMC because it is too small to handle the number of flows, its size can be increased. The EMC size can be modified by editing the define EM_FLOW_HASH_SHIFT in lib/dpif-netdev.c.

As mentioned above, an EMC is per pmd thread. An alternative way of increasing the aggregate amount of possible flow entries in EMC and avoiding datapath classifier lookups is to have multiple pmd threads running.

Rx Mergeable Buffers

Rx mergeable buffers is a virtio feature that allows chaining of multiple virtio descriptors to handle large packet sizes. Large packets are handled by reserving and chaining multiple free descriptors together. Mergeable buffer support is negotiated between the virtio driver and virtio device and is supported by the DPDK vhost library. This behavior is supported and enabled by default, however in the case where the user knows that rx mergeable buffers are not needed i.e. jumbo frames are not needed, it can be forced off by adding mrg_rxbuf=off to the QEMU command line options. By not reserving multiple chains of descriptors it will make more individual virtio descriptors available for rx to the guest using dpdkvhost ports and this can improve performance.


  • Currently DPDK ports does not use HW offload functionality.

  • Network Interface Firmware requirements: Each release of DPDK is validated against a specific firmware version for a supported Network Interface. New firmware versions introduce bug fixes, performance improvements and new functionality that DPDK leverages. The validated firmware versions are available as part of the release notes for DPDK. It is recommended that users update Network Interface firmware to match what has been validated for the DPDK release.

    The latest list of validated firmware versions can be found in the DPDK release notes.

Reporting Bugs

Report problems to