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Characterizing a Memory Allocator at Warehouse Scale

Zhuangzhuang Zhou
Nilay Vaish
Patrick Xia
Christina Delimitrou
Parthasarathy Ranganathan
Proceedings of the 29th ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems, Volume 3, Association for Computing Machinery, La Jolla, CA, USA (2024), 192–206


Memory allocation constitutes a substantial component of warehouse-scale computation. Optimizing the memory allocator not only reduces the datacenter tax, but also improves application performance, leading to significant cost savings. We present the first comprehensive characterization study of TCMalloc, a warehouse-scale memory allocator used in our production fleet. Our characterization reveals a profound diversity in the memory allocation patterns, allocated object sizes and lifetimes, for large-scale datacenter workloads, as well as in their performance on heterogeneous hardware platforms. Based on these insights, we redesign TCMalloc for warehouse-scale environments. Specifically, we propose optimizations for each level of its cache hierarchy that include usage-based dynamic sizing of allocator caches, leveraging hardware topology to mitigate inter-core communication overhead, and improving allocation packing algorithms based on statistical data. We evaluate these design choices using benchmarks and fleet-wide A/B experiments in our production fleet, resulting in a 1.4% improvement in throughput and a 3.4% reduction in RAM usage for the entire fleet. At our scale, even a single percent CPU or memory improvement translates to significant savings in server costs.