Virtual Machine Tx threads explained

Looking at the ESXi VMkernel network path you will notice it consists of Netpoll threads and Tx threads. Netpoll threads receive traffic from an ESXi host perspective where Tx threads transmit data from a VM to another VM or physical component.

By default, each VM is armed with only one Tx thread. As network packets are transmitted from the VM towards the pNIC layer via the VMkernel, ESXi consumes CPU cycles. These cycles, or CPU time, will be accounted to the VM itself. Tx threads are identified in esxtop in the CPU view as NetWorld-VM-XXX. This ensure that you to have a clear picture on what the costs are of transmitting large numbers of networks packets from that specific VM. It allows you to have a better understanding if a VM is constrained by the amount of CPU time that is spent on transmission of data.

Again, only one Tx thread is spun up by default. That correlates with one CPU core. This is why the NetWorld will not trespass the ±100% of %USED.

In the screenshot above, the VM in question was running the transmit side of the packet-generator test. The NetWorld-VM-69999 world was constantly running up to 100%. This is a clear example of a VM being constrained by only one Tx thread. A relatively quick solution is to add an additional Tx thread. You can add more as needs require. Looking at the network view in esxtop, you will be able to see what vNIC is processing the largest amount of network I/O. In this specific case, we knew exactly what vNIC was in extra need of network processing power.

Additional Tx threads

You can add an additional Tx thread per vNIC. This is configured as an advanced parameter in the VM configuration. The ethernetX.ctxPerDev = 1 advanced setting is used for this. The ‘X’ stands for the vNIC for which the parameter is set. You can configure each vNIC with a separate Tx thread. However, that will create unnecessary Tx threads in your VM and potentially consume CPU time in an inefficient way, because not every vNIC is likely to require its own Tx thread. It really is a setting that is driven by demand. If your workload running in the VMs has a large appetite for network I/O, take a closer look at what vNIC could benefit from additional Tx threads.

Once the additional Tx thread(s) are configured, you want to verify that it is activated. Additional Tx threads will appear in esxtop in the CPU view as NetWorld-Dev-<id>-Tx. By being added as a separate world, a clear overview can be generated on which NetWorld is processing the majority of network I/O as a result of the CPU usage associated with that thread.

In this screenshot, you will notice that the additional Tx thread is active and processing network I/O. This is one way to determine if your advanced setting is working correctly. You can also use a net-stats command to do so.

More information…

…can be found in the vSphere 6.5 Host Resources Deep Dive book that is available on Amazon!

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