Reducing container pull time with eStargz lazy-pulling

Containers Oct 18, 2021

The KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America is one of the biggest events around Kubernetes and the cloud native community. This year, despite the large variety of sessions on its schedule, there's been one session that has brought my interest:

Pull operations take time

Just right before running a container, a pull operation occurs to download the container image from a registry (assuming it is not already present in the node's cache, of course). The time the pull operation takes depends on several factors, such as the image size and the network connection of the node.

Pulling packages accounts for 76% of container start time, but only 6.4% of that data is read [Harter et al. 2016]

Therefore, the larger the container image, the longer it will take to start the container. Although reducing the image size following Dockerfile best practices is very convenient, e.g. using multi-stage builds, there are situations where the image cannot be reduced further, e.g. language runtimes, frameworks or other dependencies that are strictly necessary for a container to run.

For instance, in serverless scenarios using OpenFaaS or KEDA, where we need to spin up containers on-demand to handle user requests, long pull operations due to large image sizes is aggravated. Under such delicate scenarios, reducing the cold start time of the container is very important.

So, if we are given a relatively large container image ( > 1 GB), how can we start the container before all the layers become locally available in the node?

eStargz: Standard-compatible lazy pulling

Lazy pulling means a container can run without waiting for the pull completion of the image and necessary chunks of the image are fetched on-demand.

eStargz is a lazily-pullable image format proposed by the Stargz Snapshotter, a non-core subproject of containerd.

Benchmarking results for startup time of several containers using different snapshotters from the official repository.

As you can see in the picture above, the overall time it takes for starting up containers is lower in the case of images that are eStargz-optimized. The pull operation portion is smaller given that it is not necessary to download all the layers anymore, while the create and run portions have been increased to a greater or lesser extent. Nonetheless, the overall container startup time is lower.

Furthermore, eStargz is compatible with OCI, meaning that eStargz-agnostic runtimes can pull and run eStargz-optimized images in just the same way as other OCI/Docker images. Furthermore, eStargz images can be pulled from standard registries such as ghcr.io (GitHub container registry) and docker.io, among others.

For instance, BuildKit >= 0.8.0 supports lazy-pulling base images and building eStargz images. Check out the adoption matrix to know what other tools support lazy-pulling, chunk verification, and more.

Image from the session's slides by Kohei and Tao

Trying it out in Kubernetes

For using Stargz Snapshotter on Kubernetes nodes, you need to provide with a specific configuration to containerd as well as run the Stargz Snapshotter daemon on the node.

Ensure you're using containerd v1.4.2 or a more recent version for the node container runtime.

Just for the sake of the demo, I've used KinD to quickly spin up a local Kubernetes cluster and used the prebuilt KinD node image that already comes with the required configuration.

kind create cluster --name stargz-demo --image ghcr.io/stargz-containers/estargz-kind-node:0.7.0

Once the Kubernetes cluster is up and running, we can deploy two Pods to the cluster and check how much time the pull operation takes for them:

  • A pod that uses a non-optimized image such as node:13.13.
  • A pod that uses an eStargz-optimized image such as ghcr.io/stargz-containers/node:13.13.0-esgz.
If you wish, you can try other pre-converted eStargz images on ghcr.io listed here.

Below it is the Pod spec that corresponds with the non-opt image. It will spin up a node server using the image node:13.13.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: nodejs
spec:
  containers:
  - name: nodejs
    image: node:13.13
    command: ["node"]
    args:
    - -e
    - var http = require('http');
      http.createServer(function(req, res) {
        res.writeHead(200);
        res.end('Hello World!\n');
      }).listen(80);
    ports:
    - containerPort: 80
pod.yml

Let's apply the Pod spec to the cluster:

kubectl apply -f pod.yml

and watch the events with kubectl describe pod nodejs:

│ Events:                                                                                                                                                               │
│   Type     Reason            Age                From               Message                                                                                            │
│   ----     ------            ----               ----               -------                                                                                            │
│   Warning  FailedScheduling  38s (x3 over 46s)  default-scheduler  0/1 nodes are available: 1 node(s) had taint {node.kubernetes.io/not-ready: }, that the pod didn't │
│  tolerate.                                                                                                                                                            │
│   Normal   Scheduled         33s                default-scheduler  Successfully assigned default/nodejs to stargz-demo-control-plane                                  │
│   Normal   Pulling           32s                kubelet            Pulling image "node:13.13"                                                                         │
│   Normal   Pulled            5s                 kubelet            Successfully pulled image "node:13.13" in 26.262296654s                                            │
│   Normal   Created           5s                 kubelet            Created container nodejs                                                                           │
│   Normal   Started           5s                 kubelet            Started container nodejs
Events excerpt from the nodejs pod

As shown in the events above, the pull time took ~ 26 seconds.

Next, we'll repeat the same steps but this time changing the image property and using the eStargz-optimized one: ghcr.io/stargz-containers/node:13.13.0-esgz

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: nodejs-stargz
spec:
  containers:
  - name: nodejs-stargz
    image: ghcr.io/stargz-containers/node:13.13.0-esgz
    command: ["node"]
    args:
    - -e
    - var http = require('http');
      http.createServer(function(req, res) {
        res.writeHead(200);
        res.end('Hello World!\n');
      }).listen(80);
    ports:
    - containerPort: 80
pod-estargz.yml

Let's apply the Pod spec to the cluster:

kubectl apply -f pod-estargz.yml

and watch the events with kubectl describe pod nodejs-stargz:

│ Events:                                                                                                                                                               │
│   Type    Reason     Age   From               Message                                                                                                                 │
│   ----    ------     ----  ----               -------                                                                                                                 │
│   Normal  Scheduled  12s   default-scheduler  Successfully assigned default/nodejs-stargz to stargz-demo-control-plane                                                │
│   Normal  Pulling    11s   kubelet            Pulling image "ghcr.io/stargz-containers/node:13.13.0-esgz"                                                             │
│   Normal  Pulled     3s    kubelet            Successfully pulled image "ghcr.io/stargz-containers/node:13.13.0-esgz" in 8.730993491s                                 │
│   Normal  Created    2s    kubelet            Created container nodejs-stargz                                                                                         │
│   Normal  Started    2s    kubelet            Started container nodejs-stargz                                                                                         │
│
Events excerpt from the nodejs-stargz pod

As shown in the events above, the pull time took ~ 8 seconds.

Conclusion

So, what I learned  is that with eStargz the initial pull operation will take less time as it doesn't need to pull all the layers in the first place. If you're using relatively large images ( > 1 GB) in serverless scenarios, eStargz -optimized images will help you to start up the container faster (while the remaining layers will be requested over the network as they are needed).

If you were to spin up a new container per HTTP request, eStargz would be extremely useful as in our example it will take ~ 8 seconds to create a new replica of the function instead of ~ 26 seconds (69.2% faster!).

Both Kubernetes CronJobs and in Tekton / Argo Workflows would benefit from eStargz-optimized images. For those tools, this could make an entire workflow run much quicker.

Resources

If you want to learn more about eStargz, check out the following resources:

Startup Containers in Lightning Speed with Lazy Image Distribution on Containerd
Introducing containerd non-core subproject Stargz Snapshotter
Speeding Up Pulling Container Images on a Variety of Tools with eStargz
Over the past year, eStargz-based lazy pulling of containers has been available on a variety of runtimes and builders in the community. I…

https://static.sched.com/hosted_files/kccncna2021/7f/slides.pdf

Tags

Felipe Cruz

Software Engineer @docker 🐳 Building tools that help devs work on code as a team. CKAD. I enjoy writing about Docker, Kubernetes, and Golang.

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