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Managing Memory Limits and Configuring Exadata for Embedded R Execution

Mark Hornick
Senior Director, Data Science and Machine Learning

An R engine can consume significant memory resources in the course of running R scripts. R users who work with Oracle R Enterprise Embedded R Execution on sizable data, especially application designers and database administrators (DBAs), have a vested interest in understanding and controlling the memory demands of R script execution to help ensure that sufficient memory resources are available for both their application and Oracle Database. ORE Embedded R Execution enables running R scripts managed by Oracle Database, both through R and SQL APIs. The SQL API enables seamless integration with database-based applications, data-parallel and task-parallel R script execution, and ease of production deployment.

To provide greater control over R memory consumption, Oracle R Enterprise provides a privileged SQL function for configuring a database server with R memory limits. In this blog post, we provide a discussion of R memory usage and garbage collection, and how this SQL function can be used to limit the amount of memory consumed by individual R engines started as part of ORE’s embedded R execution framework. We follow with an example of involving memory limit calculations on Exadata and some recommendations for DBAs to consider when configuring Exadata for embedded R execution. Note that such calculations and configuration settings are applicable to non-Exadata (single instance or custom RAC) environments as well. At the end, there a “tip of the day” for R memory management.

Garbage Collection as a concept

For those familiar with languages like C, memory is explicitly managed by the programmer through invocations of functions to allocate and free memory (malloc, calloc, free). Failing to free memory when finished with it results in “memory leaks” that can cause a process to consume (or exhaust) memory unnecessarily, often resulting in a program or system crash.

To alleviate programmers from this burden, languages like R and Java rely on garbage collection. “Garbage” is memory that is no longer being used, i.e., no longer referenceable, within your program. With garbage collection, programmers avoid dealing with memory management. The underlying system determines what memory is used or available, and frees memory periodically. Garbage collection, however, is not a panacea. Garbage collection can take time to process, e.g., on the order of seconds, which can make response time for certain functions unpredictable – although modern garbage collection mechanisms have largely mitigated this drawback. In addition, when garbage collection occurs is essentially non-deterministic, depending on heuristics set up by the language implementation. This means that memory may be retained longer than necessary.

Memory in R

In R, memory can be characterized along two dimensions: memory allocated for vectors and arrays (referred to as Vcells), and memory allocated for objects such as lists (referred to as “cons” cells or Ncells). When invoking R’s garbage collection function, gc(), you’ll see results like these:

The function gc() returns a matrix with rows Ncells, which corresponds to the cons cells, and Vcells, which corresponds to vector heap memory. The Ncells are 56 bytes/cell (49.2*1024*1024/.920477) on a 64-bit machine, and Vcells are ~8 bytes/cell (22.6*1024*1024/2.956944). The “used” column indicates the number of cells allocated, along with their corresponding megabytes. The column “gc trigger” indicates at what point garbage collection will kick in. The column “max used” indicates the maximum space used since the last call to gc(reset=TRUE) or since R started if gc(reset=TRUE) wasn’t invoked.

As an example of affecting Ncells, consider the following example where we initialize a list as a sequence of 100K numbers. We see that roughly 5.4 MB of RAM were consumed for the 100K cells.

For Vcells, we create a vector of 1M elements. This consumes roughly 3.8 MB of RAM for the 1M cells. R optimizes for integers.

The same test with floats consumes 7.6 MB of RAM for the 1M cells of floats.

How does R’s garbage collector use VSize and NSize?

We’ll discuss VSize, as NSize is analogous. The garbage collector recovers memory that is no longer in use, determining when to perform garbage collection and how much memory to recover. Looking at heap memory for Vcells, as depicted in the figure below, there are a few key points: Min_VSize, VSizeInUse, R VSize, and Max_VSize. The R VSize serves as the gc() trigger. The Min_VSize and Max_VSize are the specified lower and upper memory limits. Min_VSize is the minimal size for the vector heap as well as its initial value. From there, R grows or shrinks the vector heap depending on memory demands. However, it doesn’t exceed the Max_VSize limit nor go below the Min_VSize limit. In the figure, VSizeInUse reflects the memory currently used by R objects. R_VSize is how much memory can be requested without triggering gc(). As you would expect: Min_VSize <= R_VSize <= Max_VSize and VSizeInUse < R_VSize.


Limiting memory on the database server R engine

Oracle R Enterprise provides the SQL function sys.rqconfigset to set memory limits. Use of this function requires the sys privilege and the setting is applied only to embedded R engines. Consider the following examples:

sys.rqconfigset('MIN_VSIZE', '10M') -- min heap 10MB, default 32MB

sys.rqconfigset('MAX_VSIZE', '100M') -- max heap 100MB, default 4GB

sys.rqconfigset('MIN_NSIZE', '500K') -- min number cons cells 500x1024, default

sys.rqconfigset('MAX_NSIZE', '2M') -- max
number cons cells 2M, default 20M

Note that either numeric or string values can be provided to sys.rqconfigset. Default constants are defined as follows:

#define RQET_DEF_MINVSZ 33554432 /*RQER DEFault MIN_VSiZe 32Mb */

#define RQET_DEF_MAXVSZ 4294967296 /* RQER DEFault MAX_VSiZe 4Gb */

#define RQET_DEF_MINNSZ 1048576 /* RQER DEFault MIN_NSiZe 1M */

#define RQET_DEF_MAXNSZ 20971520 /* RQER DEFault MAX_NSiZe 20M */

Getting memory settings and usage through an embedded R engine

To obtain the current set of default values, you can invoke the following SQL statement when connected to the database server using the table sys.rq_config.

select name, value from

This can be done from within an embedded R function invocation using, for example:

getMemorySettings <- function()
con <- dbConnect(Extproc())
rs <- dbSendQuery(con, "select name, value from
dat <- fetch(rs)



To obtain the current memory usage within an individual embedded R engine, instrumenting your embedded R function with gc() and returning the results of gc() will provide this insight:

getMemoryUse <- function() {
gc.dat <- gc()
list(pid=Sys.getpid(), gc.dat=gc.dat)



Note that the result from an embedded R call will also include the memory limits set for the R engines, shown below in column 6 “limit (Mb)” of the result. This occurs whenever memory limits are in place for an R engine. Here, we’ve included getting the process id of the R engine.

An example of computing memory limits

Consider you have an Exadata X2-2 that has 1152 GB RAM (~1.2 TB) and your DBA allocates you a maximum of 60 GB RAM for parallel R engines per Exadata node. If we set the degree of parallelism at 32, to enable 32 R engines to execute concurrently, this allows 1.875 GB RAM / R engine. If we allocate 2/3 of this for Vcells, we would allocate ~1.25 GB for the MAX_VSIZE. The remaining 1/3, or 625 MB, would translate into 11.6M cells for MAX_NSIZE.

60 GB allocated to R engines per
Exadata node


60GB / 32 R engines = 1.875 GB / R

~2/3 for Vcells = 1.25 GB; 1.25 GB / 8 Bytes/Cell = 156.25M

~1/3 for Ncells = 625 MB; 625 MB / 54 Bytes/Cell = 11.6M

sys.rqconfigset('MAX_VSIZE', '1250M')

sys.rqconfigset('MAX_NSIZE', '11600K')

While this example focuses on parallel execution, such as for ore.groupApply, ore.rowApply, and ore.indexApply (or SQL rqRowEval and “rqGroupEval”), the same type of analysis applies to non-parallel embedded R functions, like ore.doEval and ore.tableApply (or SQL rqEval and rqTableEval).

Consider an example that builds a randomForest model using the ore.doEval function. We can compute the amount of RAM consumed by the function by invoking gc() at the beginning and end of the function and subtracting the max used “(Mb)” columns as depicted here:

The result is that 1.4 MB were consumed for Ncells and 11.1 MB for Vcells. This can similarly be done for ore.indexApply to see the amount of RAM consumed by each embedded R function execution and to sum up the actual usage for each of the embedded R engines (assuming they run fully

Generating such numbers on real data gives users a sense of how much memory embedded R jobs may require.


For DBAs

When configuring a database on Exadata for parallel R engines, consider the following options. In the following scenario, we contrast the scenarios when the execution time of any one given embedded R function is fast, e.g., 10s of seconds, and there are many such executions, versus few parallel R engines where the execution time is long with fewer such executions. Note that these must be considered in context of other Exadata uses:

  • Set parallel_degree_policy to MANUAL. This allows ORE to choose when to apply parallelism, as opposed to setting it to AUTO which allows Oracle Database to decide.
  • Set parallel_min_servers to the number of parallel slave processes to be started when the database instances start, e.g., 64, which is the number of parallel slave processes per Exadata node. This avoids incurring the time required to start these processes as needed to service R engines, and is particularly important when individual embedded R function execution time is short, e.g., 10s of seconds. If embedded R function execution time is long, the percentage of time for starting up the parallel slave will not dominate the overall execution time.
  • Set parallel_max_servers to the maximum number of parallel slave processes that should be allowed per Exadata node, e.g., 128. This ensures that no more than parallel_max_servers will be active at one time, and in turn corresponds to the maximum number of R engines that can be active at one time.
  • To avoid overloading the CPUs if the parallel_max_servers limit is reached, set the hidden parameter _parallel_statement_queuing to TRUE. This parameter is turned off by setting parallel_degree_policy to MANUAL. The _parallel_statement_queuing parameter allows for queuing of parallel requests when they exceed the parallel_server_target, which should be set to a value between parallel_min_servers and parallel_max_servers, e.g., 96. Once the parallel_server_target is reached, an embedded R execution will be allowed to execute in parallel using the remaining available parallel servers. If none are available, parallel requests will be queued. This ensures that parallel requests will be run inparallel, as opposed to being forced to serial execution, and be able to take advantage of parallel slaves as they become available. This can dramatically improve overall embedded R execution completion time. Note that parallel_max_servers cannot be changed during database operation, but the parallel_server_target can be to tune Exadata performance. Note that queuing effectively takes no CPU resources.· To minimize RAC or cluster overhead for fast-executing individual embedded R functions, set parallel_force_local to TRUE to keep all parallel servers allocated and running on the same database server node. With this setting, starting an embedded R execution with DOP 32, all 32 R engines will run on the same Exadata node. A new embedded R execution also with DOP 32 may be started on a different node. If the embedded R functions are long-running, the setup time is propotionately small so spreading the IO over multiple nodes will not adversely impact overall performance. Having parallel slaves span multiple Exadata nodes results in communication / handshaking across nodes, which requires more resources. If the embedded R functions are fast, this overhead can adversely impact overall performance. When all parallel slaves are local, fewer resources are used.
  • Where applicable, set application tables and their indexes to DOP 1 to reinforce the ability of ORE to determine when to use parallelism and not be overridden by table or index settings of DEFAULT or a specific degree of parallelism.

R memory management tip

There are many optimizations to make more efficient use of memory. To end this point, here is a tip to reduce memory consumptions significantly and avoid unnecessary replication of data.

If you know the size of your result in advance, pre-allocate the memory required, whether a vector, list, or matrix, as opposed to building up the result incrementally such as using cbind for adding columns to a matrix or data.frame. For example:

num.rows <- 1000

num.cols <- 2000

myFunction <- function(col) {col:(num.rows+col-1)} # produces vector of values

myMatrix <- matrix(NA, num.rows, num.cols) # pre-allocate required memory

for(col in 1:num.cols) {
myMatrix[,col] <- myFunction(col)

A note of thanks to Qin Wang and Martin Farber for their input on this blog post.

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