Scalability report

This report is intended for users planning to run Cilium on clusters with more than 200 nodes in CRD mode (without a kvstore available). In our development cycle we have deployed Cilium on large clusters and these were the options that were suitable for our testing:


helm template cilium \
    --namespace kube-system \
    --set global.endpointHealthChecking.enabled=false \
    --set config.healthChecking=false \
    --set config.ipam=kubernetes \
    --set global.k8sServiceHost=<KUBE-APISERVER-LB-IP-ADDRESS> \
    --set global.k8sServicePort=<KUBE-APISERVER-LB-PORT-NUMBER> \
    --set global.prometheus.enabled=true \
    --set global.operatorPrometheus.enabled=true \
  > cilium.yaml
  • --set global.endpointHealthChecking.enabled=false and --set config.healthChecking=false disable endpoint health checking entirely. However it is recommended that those features be enabled initially on a smaller cluster (3-10 nodes) where it can be used to detect potential packet loss due to firewall rules or hypervisor settings.
  • --set config.ipam=kubernetes is set to "kubernetes" since our cloud provider has pod CIDR allocation enabled in kube-controller-manager.
  • --set global.k8sServiceHost and --set global.k8sServicePort were set with the IP address of the loadbalancer that was in front of kube-apiserver. This allows Cilium to not depend on kube-proxy to connect to kube-apiserver.
  • --set global.prometheus.enabled=true and --set global.operatorPrometheus.enabled=true were just set because we had a Prometheus server probing for metrics in the entire cluster.

Our testing cluster consisted of 3 controller nodes and 1000 worker nodes. We have followed the recommended settings from the official Kubernetes documentation and have provisioned our machines with the following settings:

  • Cloud provider: Google Cloud
  • Controllers: 3x n1-standard-32 (32vCPU, 120GB memory and 50GB SSD, kernel 5.4.0-1009-gcp)
  • Workers: 1 pool of 1000x custom-2-4096 (2vCPU, 4GB memory and 10GB HDD, kernel 5.4.0-1009-gcp)
  • Metrics: 1x n1-standard-32 (32vCPU, 120GB memory and 10GB HDD + 500GB HDD) this is a dedicated node for prometheus and grafana pods.


All 3 controller nodes were behind a GCE load balancer.

Each controller contained etcd, kube-apiserver, kube-controller-manager and kube-scheduler instances.

The CPU, memory and disk size set for the workers might be different for your use case. You might have pods that require more memory or CPU available so you should design your workers based on your requirements.

During our testing we had to set the etcd option quota-backend-bytes=17179869184 because etcd failed once it reached around 2GiB of allocated space.

We provisioned our worker nodes without kube-proxy since Cilium is capable of performing all functionalities provided by kube-proxy. We created a load balancer in front of kube-apiserver to allow Cilium to access kube-apiserver without kube-proxy, and configured Cilium with the options --set global.k8sServiceHost=<KUBE-APISERVER-LB-IP-ADDRESS> and --set global.k8sServicePort=<KUBE-APISERVER-LB-PORT-NUMBER>.

Our DaemonSet updateStrategy had the maxUnavailable set to 250 pods instead of 2, but this value highly depends on your requirements when you are performing a rolling update of Cilium.


For each step we took, we provide more details below, with our findings and expected behaviors.

1. Install Kubernetes v1.18.3 with EndpointSlice feature enabled

To test the most up-to-date functionalities from Kubernetes and Cilium, we have performed our testing with Kubernetes v1.18.3 and the EndpointSlice feature enabled to improve scalability.

Since Kubernetes requires an etcd cluster, we have deployed v3.4.9.

2. Deploy Prometheus, Grafana and Cilium

We have used Prometheus v2.18.1 and Grafana v7.0.1 to retrieve and analyze etcd, kube-apiserver, cilium and cilium-operator metrics.

3. Provision 2 worker nodes

This helped us to understand if our testing cluster was correctly provisioned and all metrics were being gathered.

4. Deploy 5 namespaces with 25 deployments on each namespace

  • Each deployment had 1 replica (125 pods in total).
  • To measure only the resources consumed by Cilium, all deployments used the same base image This image does not have any CPU or memory overhead.
  • We provision a small number of pods in a small cluster to understand the CPU usage of Cilium:

The mark shows when the creation of 125 pods started. As expected, we can see a slight increase of the CPU usage on both Cilium agents running and in the Cilium operator. The agents peaked at 6.8% CPU usage on a 2vCPU machine.


For the memory usage, we have not seen a significant memory growth in the Cilium agent. On the BPF memory side, we do see it increasing due to the initialization of some BPF maps for the new pods.

5. Provision 998 additional nodes (total 1000 nodes)


The first mark represents the action of creating nodes, the second mark when 1000 Cilium pods were in ready state. The CPU usage increase is expected since each Cilium agent receives events from Kubernetes whenever a new node is provisioned in the cluster. Once all nodes were deployed the CPU usage was 0.15% on average on a 2vCPU node.


As we have increased the number of nodes in the cluster to 1000, it is expected to see a small growth of the memory usage in all metrics. However, it is relevant to point out that an increase in the number of nodes does not cause any significant increase in Cilium’s memory consumption in both control and dataplane.

6. Deploy 25 more deployments on each namespace

This will now bring us a total of 5 namespaces * (25 old deployments + 25 new deployments)=250 deployments in the entire cluster. We did not install 250 deployments from the start since we only had 2 nodes and that would create 125 pods on each worker node. According to the Kubernetes documentation the maximum recommended number of pods per node is 100.

7. Scale each deployment to 200 replicas (50000 pods in total)

Having 5 namespaces with 50 deployments means that we have 250 different unique security identities. Having a low cardinality in the labels selected by Cilium helps scale the cluster. By default, Cilium has a limit of 16k security identities, but it can be increase with bpf-policy-map-max in the Cilium ConfigMap.


The first mark represents the action of scaling up the deployments, the second mark when 50000 pods were in ready state.

  • It is expected to see the CPU usage of Cilium increase since, on each node, Cilium agents receive events from Kubernetes when a new pod is scheduled and started.
  • The average CPU consumption of all Cilium agents was 3.38% on a 2vCPU machine. At one point, roughly around minute 15:23, one of those Cilium agents picked 27.94% CPU usage.
  • Cilium Operator had a stable 5% CPU consumption while the pods were being created.

Similar to the behavior seen while increasing the number of worker nodes, adding new pods also increases Cilium memory consumption.

  • As we increased the number of pods from 250 to 50000, we saw a maximum memory usage of 573MiB for one of the Cilium agents while the average was 438 MiB.
  • For the BPF memory usage we saw a max usage of 462.7MiB
  • This means that each Cilium agent’s memory increased by 10.5KiB per new pod in the cluster.

8. Deploy 250 policies for 1 namespace

Here we have created 125 L4 network policies and 125 L7 policies. Each policy selected all pods on this namespace and was allowed to send traffic to another pod on this namespace. Each of the 250 policies allows access to a disjoint set of ports. In the end we will have 250 different policies selecting 10000 pods.

apiVersion: ""
kind: CiliumNetworkPolicy
  name: "l4-rule-#"
  namespace: "namespace-1"
      my-label: testing
      my-label: testing
    - toPorts:
      - ports:
        - port: "[0-125]+80" // from 80 to 12580
          protocol: TCP
apiVersion: ""
kind: CiliumNetworkPolicy
  name: "l7-rule-#"
  namespace: "namespace-1"
      my-label: testing
      my-label: testing
  - toPorts:
    - ports:
      - port: '[126-250]+80' // from 12680 to 25080
        protocol: TCP
        - method: GET
          path: "/path1$"
        - method: PUT
          path: "/path2$"
          - 'X-My-Header: true'

In this case we saw one of the Cilium agents jumping to 100% CPU usage for 15 seconds while the average peak was 40% during a period of 90 seconds.


As expected, increasing the number of policies does not have a significant impact on the memory usage of Cilium since the BPF policy maps have a constant size once a pod is initialized.


The first mark represents the point in time when we ran kubectl create to create the CiliumNetworkPolicies. Since we created the 250 policies sequentially, we cannot properly compute the convergence time. To do that, we could use a single CNP with multiple policy rules defined under the specs field (instead of the spec field).

Nevertheless, we can see the time it took the last Cilium agent to increment its Policy Revision, which is incremented individually on each Cilium agent every time a CiliumNetworkPolicy (CNP) is received, between second 15:45:44 and 15:45:46 and see when was the last time an Endpoint was regenerated by checking the 99th percentile of the “Endpoint regeneration time”. In this manner, that it took less than 5s. We can also verify the maximum time was less than 600ms for an endpoint to have the policy enforced.

9. Deploy 250 policies for CiliumClusterwideNetworkPolicies (CCNP)

The difference between these policies and the previous ones installed is that these select all pods in all namespaces. To recap, this means that we will now have 250 different network policies selecting 10000 pods and 250 different network policies selecting 50000 pods on a cluster with 1000 nodes. Similarly to the previous step we will deploy 125 L4 policies and another 125 L7 policies.


Similar to the creation of the previous 250 CNPs, there was also an increase in CPU usage during the creation of the CCNPs. The CPU usage was similar even though the policies were effectively selecting more pods.


As all pods running in a node are selected by all 250 CCNPs created, we see an increase of the Endpoint regeneration time which peaked a little above 3s.

10. “Accidentally” delete 10000 pods

In this step we have “accidentally” deleted 10000 random pods. Kubernetes will then recreate 10000 new pods so it will help us understand what the convergence time is for all the deployed network polices.

  • The first mark represents the point in time when pods were “deleted” and the second mark represents the point in time when Kubernetes finished recreating 10k pods.
  • Besides the CPU usage slightly increasing while pods are being scheduled in the cluster, we did see some interesting data points in the BPF memory usage. As each endpoint can have one or more dedicated BPF maps, the BPF memory usage is directly proportional to the number of pods running in a node. If the number of pods per node decreases so does the BPF memory usage.

We inferred the time it took for all the endpoints to get regenerated by looking at the number of Cilium endpoints with the policy enforced over time. Luckily enough we had another metric that was showing how many Cilium endpoints had policy being enforced:


11. Control plane metrics over the test run

The focus of this test was to study the Cilium agent resource consumption at scale. However, we also monitored some metrics of the control plane nodes such as etcd metrics and CPU usage of the k8s-controllers and we present them in the next figures.


Memory consumption of the 3 etcd instances during the entire scalability testing.


CPU usage for the 3 controller nodes, average latency per request type in the etcd cluster as well as the number of operations per second made to etcd.


All etcd metrics, from left to right, from top to bottom: database size, disk sync duration, client traffic in, client traffic out, peer traffic in, peer traffic out.

Final Remarks

These experiments helped us develop a better understanding of Cilium running in a large cluster entirely in CRD mode and without depending on etcd. There is still some work to be done to optimize the memory footprint of BPF maps even further, as well as reducing the memory footprint of the Cilium agent. We will address those in the next Cilium version.

We can also determine that it is scalable to run Cilium in CRD mode on a cluster with more than 200 nodes. However, it is worth pointing out that we need to run more tests to verify Cilium’s behavior when it loses the connectivity with kube-apiserver, as can happen during a control plane upgrade for example. This will also be our focus in the next Cilium version.