PVC features a fencing system to provide automatic recovery of nodes from certain failure scenarios. This document details the fencing process, limitations, and expectations.

You can also view a video demonstration of the fencing process in action here:

Fencing Demonstration


Fencing in PVC provides a mechanism for a cluster's nodes to determine if one of their active (run state) peers has stopped responding, take action to ensure the failed node is fully power-cycled, and then, if successful, automatically bring up affected VMs from the dead node onto others awaiting its return to service.

Properly configured fencing can thus help ensure the maximum uptime for VMs in the case of a faulty node.

Fencing is enabled by default for all nodes that have the fence_intervals configuration key set and for which the node's IPMI is reachable and usable via ipmitool on the peers. Nodes check their own IPMI at daemon startup to validate this and print a warning if failed; in addition a regular health check monitors the IPMI interface and will degrade the node health if it is not reachable or not responding.

Fencing can be temporarily disabled by setting the cluster maintenance mode to on and resumed by setting it off. This can be useful during maintenance events however the administrator should be careful to flush any affected nodes of running VMs first to avoid trouble.

IPMI Configuration

For fencing to be enabled, several configurations must be correctly set.

  • The node must have a proper IPMI interface, as detailed in the Hardware Requirements documentation.
  • The IPMI interface must be either in the cluster "upstream" network, or in another network reachable by it. The former is strongly recommended, because the latter is potentially susceptible to network faults in the routing between the networks which might cause fencing to fail in otherwise valid scenarios.
  • The IPMI BMC must be configured with an Administrator-level user with IPMI-over-LAN privileges enabled.
  • The IPMI interface (IP or hostname) and aforementioned user of each node must be configured in the fencing -> ipmi section of the pvcnoded.yaml file of that node.

PVC will automatically check the reachability of its IPMI and its functionality early during node startup. The functionality can also be tested via the ipmitool -I lanplus command from a node.

The PVC Ansible framework will automatically configure most aspects of this IPMI setup, though some might require manual configuration. Ensure you test before putting the cluster into production.

Fencing Process

Dead Node Detection

Node fencing is handled during regular node keepalive events. Keepalives occur every 5 seconds (default keepalive_interval), during which each node checks into the cluster by providing the current UNIX epoch timestamp in a configuration key.

At the end of each keepalive event, all nodes check their peers' timestamps and compare them against the current time. If the peers detect that a node in run daemon state has not checked in for 6 intervals (default fence_intervals), or 30 seconds by default, one node at random will begin the fencing process as the watching node. First, a timer is started for 6 more keepalive_intervals (hard-coded), during which a check-in from the dead node will cancel the fence (a "saving throw").

Dead Node Fencing

If all 6 saving throw intervals pass without further updates to the dead node's timestamp, actual fencing will begin; by default this will be 60-65 seconds after the last valid keepalive. The exact process is as follows, all run from the selected watching node:

  1. The dead node is issued a chassis power off via IPMI-over-LAN to trigger an immediate power off.
  2. Wait 1 second.
  3. The chassis power state of the dead node is checked and recorded.
  4. The dead node is issued a chassis power on via IPMI-over-LAN to trigger a power on.
  5. Wait 2 seconds
  6. The chassis power state of the dead node is checked and recorded.

With these 6 steps and the 2 saved results of the chassis power state, PVC can determine with near certainty that the dead node was actually powered off, and thus that any VMs that were potentially running on it were terminated. Specifically, if the first result was Off and the second was any valid value, the node was definitely shut down (either on its own, or by the first chassis power off command). If it cannot determine this, for instance because IPMI was unreachable or neither power state result was Off, no action is taken.

VM Recovery

Once a dead node has been successfully fenced and at least 1 more keepalive_interval has passed, the watching node will begin fencing recovery.

What action is taken during fencing recovery is dependent on the successful_fence configuration key, which can either be migrate, which will perform the below steps, or none which will perform no recovery action and stop here.

First, the node is put into a special fencing-flush domain state, to indicate that it is undergoing a forced flush after fencing. Then, for each VM which was running on the dead node:

  1. The RBD locks on all VM storage volumes are cleared.
  2. The VM is temporarily migrated to one active peer node based on the node's configured target_selector (default mem).
  3. The VM is started up.

If, at a later time, the dead node successfully recovers and resumes normal operation, it can be put back into service. This will not occur automatically, as the node could still be in a bad state and only barely operating; an administrator must closely inspect the node and restore it to service manually after confirming correct operation.


If a fence fails for any reason (for instance, the IPMI of the dead node is not reachable), by default no action is taken, as this could be unsafe for the integrity of VM data. This can be overridden by adjusting the failed_fence configuration key in conjunction with the node suicide discussed below, however this is strongly discouraged.

Node Suicide

As an alternative to remote fencing, nodes can be configured to kill themselves by adjusting the suicide_intervals configuration key to a non-zero value. If the node itself does not check in for this many intervals, it will trigger a self restart via the reboot -f command. However, this is not reliable, and the other nodes will have no way of accurately determining the state of the node and whether VMs are safe to migrate, so this is strongly discouraged.

Valid Fencing Conditions

The conditions in which a node can be successfully fenced are limited, and thus, auto-recovery is limited only to those situations where a fence can succeed. In short, any situation whereby a node's OS is not responding normally, but its IPMI interface is still up and available, should succeed in a fence; in contrast, those where the IPMI interface is also unavailable will fail.

The following table covers some common scenarios, and whether fencing (and subsequent automatic recovery) can be expected to occur.

Situation Fence? Notes
OS lockup (load, OOM, etc.) A key design situation for the fencing system
OS kernel panic A key design situation for the fencing system
Primary network failure Only affecting primary links, not IPMI (see below); a key design situation
Full network failure All links are down, e.g. full network failure including IPMI
Power loss Impossible to determine if this is a transient network cut or actual power loss without IPMI
Hardware failure (CPU, memory) IPMI interface should remain up in these scenarios; a key design situation
Hardware failure (motherboard) If IPMI is online after failure
Hardware failure (motherboard) If IPMI is offline after failure
Hardware failure (full chassis) If IPMI is offline after failure

Care should be taken to understand these scenarios and which situations can be recovered from automatically, and which require manual human intervention to confirm the situation ("is the node actually physically off?") and manual recovery.

Future Development

Future versions of PVC may add support for additional fencing modes, for instance the ability for a fence to trigger a remote power device (switched PDU, etc.) or to detect more esoteric situations with the node power state via IPMI, as need requires. The author however believes that the current implementation satisfies the vast majority of potential situations for which auto-recovery is beneficial and thus such work would not see much benefit, though he is open to changing his mind.