CPU Shares in Kubernetes

In this article we’ll explain how cpu_shares are used when setting Kubernetes requests and limits. You should first understand cpu_shares which are explained in CPU Shares.

Kubernetes has its own abstraction for CPUs called cpus. A Kubernetes resource can be set as a request or a limit. When set as a request then cpu_shares are used to specify how much of the available CPU cycles a container gets. A Kubernetes limit results in cpu_quota and cpu_period being used.

CPU Shares value

Kubernetes translates 1000 millicores or 1 core as 1024 cpu_shares. For example 1500 millicores are translated into 1536 cpu_shares. We learned in the previous post on CPU Shares that a cpu_share value doesn’t mean anything in isolation. Shares are a relative value to the other containers running on the same machine. That’s where the Kubernetes scheduler comes in.


The Kubernetes scheduler uses the request value for scheduling. The containers scheduled to a machine cannot have a cpu count greater than the actual number of cpus on a machine. This means that cpu_shares when used in Kubernetes gives more information than when they are used in isolation. The total of the cpu_shares for all the containers on a Kubernetes node cannot exceed <nr of CPUs> x 1024. This results in the request value acting as a minimum amount of CPU time for a container. When there is no contention for CPU a container can use more CPU than its request. The scenario described in the previous post cannot happen in a Kubernetes cluster.

In this scenario the machine has 1 CPU. The scheduler prevents it as the number of shares is greater than 1024.

No request

Containers without a CPU request get 0 cpu_shares. They can be assigned to any machine, even a node hosting containers with <nr of CPUs> x 1024 shares. This does not violate the scheduling described above as the container has 0 cpu_shares. Under high CPU contention the containers without requests will get no CPU time.

Take aways

The Kubernetes scheduler along with requests allows reasoning about the minimum amount of CPU time a container will get. The same is not true when using cpu_shares without a scheduler limiting the number of shares assigned to a machine.

All but the least important containers should have a request set otherwise the container can be starved of CPU time indefinitely. Batch processing without an SLA is a valid use case for not using a CPU request. That way the batch process will use up any free CPU resources and be throttled when real-time work executes.

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