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As anyone in the technology field will tell you, even the most redundant systems experience outages. A valuable part of learning what happened and how to prevent it from happening again can come from memory and crash dumps, which most operating systems have been able to produce for some time. These dumps can show you what was running at the time of the crash and allow greater insight into the issue.

The virtctl memory-dump option within OpenShift Virtualization can help you do that. It allows you to grab the virtual memory directly from the system experiencing trouble, even if it's not accessible through conventional means. A huge advantage of OpenShift Virtualization tools is that they are OS-independent, and you don't need to wait for a physical or virtual machine to become accessible again to grab what was running in memory.

This article demonstrates how to get a crashed virtual machine's memory and a couple of ways to check to see what may have happened.

Generating a virtual machine memory dump using virtctl from the CLI

Creating the memory dump and downloading it for use is a relatively simple process, but it requires you to have the virtctl command line tool available. This tool can be acquired directly from the OpenShift UI by selecting the "Command line tools" link in the help menu.

This demonstration uses Windows Server 2019 and RHEL 9 virtual machines, but this process works the same for any OS that OpenShift Virtualization supports. Look at the VM to understand what I'm working with in this example. Since I'm only concerned with the size of the memory allocated to it, which will affect the time involved in creating and downloading the dump, I can grep just for the memory in the YAML output. The command used is below:

$ oc get vm beehive-win19 -o yaml | grep memory
            memory: 4Gi


I'm working with 4Gi, so the process will complete quickly. Completion times will vary depending on machine configuration. Next, I create and export the memory dump with the following command:

$ virtctl memory-dump get beehive-win19 \
> --create-claim --claim-name=beehive-win19-mem \
> --output=windows19-mem.dump.tar.gz


Above, I created a memory dump of the beehive-win19 virtual machine and made a new PVC to store the dump, naming it beehive-win19-mem. A VM export job is created, and the memory dump called windows19-mem.dump.tar.gz is downloaded to the machine from which I ran the command. The VM export job is then removed. Alternatively, if you already have a PVC available, you can simply omit --create-claim and enter the desired storage instead of creating a new one. Below is a truncated example of the output:

PVC beehive-virtual-machines/beehive-win19-mem created
Successfully submitted memory dump request of VM beehive-win19
Waiting for memorydump to complete, current phase: Associating...
Waiting for memorydump to complete, current phase: InProgress...
Memory dump completed successfully
VirtualMachineExport 'beehive-virtual-machines/export-beehive-win19-beehive-win19-mem' created successfully
waiting for VM Export export-beehive-win19-beehive-win19-mem status to be ready...
Downloading file: 1.47 GiB [==================>] 3.27 MiB p/s                                                                                                   
Download finished successfully
VirtualMachineExport 'beehive-virtual-machines/export-beehive-win19-beehive-win19-mem' deleted successfully


So now that I have the memory dump, what do I do with it? I'll explore a couple of examples.

Obtaining Information from an OpenShift VM memory dump

After decompressing the tar files, I'll run some commands using the volatility3 tool on the memory dumps. The output below shows a truncated list of the processes the Windows server was running, its parent processes, and some additional info.

$ python3 vol.py -f beehive-win19-beehive-win19-mem-20230808-135236.memory.dump windows.pslist

Volatility 3 Framework 2.5.0

Progress:  100.00        PDB scanning finished                        

PID    PPID    ImageFileName    Offset(V)     Threads    Handles    SessionId    Wow64    CreateTime     ExitTime    File output

4     0         System       0x880a18c78040    86     -     N/A     False    2023-07-31 23:36:55.000000     N/A     Disabled
88     4         Registry     0x880a18d99040    4     -     N/A     False    2023-07-31 23:36:52.000000     N/A     Disabled
292    4         smss.exe     0x880a1c175040    2     -     N/A     False    2023-07-31 23:36:55.000000     N/A     Disabled
400    388         csrss.exe    0x880a1d799140    10     -     0     False    2023-07-31 23:37:03.000000     N/A     Disabled
476    468         csrss.exe    0x880a1c136080    9     -     1     False    2023-07-31 23:37:04.000000     N/A     Disabled
496    388         wininit.exe  0x880a1d9ac080    1     -     0     False    2023-07-31 23:37:04.000000     N/A     Disabled


Now, I'll look at a RHEL memory dump using a similar command. Below is the truncated output of the RHEL 9 virtual machine's process list.

Please note that to run these commands on a Linux memory dump successfully, you will need to follow the guide the volatility team provides to gather the correct debug symbols for your kernel.

python3 vol.py -v -f cnv-galera-db01-beehive-galeradb01-mem-20230829-184446.memory.dump linux.pslist

Volatility 3 Framework 2.5.0

Progress: 100.00 Stacking attempts finished


0x8b27c0251c80 1 1 0 systemd
0x8b27c0255580 2 2 0 kthreadd
0x8b27c0253900 3 3 2 rcu_gp
0x8b27c0250000 4 4 2 rcu_par_gp
0x8b27c027b900 5 5 2 slub_flushwq
0x8b27c0278000 6 6 2 netns


Connecting the digital dots

Whether you require the ability to find out why something went awry, track down malicious software, or analyze what was happening on a system when it was compromised, the memory dump option that comes with the virtctl tools can be an invaluable accessory at your disposal with OpenShift virtual machines.

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