Weird racing clock problem on VMWare Linux Guests

A while back we installed a new Dell server with a low-power Xeon 3GHz L3110 CPU to run some other essential network infrastructure. We chose the specific server configuration because it dissipates less than 30W while running 5 VMware VMs. It runs for hours on a UPS and doesn’t require cooling, so even if our server room air-conditioning were to die, this server should keep our network, firewalls, VPNs, DNS, DHCP and primary Terracotta server and a few other vital services up long enough for us to figure out what’s going on.

The server is running CentOS 5.5 and VMWare 1.0.10 – normally a very stable combination. However, we found that Linux guests running on this server were not keeping time properly. their clocks were running too fast – 50% too fast in fact. We finally figured out that the problem was caused by the fact that the CPU power-saving causes Linux to think that has a 2GHz processor instead of a 3GHz processor and this causes the 50% clock speedup in the Linux guests under VMWare. We disabled the demand-based power saving feature of the CPU in the BIOS and now it works correctly.

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