Directory Server is designed to respond quickly to client application requests. In order to avoid waiting for directory data to be read from disk, Directory Server caches data in memory. You can configure how much memory is devoted to cache for database files, for directory entries, and for importing directory data from LDIF.
Ideally the hardware on which you run Directory Server allows you to devote enough space to cache all directory data in physical memory. The data should fit comfortably, such that the system has enough physical memory for operation, and the file system has plenty of physical memory for its caching and operation. Once the data are cached, Directory Server has to read data from and write data to disk only when a directory entry changes.
Directory Server supports 64–bit memory addressing, and so can handle total cache sizes as large as a 64–bit processor can address. For small to medium deployments it is often possible to provide enough memory that all directory data can be held in cache. For large deployments, however, caching everything may not be practical or cost effective.
For large deployments, caching everything in memory can cause side effects. Tools such as the pmap command, that traverse the process memory map to gather data, can freeze the server process for a noticeable time. Core files can become so large that writing them to disk during a crash can take several minutes. Startup times can be slow if the server is shut down abruptly and then restarted. Directory Server can also pause and stop responding temporarily when it reaches a checkpoint and has to flush dirty cached pages to disk. When the cache is very large, the pauses can become so long that monitoring software assumes Directory Server is down.
I/O buffers at the operating system level can provide better performance. Very large buffers can compensate for smaller database caches.
For a detailed discussion of cache and cache settings, read Chapter 5, Directory Server Data Caching, in Sun Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition 6.1 Reference.