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GNOME keyring daemon vs ssh-agent

A fellow sysadmin friend of mine has, from time to time, bitched about performance problems with gnome's ssh agent called "keyring." I don't use gnome, so I don't have his problems.

Yesterday, I wrote some ruby code that'll let you use your own ssh keys (and agent) to sign and verify arbitrary strings. See jordansissel/ruby-sshkeyauth on github.

Putting the above module to work, I can easily compare signing speeds of agents under various load conditions. The main complaint was that keyring falls apart under parallel signing demands - a very common situation for any sysadmin that sshes to more than one system at a time say, with a script, or capistrano, or another similar tool.

Under single-client signing requests (one at a time), gnome-keyring on ubuntu 10.04 signed 1000 "Hello world" strings in 12.76 seconds; ssh-agent cut that time by more than half achieving the same result in 5.05 seconds.

Under reasonable parallel load, ssh-agent's lead grew even further. On 4 cores, 5 'signing' processes, and 1000 signing requests each, the results are gnome-keyring signing all 1000 requests on each of 5 processes in parallel in 113.23 seconds, while ssh-agent signed the same in 30.61 seconds.

If you want to repeat my tests, you can use the 'samples/speed.rb' script from the above ruby-sshkeyauth project on github. Single-thread tests were done using ruby speed.rb "Hello world" while the 5-process test was done using seq 5 | xargs -P5 -n1 ruby speed.rb "Hello world".

So, if you're a regular user of ssh and ssh agents, you may want to stick with ssh-agent rather than gnome-keyring-daemon given the huge performance lead ssh-agent has.