C Performance Evaluation of simmer

This appendix investigates the performance of simmer with the aim of assessing its usability as a general-purpose DES framework. A first section is devoted to measuring the simulation time of a simple model relative to SimPy (Team SimPy 2017) and SimJulia (Lauwens 2017). The reader may find interesting to compare the expressiveness of each framework. Last but not least, the final section explores the cost of calling R from C++, revealing the existent trade-off, inherent to the design of this package, between performance and model complexity.

All the subsequent tests were performed under Fedora Linux 25 running on an Intel Core2 Quad CPU Q8400, with R 3.3.3, Python 2.7.13, SimPy 3.0.9, Julia 0.5.1 and SimJulia 0.3.14 from the default repositories. Absolute execution times presented here are specific to this platform and configuration, and thus they should not be taken as representative for any other system. Instead, the relative performance should be approximately constant across different systems.

C.1 Comparison with Similar Frameworks

A significant effort has been put into the design of simmer in order to make it performant enough to run general and relatively large simulation models in a reasonable amount of time. In this regard, a relevant comparison can be made against other general-purpose DES frameworks such as SimPy and SimJulia. To this effect, we simulate a simple M/M/1 queueing system as follows:

With the selected arrival rate, \(\lambda=1\), this test simulates an average of n arrivals entering a nearly saturated system (\(\rho=1/1.1\)). Given that simmer generators are able to create arrivals in batches (i.e., more than one arrival for each function call) for improved performance, the parameter m controls the size of the batch. Finally, the mon flag enables or disables monitoring.

Let us build now the equivalent model using SimPy, with base Python for random number generation. We prepare the Python benchmark from R using the rPython package (Bellosta 2015) as follows:

Equivalently, this can be done for SimJulia using the rjulia package (Gong, Keys, and Maechler 2017). Once more, n controls the average number of arrivals:

It can be noted that in both cases there is no monitoring involved, because either SimPy nor SimJulia provide automatic monitoring as simmer does. Furthermore, the resulting code for simmer is more concise and expressive than the equivalent ones for SimPy and SimJulia, which are very similar.

We obtain the reference benchmark with n=1e4 and 20 replicas for both packages as follows:

As a matter of fact, we also tested a small DES skeleton in pure R provided in Matloff (2011 s. 7.8.3). This code was formalised into an R package called DES, available on GitHub60 since 2014. The original code implemented the event queue as an ordered vector which was updated by performing a binary search. Thus, the execution time of this version was two orders of magnitude slower than the other frameworks. The most recent version on GitHub (as of 2017) takes another clever approach though: it supposes that the event vector will be short and approximately ordered; therefore, the event vector is not sorted anymore, and the next event is found using a simple linear search. These assumptions hold for many cases, and particularly for this M/M/1 scenario. As a result, the performance of this model is only \(\sim2.2\) times slower than SimPy. Still, it is clear that pure R cannot compete with other languages in discrete-event simulation, and DES is not considered in our comparisons hereafter.

Finally, we set a benchmark for simmer using the microbenchmark package (Mersmann 2015), again with n=1e4 and 20 replicas for each test. Figure C.1 (left) shows the output of this benchmark. simmer is tested both in monitored and in non-monitored mode. The results show that the performance of simmer is equivalent to SimPy and SimJulia. The non-monitored simmer shows a slightly better performance than these frameworks, while the monitored simmer shows a slightly worse performance.

Performance comparison. Boxplots for 20 runs of the M/M/1 test with n=1e4 (left). Performance evolution with the batch size \(m\) (right).Performance comparison. Boxplots for 20 runs of the M/M/1 test with n=1e4 (left). Performance evolution with the batch size \(m\) (right).

Figure C.1: Performance comparison. Boxplots for 20 runs of the M/M/1 test with n=1e4 (left). Performance evolution with the batch size \(m\) (right).

At this point, it is worth highlighting simmer’s ability to generate arrivals in batches (hence parameter \(m\)). To better understand the impact of batched arrival generation, the benchmark was repeated over a range of \(m\) values \((1, \ldots, 100)\). The results of the batched arrival generation runs are shown in Figure C.1 (right). This plot depicts the average execution time of the simmer model with (red) and without (blue) monitoring as a function of the generator batch size \(m\). The black dashed line sets the average execution time of the SimPy model to serve as a reference.

The performance with m=1 corresponds to what has been shown in Figure C.1 (left). But as \(m\) increases, simmer performance quickly improves and becomes \(\sim1.6\) to \(1.9\) times faster than SimPy. Surprisingly, there is no additional gain with batches greater than 40-50 arrivals at a time, but there is no penalty either with bigger batches. Therefore, it is always recommended to generate arrivals in big batches whenever possible.

C.2 The Cost of Calling R from C++

The C++ simulation core provided by simmer is quite fast, as we have demonstrated, but performance is adversely affected by numerous calls to R. The practice of calling R from C++ is generally strongly discouraged due to the overhead involved. However, in the case of simmer, it not only makes sense, but is even fundamental in order to provide the user with enough flexibility to build all kinds of simulation models. Nevertheless, this cost must be known, and taken into account whenever a higher performance is needed.

To explore the cost of calling R from C++, let us define the following test:

This toy example performs a very simple simulation in which n arrivals are attached (in one shot, thanks to the convenience function at()) to a test trajectory at \(t=1, 2, ..., n\). The trajectory consists of a single activity: a timeout with some configurable delay that may be a fixed value or a function call. Finally, after the simulation, the monitored data is extracted from the simulation core to R. Effectively, this is equivalent to generating a data frame of n rows (see the example output in Table C.1).

Table C.1: Output from the test_simmer() function.
Name Start time End time Activity time Finished Replication
test0 1 2 1 TRUE 1
test1 2 3 1 TRUE 1
test2 3 4 1 TRUE 1

As a matter of comparison, the following test_R_for() function produces the very same data using base R:

Note that we are using a for loop to mimic the behaviour of simmer’s internals, of how monitoring is made, but we concede the advantage of pre-allocated vectors to R. A second base R implementation, which builts upon the lapply() function, is implemented as the test_R_lapply() function:

The test_simmer(), test_R_for() and test_R_lapply() functions all produce exactly the same data in a similar manner (cfr. Table C.1). Now, we want to compare how a delay consisting of a function call instead of a fixed value impacts the performance of simmer, and we use test_R_for() and test_R_lapply() as yardsticks.

The benchmark was executed with n=1e5 and 20 replicas for each test. Table C.2 shows a summary of the resulting timings.

Table C.2: Execution time (milliseconds).
Expr Min Mean Median Max
test_simmer(n, 1) 429.8663 492.365 480.5408 599.3547
test_simmer(n, function() 1) 3067.9957 3176.963 3165.6859 3434.7979
test_R_for(n) 2053.0840 2176.164 2102.5848 2438.6836
test_R_lapply(n) 1525.6682 1754.028 1757.7566 2002.6634

As we can see, simmer is \(\sim4.4\) times faster than for-based base R and \(\sim3.6\) times faster than lapply-based base R on average when we set a fixed delay. On the ther hand, if we replace it for a function call, the execution becomes \(\sim6.5\) times slower, or \(\sim1.5\) times slower than for-based base R. It is indeed a quite good result if we take into account the fact that base R pre-allocates memory, and that simmer is doing a lot more internally. But still, these results highlight the overheads involved and encourage the use of fixed values instead of function calls whenever possible.


Bellosta, Carlos J. Gil. 2015. RPython: Package Allowing R to Call Python. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=rPython.

Gong, Yu, Oliver Keys, and Martin Maechler. 2017. Rjulia: Integrating R and Julia – Calling Julia from R. https://github.com/armgong/rjulia.

Lauwens, Ben. 2017. SimJulia.jl: Combined Continuous-Time / Discrete-Event Process Oriented Simulation Framework Written in Julia. https://github.com/BenLauwens/SimJulia.jl.

Matloff, Norman. 2011. The Art of R Programming: A Tour of Statistical Software Design. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA, USA: No Starch Press.

Mersmann, Olaf. 2015. Microbenchmark: Accurate Timing Functions. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=microbenchmark.

Team SimPy. 2017. SimPy: Discrete-Event Simulation for Python. https://simpy.readthedocs.io/en/latest/.