Monday, October 19, 2009

Xen and the Art of Virtualization

Modern computers are sufficiently powerful to use virtualization to present the illusion of many smaller virtual machines (VMs), each running a separate operating system instance. Xen uses paravirtualization for the Virtual Machine monitor (VMM). A VMM is the layer between software and hardware, allowing more than one guest OS to run concurrently. Xen shows good performance and isolation of each VM, while allowing unmodified applications and supporting full operating systems.

When Xen began its development, it could not support a guest OS "as is", and patches to the guest kernel had to be applied. Today, architecture modifications allow unmodified kernels to run over Xen. The IA32 architecture uses a 4 ring privileges model, where the highest privilege (usually the OS, but now the Xen VMM) is running in ring 0, the rings 1 (now running the OS) and 2 are mostly unused, and ring 3 is home for the applications.

The Xen architecture is as follows:
-The hypercall interface allows domains to perform asynchronous software trap into the hypervisor to perform a privileged operation, analogous to the use of system calls in conventional operating systems.
-Xen allows guests to manage their own page tables (PTs), but limits the direct access to it to read-only. Modifying the PT is permitted with a Xen verification of the change.
-The hardware interrupt system is replaced by a lightweight event system.
-Xen contains no device drivers. Each driver request forwarded by a guest OS, is redirected by Xen to the Host OS device driver, allowing the guest OS to interact with the hardware while being hardware-independent.

The scalability provided by Xen's lightweight hypervisor allows for many VMs on each physical machine, which allows for efficient, fine-grained, and dynamic management of VMs. Xen’s network performance is important due to the need for multiple VMs running on separate physical machines. For example, an application’s need for 1000 machines may be serviced by 4000 VMs running on a quarter machine.

Please see a previous post for additional comments:
Virtualization vs. OS Separation


  1. hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)

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