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Chapter: Distributed and Cloud Computing: From Parallel Processing to the Internet of Things : Virtual Machines and Virtualization of Clusters and Data Centers

Virtualization of CPU, Memory, and I/O Devices

1. Hardware Support for Virtualization 2. CPU Virtualization 3. Memory Virtualization 4. I/O Virtualization 5. Virtualization in Multi-Core Processors



To support virtualization, processors such as the x86 employ a special running mode and instructions, known as hardware-assisted virtualization. In this way, the VMM and guest OS run in different modes and all sensitive instructions of the guest OS and its applications are trapped in the VMM. To save processor states, mode switching is completed by hardware. For the x86 architecture, Intel and AMD have proprietary technologies for hardware-assisted virtualization.



1. Hardware Support for Virtualization


Modern operating systems and processors permit multiple processes to run simultaneously. If there is no protection mechanism in a processor, all instructions from different processes will access the hardware directly and cause a system crash. Therefore, all processors have at least two modes, user mode and supervisor mode, to ensure controlled access of critical hardware. Instructions running in supervisor mode are called privileged instructions. Other instructions are unprivileged instructions. In a virtualized environment, it is more difficult to make OSes and applications run correctly because there are more layers in the machine stack. Example 3.4 discusses Intels hardware support approach.


At the time of this writing, many hardware virtualization products were available. The VMware Workstation is a VM software suite for x86 and x86-64 computers. This software suite allows users to set up multiple x86 and x86-64 virtual computers and to use one or more of these VMs simultaneously with the host operating system. The VMware Workstation assumes the host-based virtualization. Xen is a hypervisor for use in IA-32, x86-64, Itanium, and PowerPC 970 hosts. Actually, Xen modifies Linux as the lowest and most privileged layer, or a hypervisor.


One or more guest OS can run on top of the hypervisor. KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a Linux kernel virtualization infrastructure. KVM can support hardware-assisted virtualization and paravirtualization by using the Intel VT-x or AMD-v and VirtIO framework, respectively. The VirtIO framework includes a paravirtual Ethernet card, a disk I/O controller, a balloon device for adjusting guest memory usage, and a VGA graphics interface using VMware drivers.


Example 3.4 Hardware Support for Virtualization in the Intel x86 Processor


Since software-based virtualization techniques are complicated and incur performance overhead, Intel provides a hardware-assist technique to make virtualization easy and improve performance. Figure 3.10 provides an overview of Intel’s full virtualization techniques. For processor virtualization, Intel offers the VT-x or VT-i technique. VT-x adds a privileged mode (VMX Root Mode) and some instructions to processors. This enhancement traps all sensitive instructions in the VMM automatically. For memory virtualization, Intel offers the EPT, which translates the virtual address to the machine’s physical addresses to improve performance. For I/O virtualization, Intel implements VT-d and VT-c to support this.

2. CPU Virtualization


A VM is a duplicate of an existing computer system in which a majority of the VM instructions are executed on the host processor in native mode. Thus, unprivileged instructions of VMs run directly on the host machine for higher efficiency. Other critical instructions should be handled carefully for correctness and stability. The critical instructions are divided into three categories: privileged instructions, control-sensitive instructions, and behavior-sensitive instructions. Privileged instructions execute in a privileged mode and will be trapped if executed outside this mode. Control-sensitive instructions attempt to change the configuration of resources used. Behavior-sensitive instructions have different behaviors depending on the configuration of resources, including the load and store operations over the virtual memory.

A CPU architecture is virtualizable if it supports the ability to run the VMs privileged and unprivileged instructions in the CPUs user mode while the VMM runs in supervisor mode. When the privileged instructions including control- and behavior-sensitive instructions of a VM are exe-cuted, they are trapped in the VMM. In this case, the VMM acts as a unified mediator for hardware access from different VMs to guarantee the correctness and stability of the whole system. However, not all CPU architectures are virtualizable. RISC CPU architectures can be naturally virtualized because all control- and behavior-sensitive instructions are privileged instructions. On the contrary, x86 CPU architectures are not primarily designed to support virtualization. This is because about 10 sensitive instructions, such as SGDT and SMSW, are not privileged instructions. When these instruc-tions execute in virtualization, they cannot be trapped in the VMM.


On a native UNIX-like system, a system call triggers the 80h interrupt and passes control to the OS kernel. The interrupt handler in the kernel is then invoked to process the system call. On a para-virtualization system such as Xen, a system call in the guest OS first triggers the 80h interrupt nor-mally. Almost at the same time, the 82h interrupt in the hypervisor is triggered. Incidentally, control is passed on to the hypervisor as well. When the hypervisor completes its task for the guest OS system call, it passes control back to the guest OS kernel. Certainly, the guest OS kernel may also invoke the hypercall while its running. Although paravirtualization of a CPU lets unmodified applications run in the VM, it causes a small performance penalty.


2.1 Hardware-Assisted CPU Virtualization


This technique attempts to simplify virtualization because full or paravirtualization is complicated. Intel and AMD add an additional mode called privilege mode level (some people call it Ring-1) to x86 processors. Therefore, operating systems can still run at Ring 0 and the hypervisor can run at Ring -1. All the privileged and sensitive instructions are trapped in the hypervisor automatically. This technique removes the difficulty of implementing binary translation of full virtualization. It also lets the operating system run in VMs without modification.


Example 3.5 Intel Hardware-Assisted CPU Virtualization


Although x86 processors are not virtualizable primarily, great effort is taken to virtualize them. They are used widely in comparing RISC processors that the bulk of x86-based legacy systems cannot discard easily. Virtuali-zation of x86 processors is detailed in the following sections. Intel’s VT-x technology is an example of hardware-assisted virtualization, as shown in Figure 3.11. Intel calls the privilege level of x86 processors the VMX Root Mode. In order to control the start and stop of a VM and allocate a memory page to maintain the

CPU state for VMs, a set of additional instructions is added. At the time of this writing, Xen, VMware, and the Microsoft Virtual PC all implement their hypervisors by using the VT-x technology.


Generally, hardware-assisted virtualization should have high efficiency. However, since the transition from the hypervisor to the guest OS incurs high overhead switches between processor modes, it sometimes cannot outperform binary translation. Hence, virtualization systems such as VMware now use a hybrid approach, in which a few tasks are offloaded to the hardware but the rest is still done in software. In addition, para-virtualization and hardware-assisted virtualization can be combined to improve the performance further.


3. Memory Virtualization


Virtual memory virtualization is similar to the virtual memory support provided by modern operat-ing systems. In a traditional execution environment, the operating system maintains mappings of virtual memory to machine memory using page tables, which is a one-stage mapping from virtual memory to machine memory. All modern x86 CPUs include a memory management unit (MMU) and a translation lookaside buffer (TLB) to optimize virtual memory performance. However, in a virtual execution environment, virtual memory virtualization involves sharing the physical system memory in RAM and dynamically allocating it to the physical memory of the VMs.


That means a two-stage mapping process should be maintained by the guest OS and the VMM, respectively: virtual memory to physical memory and physical memory to machine memory. Furthermore, MMU virtualization should be supported, which is transparent to the guest OS. The guest OS continues to control the mapping of virtual addresses to the physical memory addresses of VMs. But the guest OS cannot directly access the actual machine memory. The VMM is responsible for mapping the guest physical memory to the actual machine memory. Figure 3.12 shows the two-level memory mapping procedure.


Since each page table of the guest OSes has a separate page table in the VMM corresponding to it, the VMM page table is called the shadow page table. Nested page tables add another layer of indirection to virtual memory. The MMU already handles virtual-to-physical translations as defined by the OS. Then the physical memory addresses are translated to machine addresses using another set of page tables defined by the hypervisor. Since modern operating systems maintain a set of page tables for every process, the shadow page tables will get flooded. Consequently, the perfor-mance overhead and cost of memory will be very high.


VMware uses shadow page tables to perform virtual-memory-to-machine-memory address translation. Processors use TLB hardware to map the virtual memory directly to the machine memory to avoid the two levels of translation on every access. When the guest OS changes the virtual memory to a physical memory mapping, the VMM updates the shadow page tables to enable a direct lookup. The AMD Barcelona processor has featured hardware-assisted memory virtualization since 2007. It provides hardware assistance to the two-stage address translation in a virtual execution environment by using a technology called nested paging.


Example 3.6 Extended Page Table by Intel for Memory Virtualization


Since the efficiency of the software shadow page table technique was too low, Intel developed a hardware-based EPT technique to improve it, as illustrated in Figure 3.13. In addition, Intel offers a Virtual Processor ID (VPID) to improve use of the TLB. Therefore, the performance of memory virtualization is greatly improved. In Figure 3.13, the page tables of the guest OS and EPT are all four-level.


When a virtual address needs to be translated, the CPU will first look for the L4 page table pointed to by Guest CR3. Since the address in Guest CR3 is a physical address in the guest OS, the CPU needs to convert the Guest CR3 GPA to the host physical address (HPA) using EPT. In this procedure, the CPU will check the EPT TLB to see if the translation is there. If there is no required translation in the EPT TLB, the CPU will look for it in the EPT. If the CPU cannot find the translation in the EPT, an EPT violation exception will be raised.


When the GPA of the L4 page table is obtained, the CPU will calculate the GPA of the L3 page table by using the GVA and the content of the L4 page table. If the entry corresponding to the GVA in the L4

page table is a page fault, the CPU will generate a page fault interrupt and will let the guest OS kernel handle the interrupt. When the PGA of the L3 page table is obtained, the CPU will look for the EPT to get the HPA of the L3 page table, as described earlier. To get the HPA corresponding to a GVA, the CPU needs to look for the EPT five times, and each time, the memory needs to be accessed four times. There-fore, there are 20 memory accesses in the worst case, which is still very slow. To overcome this short-coming, Intel increased the size of the EPT TLB to decrease the number of memory accesses.


4. I/O Virtualization


I/O virtualization involves managing the routing of I/O requests between virtual devices and the shared physical hardware. At the time of this writing, there are three ways to implement I/O virtualization: full device emulation, para-virtualization, and direct I/O. Full device emulation is the first approach for I/O virtualization. Generally, this approach emulates well-known, real-world devices.

All the functions of a device or bus infrastructure, such as device enumeration, identification, interrupts, and DMA, are replicated in software. This software is located in the VMM and acts as a virtual device. The I/O access requests of the guest OS are trapped in the VMM which interacts with the I/O devices. The full device emulation approach is shown in Figure 3.14.


A single hardware device can be shared by multiple VMs that run concurrently. However, software emulation runs much slower than the hardware it emulates [10,15]. The para-virtualization method of I/O virtualization is typically used in Xen. It is also known as the split driver model consisting of a frontend driver and a backend driver. The frontend driver is running in Domain U and the backend dri-ver is running in Domain 0. They interact with each other via a block of shared memory. The frontend driver manages the I/O requests of the guest OSes and the backend driver is responsible for managing the real I/O devices and multiplexing the I/O data of different VMs. Although para-I/O-virtualization achieves better device performance than full device emulation, it comes with a higher CPU overhead.


Direct I/O virtualization lets the VM access devices directly. It can achieve close-to-native performance without high CPU costs. However, current direct I/O virtualization implementations focus on networking for mainframes. There are a lot of challenges for commodity hardware devices. For example, when a physical device is reclaimed (required by workload migration) for later reassign-ment, it may have been set to an arbitrary state (e.g., DMA to some arbitrary memory locations) that can function incorrectly or even crash the whole system. Since software-based I/O virtualization requires a very high overhead of device emulation, hardware-assisted I/O virtualization is critical. Intel VT-d supports the remapping of I/O DMA transfers and device-generated interrupts. The architecture of VT-d provides the flexibility to support multiple usage models that may run unmodified, special-purpose, or virtualization-aware guest OSes.


Another way to help I/O virtualization is via self-virtualized I/O (SV-IO) [47]. The key idea of SV-IO is to harness the rich resources of a multicore processor. All tasks associated with virtualizing an I/O device are encapsulated in SV-IO. It provides virtual devices and an associated access API to VMs and a management API to the VMM. SV-IO defines one virtual interface (VIF) for every kind of virtua-lized I/O device, such as virtual network interfaces, virtual block devices (disk), virtual camera devices, and others. The guest OS interacts with the VIFs via VIF device drivers. Each VIF consists of two mes-sage queues. One is for outgoing messages to the devices and the other is for incoming messages from the devices. In addition, each VIF has a unique ID for identifying it in SV-IO.


Example 3.7 VMware Workstation for I/O Virtualization


The VMware Workstation runs as an application. It leverages the I/O device support in guest OSes, host OSes, and VMM to implement I/O virtualization. The application portion (VMApp) uses a driver loaded into the host operating system (VMDriver) to establish the privileged VMM, which runs directly on the hardware. A given physical processor is executed in either the host world or the VMM world, with the VMDriver facilitating the transfer of control between the two worlds. The VMware Workstation employs full device emulation to implement I/O virtualization. Figure 3.15 shows the functional blocks used in sending and receiving packets via the emulated virtual NIC.

The virtual NIC models an AMD Lance Am79C970A controller. The device driver for a Lance controller in the guest OS initiates packet transmissions by reading and writing a sequence of virtual I/O ports; each read or write switches back to the VMApp to emulate the Lance port accesses. When the last OUT instruc-tion of the sequence is encountered, the Lance emulator calls a normal write() to the VMNet driver. The VMNet driver then passes the packet onto the network via a host NIC and then the VMApp switches back to the VMM. The switch raises a virtual interrupt to notify the guest device driver that the packet was sent. Packet receives occur in reverse.


5. Virtualization in Multi-Core Processors


Virtualizing a multi-core processor is relatively more complicated than virtualizing a uni-core processor. Though multicore processors are claimed to have higher performance by integrating multiple processor cores in a single chip, muti-core virtualiuzation has raised some new challenges to computer architects, compiler constructors, system designers, and application programmers. There are mainly two difficulties: Application programs must be parallelized to use all cores fully, and software must explicitly assign tasks to the cores, which is a very complex problem.


Concerning the first challenge, new programming models, languages, and libraries are needed to make parallel programming easier. The second challenge has spawned research involving scheduling algorithms and resource management policies. Yet these efforts cannot balance well among performance, complexity, and other issues. What is worse, as technology scales, a new challenge called dynamic heterogeneity is emerging to mix the fat CPU core and thin GPU cores on the same chip, which further complicates the multi-core or many-core resource management. The dynamic heterogeneity of hardware infrastructure mainly comes from less reliable transistors and increased complexity in using the transistors [33,66].


5.1 Physical versus Virtual Processor Cores


Wells, et al. [74] proposed a multicore virtualization method to allow hardware designers to get an abstraction of the low-level details of the processor cores. This technique alleviates the burden and inefficiency of managing hardware resources by software. It is located under the ISA and remains unmodified by the operating system or VMM (hypervisor). Figure 3.16 illustrates the technique of a software-visible VCPU moving from one core to another and temporarily suspending execution of a VCPU when there are no appropriate cores on which it can run.


5.2 Virtual Hierarchy


The emerging many-core chip multiprocessors (CMPs) provides a new computing landscape. Instead of supporting time-sharing jobs on one or a few cores, we can use the abundant cores in a space-sharing, where single-threaded or multithreaded jobs are simultaneously assigned to separate groups of cores for long time intervals. This idea was originally suggested by Marty and Hill [39]. To optimize for space-shared workloads, they propose using virtual hierarchies to overlay a coherence and caching hierarchy onto a physical processor. Unlike a fixed physical hierarchy, a virtual hierarchy can adapt to fit how the work is space shared for improved performance and performance isolation.


Todays many-core CMPs use a physical hierarchy of two or more cache levels that statically determine the cache allocation and mapping. A virtual hierarchy is a cache hierarchy that can adapt to fit the workload or mix of workloads [39]. The hierarchys first level locates data blocks close to the cores needing them for faster access, establishes a shared-cache domain, and establishes a point of coherence for faster communication. When a miss leaves a tile, it first attempts to locate the block (or sharers) within the first level. The first level can also pro-vide isolation between independent workloads. A miss at the L1 cache can invoke the L2 access.


The idea is illustrated in Figure 3.17(a). Space sharing is applied to assign three workloads to three clusters of virtual cores: namely VM0 and VM3 for database workload, VM1 and VM2 for web server workload, and VM4VM7 for middleware workload. The basic assumption is that each workload runs in its own VM. However, space sharing applies equally within a single operating system. Statically distributing the directory among tiles can do much better, provided operating sys-tems or hypervisors carefully map virtual pages to physical frames. Marty and Hill suggested a two-level virtual coherence and caching hierarchy that harmonizes with the assignment of tiles to the virtual clusters of VMs.


Figure 3.17(b) illustrates a logical view of such a virtual cluster hierarchy in two levels. Each VM operates in a isolated fashion at the first level. This will minimize both miss access time and performance interference with other workloads or VMs. Moreover, the shared resources of cache capacity, inter-connect links, and miss handling are mostly isolated between VMs. The second level maintains a globally shared memory. This facilitates dynamically repartitioning resources without costly cache flushes. Furthermore, maintaining globally shared memory minimizes changes to existing system software and allows virtualization features such as content-based page sharing. A virtual hierarchy adapts to space-shared workloads like multiprogramming and server consolidation. Figure 3.17 shows a case study focused on consolidated server workloads in a tiled architecture. This many-core mapping scheme can also optimize for space-shared multiprogrammed workloads in a single-OS environment.

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