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Virtualization

We briefly discuss virtualization, with the goal of providing a foundation for discussing IaaS clouds and the resource model. The term virtualization can apply to a computer (a virtual machine and the resources it uses), storage, network resources, desktops, or other entities. Virtualization of hardware resources and operating systems dates back the 1960s, with IBM mainframes, and was later used on AIX® and other UNIX® platforms. It has been a powerful tool for these platforms for many years. In 1999, VMWare introduced virtualization for low-cost Intel® x-series hardware, based on the research of its founders at Stanford University. This made the practice of virtualization more widespread.

A hypervisor, or virtual machine manager, is a software module that manages virtual machines. The hypervisor resides on the host system on which the virtual machines run. The relationship of the hypervisor to the host operating system and to the virtual machine is one of the key distinguishing characteristics of the different virtualization systems.

Major virtualization systems for x86 hardware include these:

  • VMWare, a broad range of virtualization products for x86
  • Xen, an open source virtualization system with commercial support from Citrix
  • Windows Hyper-V, introduced by Microsoft in Windows Server 2008
  • Kernel Virtualization Machine (KVM), a part of the Linux kernel since version 2.6.2

Virtualization became widespread in the early 2000s, several years before the rise of cloud computing. Virtualization offers many practical benefits, including the following:

  • The ease of setting up new systems. New systems do not need to installed using installation media.
  • No need to buy new hardware to simulate various system environments for debugging and support.
  • The capability to recover quickly from system corruption.
  • The ease of relocating and migrating systems. For example, a move to a more powerful machine can simply be a matter of taking a snapshot of a virtual machine and starting up a new virtual machine based on that snapshot.
  • The ease of remote management. Physical access to data centers is tightly controlled these days. The use of virtual machines greatly reduces the need for physical access.
  • The capability to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on one server.

In virtualization of hardware and operating systems, we refer to the guest system as the system being virtualized. The system the guest runs on is called the host, which uses a hypervisor to managing scheduling and system resources, such as memory. Several types of virtualization exist: full virtualization, partial virtualization, and paravirtualization.

Full virtualization is complete simulation of the hardware. Full virtualization is simulating to emulate. In emulation, an emulated system is completely independent of the hardware. The Android smart phone emulator and QEMU in unaccelerated mode are examples of system emulation. Full virtualization differs from emulation in that the virtual system is designed to run on the same hardware architecture as the host system. This enables the instructions of the virtual machine to run directly on the hardware, greatly increasing performance. In full virtualization, no software is needed to simulate the hardware architecture. Figure 1.6 gives a schematic diagram of full virtualization.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4. Use case diagram for adding extra capacity for enterprise IT infrastructure

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5. IoT Data use case diagram

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6. Schematic diagram of full virtualization

One of the key characteristics of full virtualization is that an unmodified guest operating system can run on a virtual machine. However, for performance reasons, some modifications are often made. Intel and AMD introduced enhancements to CPUs to allow this: the Intel VT (Virtual Technology) and AMD-V features introduced in 2005. These features support modifications of the guest operating system instructions through variations in their translation to run on the hardware. The Intel VT-x (32-bit processors) and VT-i (IA64 architecture) introduced two new operation levels for the processor, to be used by hypervisors to allow the guest operating systems to run unmodified. Intel also developed a VT-d feature for direct IO, to enable devices to be safely assigned to guest operating systems. VT-d also supports direct memory access (DMA) remapping, which prevents a direct memory access from escaping the bounds of a virtual machine. AMD has a similar set of modifications, although implemented somewhat differently.

Figure 1.6 shows the hypervisor running on top of the host operating system. However, this is not necessary for some hypervisors, which can run in “bare-metal” mode, installed directly on the hardware. Performance increases by eliminating the need for a host operating system.

VMWare Workstation and the IBM System z® Virtual Machine are examples of full virtualization products. VMWare has a wide range of virtualization products for x86 systems. The ESX Server can run in bare-metal mode. VMWare Player is a hosted hypervisor that can be freely downloaded and can run virtual machines created by VMWare Workstation or Server. Xen can run as a full virtualization system for basic architectures with the CPU virtualization features present.

In paravirtualization, the hardware is not simulated; instead, the guest runs in its own isolated domain. In this paradigm, the hypervisor exports a modified version of the physical hardware to the guest operating system. Some changes are needed at the operating system level. Figure 1.7 shows a schematic diagram of paravirtualization.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7. Schematic diagram of paravirtualization

Xen is an example of a paravirtualization implementation. VMWare and Windows Hyper-V can also run in paravirtualization mode.

In operating system–level virtualization, the hypervisor is integrated into the operating system. The different guest operating systems still see their own file systems and system resources, but they have less isolation between them. The operating system itself provides resource management. Figure 1.8 shows a schematic diagram of operating system–level virtualization.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8. Schematic diagram of operating system–level virtualization

One of the advantages of operating system–level virtualization is that it requires less duplication of resources. Logical partitions on the IBM AIX operating system serves as an example of operating system–level virtualization.

KVM can be considered an example of operating system–level virtualization. KVM is a Linux kernel module and relies on other parts of the Linux kernel for managing the guest systems. It was added to the Linux kernel in version 2.6. KVM exports the device /dev/kvm, which enables guest operating systems to have their own address spaces, to support isolation of the virtual machines. Figure 1.9 shows the basic concept of virtualization with KVM.

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9. Virtualization with KVM

KVM depends on libraries from the open source QEMU for emulation of some devices. KVM also introduces a new process mode, called guest, for executing the guest operating systems. It is a privilege mode sufficient to run the guest operating systems but not sufficient to see or interfere with other guest systems or the hypervisor. KVM adds a set of shadow page tables to map memory from guest operating systems to physical memory. The /dev/kvm device node enables a userspace process to create and run virtual machines via a set of ioctl() operations, including these:

  • Creating a new virtual machine
  • Allocating memory to a virtual machine
  • Reading and writing virtual CPU registers
  • Injecting an interrupt into a CPU
  • Running a virtual CPU

In addition, guest memory can be used to support DMA-capable devices, such as graphic displays. Guest execution is performed in the loop:

  • A userspace process calls the kernel to execute guest code.
  • The kernel causes the processor to enter guest mode.
  • The processor executes guest code until it encounters an IO instruction or is interrupted by an external event.

Another key difference between virtualization systems is between client-based and server-based virtualization systems. In a client-based virtualization system, such as VMWare Workstation, the hypervisor and virtual machine both run on the client that uses the virtual machine. Server products, such as VMWare ESX, and remote management libraries, such as libvirt, enable you to remotely manage the hypervisor. This has the key advantage of freeing the virtual machine from the client that consumes it. One more step in virtualization is needed in cloud computing, which is to be able to manage a cluster of hypervisors.

Computing capacity is not the only resource needed in cloud computing. Cloud consumers also need storage and network resources. Those storage and network resources can be shared in some cases, but in other cases, they must be isolated. Software based on strong cryptography, such as secure shell (SSH), can be used safely in a multitenant environment. Similarly, some software stores data in encrypted format, but most does not. Thus, storage and network virtualization and tenant isolation are needed in clouds as well.

Storage virtualization provides logical storage, abstracting the details of the storage technology from users and application software. This is often implemented in network-attached storage devices, which can provide multiple interfaces to a large array of hard disks. See the “Storage” section later in this chapter for more details.

Network resources can also be virtualized. This book is most concerned with virtualization at the IP level. In the 1990s, local area networks (LANs) were created by stringing Ethernet cable between machines. In the 2000s, physical network transport was incorporated directly into cabinets that blade servers fit into, to keep the back of the cabinet from looking like a bird’s nest of Ethernet cable. Today we can do the virtual equivalent of that with virtual network management devices in a VLAN, which can be managed conveniently and also provides network isolation for security purposes. See the “Network Virtualization” section later in this chapter for more details.

These virtualization platforms provide great convenience, but management comes at the cost of learning them and developing efficient skills. Some other limitations exist as well:

  • The different virtual hosts must be managed separately, and only a limited number of guest machines can be placed on one host. Today 16 dual-core CPU machines are affordable, to support around 32 capable virtual machines, but we need a way to scale to larger numbers.
  • End users still need to contact a system administrator when they want a new virtual machine. The administrator then must track these requests and charge for use.
  • Virtualization itself does not provide a library of images that can be readily used. A feature of organizations that use a lot of direct virtualization is image sprawl, consisting of a large number of unmanaged virtual machine images.
  • The system administrator still must manage the various pieces of the infrastructure. Some small companies cannot afford system administrators, and many large organizations would like to reduce the number of system administrators they currently have.
  • Hardware still must be bought. Most enterprises would like to minimize their capital investments in hardware.
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