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Ulrich Drepper

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Increasing Virtualization Insanity [Aug. 13th, 2007|04:52 pm]
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People are starting to realize how broken the Xen model is with its privileged Dom0 domain. But the actions they want to take are simply ridiculous: they want to add the drivers back into the hypervisor. There are many technical reasons why this is a terrible idea. You'd have to add (back, mind you, Xen before version 2 did this) all the PCI handling and lots of other lowlevel code which is now maintained as part of the Linux kernel. This would of course play nicely into Xensource's (the company) pocket. Their technical people so far turn this down but I have no faith in this group: sooner or later they want to be independent of OS vendors and have their own mini-OS in the hypervisor. Adios remaining few advantages of the hypervisor model. But this is of course also the direction of VMWare who loudly proclaim that in the future we won't have OS as they exist today. Instead only domains with mini-OS which are ideally only hooks into the hypervisor OS where single applications run.

I hope everybody realizes the insanity of this:

  • If they really mean single application this must also mean single-process. If not, you'll have to implement an OS which can provide multi-process services. But this means that you either have no support to create processes or you rely on an mini-OS which is a front for the hypervisor. In VMWare's case this is some proprietary mini-OS and I imagine Xensource would like to do the very same.
  • Imagine that you have such application domains. All nicely separated because replicated. The result is a maintainance nightmare. What if a component which is needed in all application domains has to be updated? In a traditional system you update the one instance per machine/domain. With application domains you have to update every single one and not forget one.
And worst of all:
  • Don't people realize that this is the KVM model just implemented much poorer and more proprietary? If you invite drivers and all the infrastructure into the hypervisor it is not small enough anymore to have a complete code review. I.e., you end up with a full OS which is too large for that. Why not use one which already works: Linux.

I fear I have to repeat myself over and over again until the last person recognizes that the hypervisor model does not work for the type of virtualization for commodity hardware we try to achieve. Using a hypervisor was simply the first idea which popped into people's head since it was already done before in quite different environments. The change from Xen v1 to v2 should have shown how rotten the model is. Only when you take a step back you can see the whole picture and realize the KVM model is not only better, it's the only logical choice.

I know people have invested into Xen and that KVM is not yet there yet but a) there has been a lot of progress in KVM-land and b) the performance is constantly improving and especially with next year's processor updates hardware virtualization costs will go down even further.

For sysadmin types this means: do what you have to do with Xen for now. But keep the investments small. For developers this means: don't let yourself be tied to a platform. Use an abstraction layer such as libvirt to bridge over the differences. For architects this means: don't looking to Xen for answers, base your new designs on KVM.

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