Virtualization Technology News and Information
Advantages of Hardware-Level Virtualization

Brian Gammage pulls no punches when he assesses the importance of hardware -assisted virtualization: "This is the most significant architectural change we've seen in the x86 processor in 25 years," says Gammage, Gartner's lead analyst on PC virtualization.

Even Intel and Advanced Micro Devices haven't explained adequately how significantly the technology affects server  virtualisation, he adds.

Server virtualization is a watershed IT technology because it lets a single physical computer run multiple operating systems, vastly increasing rates of CPU use. But server virtualization also is a highly complex process, and many vendors over the years have been stymied in their attempts to create good virtual machine software. VMware, on the other hand, figured out how to build a binary translator that scans the issue of privilege-instructions processors to operating systems and rewrites the ones that can't be virtualized.

Essentially, VMware's early virtualization software tricked the operating system, Gammage says. Earlier processors contain four privilege levels, which create security  boundaries -- they're like one-way doors, he says. A process running in Ring 1 had to ask Ring 0 for permission to access objects to which Ring 1 normally wouldn't have access. Under this setup, virtualization software "fools" an operating system into thinking it's running at Ring 0 -- the most privileged ring -- when it's really not.

Hardware-assisted virtualization changes all this by doubling the number of a processor's privilege levels. If the chip has a greater number of privilege levels, modifying the operating system becomes unnecessary, Gammage says.

Embedded Routines

Supporting virtualization at the chip level greatly reduces the amount of virtual-machine code needed, in part because routine operations now are handled in hardware. As XenSource CTO Simon Crosby says, "The more features in the hardware, the more code we can throw away."

Indeed, hardware-assisted virtualization gives second-tier virtualization vendors an opportunity to catch up to VMware, which established a clear lead over competitors by developing workarounds to many hardware limitations, says Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research.

XenSource, which sells products related to the Xen open source hypervisor, is among VMware competitors benefiting from hardware-assisted virtualization, as is Virtual Iron.

Previously, Virtual Iron supported Linux because it could be rewritten to its purposes, says Alex Vasilevsky, the company's CTO. Now, without the need for modifications, it can support Windows, too, he says.

Read the rest of the article from Data Storage Today, here.

Published Saturday, October 06, 2007 5:51 PM by David Marshall
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