Thursday, September 16, 2021

KVM Forum 2021 Highlights

Here are highlights from this year's KVM Forum conference, the yearly event around QEMU, KVM, and related communities like VIRTIO and rust-vmm.

Video recordings will be posted soon. In the meantime, here are short summaries of what I learnt. You can find slides to many of these talks in the links below.


vDPA is a Linux driver framework for developing hybrid hardware/software VIRTIO devices.

In Hyperscale vDPA, Jason Wang covered ways to create fine-grained virtual devices for virtual machines and containers using vDPA. This means offering a way to slice up a physical device into many virtual devices with some aspects of the virtual device handled in hardware and others in software. This is the direction that networking and accelerator devices are heading in and is actively being discussed in the VIRTIO community. Many different approaches are possible and Jason's talk enumerates some of them:

  • An interface for management commands (a virtio-pci capability, a management virtqueue)
  • DMA isolation (PCIe PASID, a platform-independent device MMU)
  • More than 2048 MSI-X interrupts (virtio-pci capability for VIRTIO-specific MSI-X tables)

Another new vDPA project was presented by Yongji Xie. VDUSE - vDPA Device in Userspace showed how vDPA devices can be implemented in userspace. Although this is roughly the same use case as vhost-user, it has the unique advantage of allowing containers and bare metal to attach devices. An untrusted userspace process emulates the device and the host kernel can either present a vhost device to virtual machines or attach to the userspace device. This is a neat way to develop software devices that can also benefit container workloads.

Stefano Garzarella covered the new unified virtio-blk storage stack in vdpa-blk: Unified Hardware and Software Offload for virtio-blk. The goal is to support hardware virtio-blk devices, an optimized host kernel software device, and still offer QEMU block layer features like qcow2 images. This allows the fast path to go directly to hardware or an optimized in-kernel device while software storage features can still be used when desired via a slow path.


VFIO User - Using VFIO as the IPC Protocol in Multi-process QEMU focussed on the new out-of-process device interface that John Johnson, Jagannathan Raman, and Elena Ufimtseva have been working on together with others. This new protocol allows PCI (and perhaps other busses in the future) devices to be implemented as separate processes. QEMU communicates with the device over a UNIX domain socket. The approach is similar to vhost-user except the protocol messages are based on the Linux VFIO ioctl interface instead of the vhost ioctls.

While vhost-user has been in use for a number of years for VIRTIO-based devices, vfio-user now makes it possible to implement non-VIRTIO devices as separate processes. There were several other talks about vfio-user at KVM Forum 2021 that you can also check out:


In Towards High-availability for Virtio-fs, Jiachen Zheng and Yongji Xie explained how they extended virtiofs to handle crash recovery and live updates. These features are challenging for any program with a lot of state because care must to taken to maintain a consistent snapshot to resume from in the case of a restart. They tackled this by storing Linux file handles and a journal in a shm file. This required some changes to QEMU's virtiofsd data structures that makes them suitable for storing in shm and a journal that makes it possible to provide idempotency for operations like mkdir that would otherwise fail if replayed.

Virtual IOMMUs

Suravee Suthikulpanit and Wei Huang gave a talk titled Analysis of AMD HW-assisted vIOMMU Implementation and Performance. AMD is working on a hardware implementation of a virtual IOMMU that allows guests to specify DMA permissions for guest memory. This functionality is important for VFIO device assignment within guests, for example. Although it can be done in software via emulation of real IOMMUs or the virtio-iommu device that was designed specifically for virtual machines, implementing the vIOMMU in real hardware has performance advantages. One interesting feature of the hardware-assisted vIOMMU is that it natively supports encrypted memory for AMD SEV-SNP guests, something that is slow and clumsy to do in software.