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New Version of Xen Hypervisor Hits the Streets

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Aug 27, 2008 3:16 PM PT

Xen.org, the developer of the open source Xen project, on Wednesday announced the release of the Xen 3.3 hypervisor engine. The product is the result of a distributed development effort by senior engineers from more than 50 leading hardware, software and security vendors.

New Version of Xen Hypervisor Hits the Streets

Xen 3.3 includes enhancements that further advance its position as a fast, scalable and secure virtualization engine for a broad range of server and PC chipsets from supercomputers to PDAs.

"We've clearly benefited from the strong vendor support community behind Xen. The hypervisor is well ahead of anything else," Ian Pratt, founder of Xen.org, told LinuxInsider.

This latest upgrade benefited from contributions from Intel, AMD, HP, IBM, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Fujitsu and Novell. Further, Xen is well on track for shipping as an embedded option on more than half of the server virtualization hardware released in 2008.

Feature Packed

The new Xen 3.3 release provides users with numerous advanced features and designs that improve overall performance of the hypervisor engine in mainstream enterprise computing environments. For example, Intel's continued contribution to the Xen project is driving parallel advances in hardware and software virtualization capabilities. This ensures that Xen-based solutions take full advantage of next-generation microprocessor technologies, said Pratt.

"At Intel, we continue to enable Xen to take advantage of the advancements in Intel Virtualization Technologies and other platform capabilities," said Imad Sousou, director of Intel's Open Source Technology Center. "Xen 3.3 is optimized for Intel's next-generation micro-architecture Nehalem features; enhanced power management, performance, I/O and networking features for building flexible resource management solutions in an energy-efficient data center."

The performance boosts come from making sure that both hardware and software make the most of the Xen architecture. The developers have worked closely with the hardware and software vendors to achieve this fit, Pratt added.

Xen Rundown

Xen is a virtual machine monitor (VMM) for x86-compatible computers. Xen provides a platform to securely run multiple virtual machines. Each incident runs its own operating system on a single physical system with close-to-native performance.

Xen is open source and is released under terms of the GNU General Public License. However, operating systems or other applications written to use Xen's hypercall interface are not derived works of Xen and may have different license specifications.

The Xen engine, in this case version 3.3, is called a "hypervisor" and functions as the virtual machine manager. It enables multiple operating systems to share a single hardware host.

The hypervisor tricks each operating system into recognizing the host's processor, memory and other resources as being its own set of resources. However, the hypervisor actually controls the host processor and resources, allocating what is needed to each operating system in turn.

The Xen hypervisor has secure feature sets for virtualization of x86, x86_64, IA64, PowerPC and other CPU architectures.

Strong Support

Without the support of hardware vendors, it would be much harder to optimize the Xen platform without the hypervisor, Pratt explained. Even Microsoft is actively supporting the efforts, he noted.

"All the major operating systems have been enhanced to work with Xen. Also, we tried to make the code as small as possible for security reasons," said Pratt. "We pushed as many of its functions as possible outside the core."

Since Xen.org has not not released many version upgrades, version 3.3 provides many new features, the most significant of which are enhanced performance and better scalability, he said.

New Goal

The industry is moving toward expanding virtualization to the desktop and mobile computing platforms. Version 3.3 targets that trend, according to Pratt.

The current release shows work done on power management to accommodate desktop and laptop computing. Also, Xen.org is working toward its use on smartphones, he said.

"The Xen hypervisor architecture will be able to handle all of this. Other hypervisors have no foothold for this," said Pratt.

The release is now available for download here.


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