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A Virtual OS for My Hypervisor Please

When will someone develop an operating system that's virtualization optimized?

Current operating systems (OSs), available as ISO images or on CD/DVD media, arrive to you with the assumption that they’re condemned to life as the soul of a single dedicated computer. They’re optimized for this singular purpose and we like it; we like it fine. But how much longer will these single-purpose, physical machine, operating systems prevail? When will we see an OS that’s ready to play nice on the Hypervisor of your choice right out of the box?

A virtual OS would have all of the platform-specific tools pre-installed so that the OS deploys in an optimal state. We need an OS that knows it’s virtual and thrives on that virtual reality.

A hypervisor aware operating system is an interesting concept. From the most basic bits, this OS is built for hypervisor-based virtualization. In fact, in a perfect world, the OS would detect the hypervisor type and offer its own set of optimizations for that platform. Native or near-native performance is what we’re after by using hypervisor-based virtualization so why not have the best possible selections already made.

Would software vendors or independent developers embrace such a concept alongside current standard OS offerings? Chances are good that they would. The virtual OS (VOS) has the potential of having a much smaller disk footprint, of requiring fewer memory and CPU resources and of being easier and faster to deploy for a wide range of workloads and services.

Systems administrators responsible for deploying virtual machines often create a set of templates or “canned” OS installations and then customize them for a particular purpose. With a VOS, not only would they already have a template OS install but they would also have the possibility of customizing during the install process — much like creating virtual appliances with SUSE Studio or VMware’s Virtual Appliance Studio. While these “studios” work well for creating appliances, they don’t reflect the full concept of hypervisor aware OSs.

Templates take up a lot of disk space, quickly become obsolete and are as prone to sprawl as virtual machines are. Fresh OS installations burn hours of time to complete and require patches, updates and post-install customization. The solution is to create VOSs that update, customize and optimize themselves during installation.

There would need to be considerable cooperation between OS builders, virtual OS builders and virtualization vendors for either the hypervisor or non-hypervisor concepts to work. What are the barriers to this type of operating system? It’s possible that everyone is waiting for someone else to create the perfect hypervisor, the perfect OS or the perfect set of tools. The answer may lie in an air of cooperation between technology companies.

I’m hoping that Microsoft’s recent dedication to open source software via its CodePlex Foundation and TechNet’s Port25 will help others extend their hands toward Microsoft in these efforts. Hyper-V promises a new world of possibilities to companies that are just discovering virtualization. Novell is also part of the CodePlex Foundation whose membership might begin the trend for such cooperation among technological rivals.

Comments on "A Virtual OS for My Hypervisor Please"

unclesmrgol

If you\’ve examined VMWare\’s ESXi/vSphere offering closely, you will discover that they have built a Virtual OS for their hypervisor, and that virtual OS is based on the Linux kernel.

They\’ve added device drivers for their proprietary filesystem, a bunch of tools to manipulate virtual machines, but underneath is a stock kernel. If anyone is concerned about benchmarks, it\’s got to be VMWare, what with Microsoft breathing down their backs. They are big enough that if they thought the Linux kernel wasn\’t cutting it, they\’d go build one of their own. But they haven\’t, so the kernel crew has to be doing something good which you don\’t seem to have noticed.

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zish

This is the beauty behind Xen and the Linux kernel, IMHO. The hypervisor itself employs something called the XenBus, which guest OS\’es can use for Network and Block I/O.
If your guest OS employs a \”Xen-aware\” kernel and drivers, the performance is at or near \”native\”. The modern Linux and Solaris kernels have this capability. I believe that *BSD has it as well, but I have not bothered to check. Novell and Citrix have also released drivers for Windows that support access to the Xen bus for Block and Network I/O. I\’ve used the Novell drivers quite extensively in production environments, with great success.
Of course, you don\’t -need- to make use of the XenBus, since Xen employs Qemu and the Bochs BIOS to provide emulated PCI devices. But you definitely get a huge performance increase if you do, and the OS is then fully \”Hypervisor-aware\”.

Other than the above, I don\’t think any additional optimizations should be needed. IMHO, I\’d still like to be able to manage my \”virtual\” machines in the same manner as their \”physical\” counterparts.

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cjcox

On the enterprise side Novell\’s SLES has had a VMware VMI enabled kernel, BUT it was NOT part of the GA for SLES 10, so it\’s an add-on and only for 32bit.

AFAIK, the VMware VMI stuff is part of newer kernels… however my own experience has shown it to be buggy at best. Ideally though, you just install a fairly new Linux distro and turn on paravirtualiation on the ESX option panel for the guest.

The common workaround for most of the bugs it to change the guest to use just one virtual cpu… sort of limiting, but keeps things stable longer. However, I find that even so, eventually, it will lock up hard.

My SLES10 SP2 guests with the vmi 32bit kernel work just fine. But some have noted some problems with massively multi-threaded java apps when the guest has multiple CPUs on SLES10 SP2… and again, the solution is to reduce the number of virtual CPUs to one.

Certainly more work needed.. and obviously VMI encourages VMware lock-in.

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