Xen Project 4.9 delivers capabilities to provide better usability in automotive, embedded applications

The Xen Project, hosted at The Linux Foundation, released Wednesday Xen Project Hypervisor 4.9 to focus on advanced features for embedded, automotive and native-cloud-computing use cases, enhanced boot configurations for more portability across different hardware platforms, the addition of new x86 instructions to hasten machine learning computing, and improvements to existing functionality related to the ARM architecture, device model operation hypercall.

The Xen Project continues to see growth in embedded and automotive environments as more companies look to expand virtualization to embedded devices while continuing to reap the benefits of the hypervisor, including cost savings due to consolidation; abstraction of the hardware to allow applications to be decoupled from hardware specifics; and the benefit of hardware-based isolation to better protect against software defects and to contain failures. In addition, more contributions are beginning to lay the foundation for hypervisor features and benefits in cloud-native platforms.

The new release includes the “null” scheduler, which enables use cases where every virtual CPU can be assigned to a physical CPU removing almost all of the scheduler overheads in automotive and embedded environments. Usage of the “null” scheduler guarantees near zero scheduling overhead, significantly lower latency, and more predictable performance. The new vwfi parameter for ARM (virtual Wait For Interrupt) allows fine-grained control of how the Xen Project Hypervisor handles WFI (Wait for Interrupt) instructions. Setting vwfi to “native” reduces interrupt latency by approximately 60 percent. Benchmarks on Xilinx Zynq Ultrascale+ MPSoCs have shown a maximum interrupt latency of less than 2 microseconds, which is extremely close to hardware limits and small enough for the vast majority of embedded use cases.

Xen 4.9 includes new standard ABIs for sharing devices between virtual machines (including reference implementations) for a number of embedded, automotive and cloud native computing use cases. For embedded/automotive a virtual sound ABI was added implementing audio playback and capture as well as volume control and the possibility to mute/unmute audio sources. In addition, a new virtual display ABI for complex display devices exposing multiple framebuffers and displays has been added. Multi-touch support has been added to the virtual keyboard/mouse protocol (enabling touch screens).

During the Xen 4.9 release cycle, a Xen 9pfs frontend was upstreamed in the Linux kernel and a backend in QEMU. It is now possible to share a filesystem from one virtual machine to another, which is a requirement for adding Xen Project support to many container engines, such as CoreOS rkt. The PV Calls ABI has also been introduced to allow forwarding POSIX requests across guests: a POSIX function call originating from an app in a DomU can be forwarded and implemented in Dom0. For example, guest networking socket calls can be executed to Dom0, enabling a new networking model which is a natural fit for cloud-native apps.

Contributions for this release of the Xen Project hypervisor came from Amazon, AMD, Aporeto, ARM, BitDefender, Citrix, EPAM, Fujitsu, Huawei Technologies, Intel, Invisible Things Lab, Nokia, Oracle, Star Lab, Suse, Xilinx, Zentific, and a number of universities and individuals. The Xen Project continues to see contributions go up release after release. This release had 25 percent more contributors to the core hypervisor, and an increase of 17 percent of contributions coming from the hypervisor, tests, and other related components.

“Xen plays an important role in the future of embedded systems and the next generation of data centers and cloud computing,” said Philippe Robin, Director of Open Source, ARM. “Performance, efficiency and reliability are fundamental attributes of the ARM architecture, and enabling lower interrupt latency and the inclusion of features to better support system error detection is a big step forward in improving reliability and serviceability, while maintaining the right levels of performance.”

“Native support of key peripherals is important to increase the Xen Project hypervisor footprint in the embedded systems domain,” said Alex Agizim, CTO Automotive & Embedded Systems, EPAM. “It is essential to isolate exposed and potentially vulnerable software from hardware and other mission-critical parts in cloud-connected devices. Standardized PV ABIs for sound, display and input provide a simple and reliable way to build a fully interactive digital cockpit solution for the connected vehicle. The latest Xen Project release encourages a wider adoption of the Xen Project Hypervisor in automotive, industrial and IoT applications.”

“Intel is committed to furthering open cloud and virtualization technologies to help data centers transform today’s massive amounts of data into meaningful insights,” said Imad Sousou, Vice President and General Manager, Intel Open Source Technology Center. “Working across the industry, Intel helps to ensure that open virtualization hypervisors, such as the Xen Project, are optimized for the latest Intel platforms, delivering maximum flexibility, security and value.”

“We are continuing to see a need for low interrupt latency in both the embedded space as well as in traditional and native-cloud computing environments,” said Edgar Iglesias, principal engineer at Xilinx. “The Xen Project hypervisor continues to deliver features and improvements with each release to make it easier for us to create new programmable technology for next generation systems. Congratulations to all those that participated in the development of Xen Project 4.9 for creating another solid and essential release.”

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