Xen brings its virtualization goodness to more ARM chipsets

Xen, the open-source virtualization project, believes that ARM has a big role to play in the server and datacenter space, so it's adding support to more ARM chipsets.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The Xen Project, once a Citrix project, and now a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project, announced on March 10th the release of the Xen Project Hypervisor version 4.4 with enhanced ARM support. For both datacenter and cloud production managers this is big news. Xen is a very popular server-level virtualization program. 


This latest release also includes major enterprise computing improvements for mobile and cloud environments where virtualization technology is increasingly in demand. For ARM in specific, the project claims that this "new release introduces significant stability, usability and performance improvements for the ARM architecture and extended hardware compatibility. AppliedMicro’s X-Gene, the Arndale Board, Calxeda ECX-2000, TI OMAP5 and the Allwinner SunXi boards all now have support." All this means it will be much easier for hardware and embedded vendors to port the Xen Project technology to new ARM Systems on Chips (SoCs) easily.

A lot of this has come from major code contributions from AMD, Citrix, Intel, Oracle and SUSE. The reason they're doing this, Lars Kurth, Chairman of the Xen Project advisory board, explained in a statement, is that "Virtualization and low-powered servers are leading companies to rethink the datacenter and its potential for efficiency. Our solution contains IT-related costs, plus it meets the security and scalability needs of today’s elastic cloud, mobile and social networking companies. The latest updates continue the Project’s track record of rich collaboration and widespread development from many of the world’s technology leaders. This certainly explains the significant growth of ARM support, which we’re pleased to see advance so quickly."

There are more enhancements in this release. These include 64-bit guest support on ARMv8 platforms. Plus, all userspace tools, such as the xl domain management tool, can run on 64-bit systems and can be used to create 64-bit virtual machines (VM) out of the box. There's also extended support for ARM specific boot loaders and firmware interfaces, and support for physical partitions and Logical Volume Manager (LVM) volumes to store VM disks.

Lest you think this is all boring tech stuff with no relevance to your life, Xen is the VM hypervisor that powers Amazon EC2 and Rackspace Cloud and other top cloud services rely on Xen. Without Xen, a lot of today's most important cloud services wouldn't be in business.

Looking ahead, Xen is getting ready to give virtual desktops better support. Recognizing that high-availability and stability are critical to Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDIs) and cloud deployments, Citrix contributed the new event channel implementation to the Xen Project code-base. This, in theory, should enable the hypervisor to run thousands of guests on a single physical machine. In addition, Xen 4.4 has added more features to SPICE, an open-source video desktop protocol. These include clipboard sharing and USB redirection. The net result should be a much richer connection for virtual desktops with better graphics performance.

Put it all together and once more Xen, a quiet, invisible part of the virtualization and cloud world, will once more be enabling us to get ever more from our physical servers and their data-centers.

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