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Technical Perspective: High-Performance Virtualization: Are We Done?

Whole system virtualization allows us to package software systems inside self-contained virtual machines, each running its own operating system along with a collection of applications and services. The use of "virtual hardware" allows agile software management of machine deployment, and the provision of strong resource isolation between co-located virtual machines enables modern cloud computing platforms. However, these benefits do not come entirely for free: the additional level of indirection can lead to increased runtime overheads and reduced performance.

The past decade has seen huge advances in tackling this problem. CPU virtualization overheads due to dynamic binary rewriting and memory virtualization overheads due to shadow page tables were reduced by a combination of clever algorithms and hardware assistance. A key remaining problem has been I/O virtualization, and most notably tackling the challenges introduced by high-speed networks running at 10Gb/s or 40Gb/s. The following paper shows how to enable a virtual machine to attain "bare metal" performance from high-speed network interface cards (NICs).


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