Xen Project 4.4 Feature List
High Level Features
Note that Linux Distributions and other operating systems, will upgrade to Xen 4.4 according to their own release schedules.
Improved Flexibility in Driver Domains
Linux driver domains used to rely on udev events in order to launch backends for guests. With Xen Project 4.4, the dependency on udev is replaced with a custom daemon built on top of libxl, that provides greater flexibility in order to run user-space backends inside of driver domains. As an example, this allows driver domains to use Qdisk backends, which was not possible with udev.
Event Channel Scalability Improvements
Event channels are per-VM resources that allow VMs to communicate with each other. These were previously limited to either 1024 or 4096 channels per domain. Domain 0 needs several event channels for each guest VM, which limited the total number of VMs available to several hundred. The new event channel implementation allows hundreds of thousands of event channels, removing this as a limit on the number of VMs which can be started. This benefits cloud operating systems such as MirageOS, ErlangOnXen, OSv, HalVM, ... as well as disaggregated Xen systems in which drivers, services (e.g. Qemu, Tor, ...) and other functionality that would normally be run in Domain 0 can be run in a separate VM.
Experimental Support for PVH Mode for Guests
PVH mode combines the best elements of HVM and PV into a mode which allows Xen to take advantage of many of the hardware virtualization features without needing the overhead of simulating devices of a physical computer. This will allow for increased efficiency, as well as reduced footprint in Linux and FreeBSD going forward.
More information on PVH: see https://www.linux.com/news/enterprise/systems-management/658784-the-spectrum-of-paravirtualization-with-xen-part-2 and
Improved Support for SPICE
SPICE is a protocol for virtial desktops which allows a much richer connection than display-only protocols like VNC. Xen Project 4.4 adds support for additional SPICE functionality, including vdagent, clipboard sharing, and USB redirection.
GRUB 2 Support of Xen Project PV Images (External)
In the past, Xen Project software required a custom implementation of GRUB called pvgrub. The upstream GRUB 2 (see http://www.gnu.org/software/grub/) project now has a build target which will construct a bootable PV xen image. This ensures 100% GRUB 2 compatibility for pvgrub going forward.
Indirect Descriptors for Block PV Protocol (Linux)
Modern storage devices work much better with larger chunks of data. Indirect descriptors have allowed the size of each individual request to triple, greatly improving I/O performance when running on fast storage technologies like SSD and RAID. This support is available in any guest running Linux 3.11 or higher (regardless of Xen Project version).
Improved kexec for Debug Support
kexec functionality is primarily used when a crash happens, to allow a special kernel to come in afterwards and collect information about the cause of the crash, to allow developers to diagnose and fix the root cause.
Improved XAPI and Mirage OS support in Xen Project environment
XAPI and Mirage OS are sub-projects within the Xen Project written in OCaml. Both are also used in XenServer (see http://xenserver.org/) and rely on the Xen Project OCaml language bindings to operate well. These language bindings have had a major overhaul, and result in much better compatibility between XAPI, Mirage OS and Linux distributions going forward.
Experimental Support for Guest EFI boot
EFI is the new booting standard that is replacing BIOS. Some operating systems only boot with EFI; and some features, like SecureBoot, only work with EFI.
Improved Integration between GlusterFS and Xen Project
You can find a blog post to set up an iSCSI target on the gluster blog here.
Improved ARM support for Xen Project Hypervisor
[TODO: clarify whether support has moved from tech preview to experimental or supported]
A number of new features have been implemented:
- 64 bit Xen on ARM now supports booting guests
- Physical disk partitions and LVM volumes can now be used to store guest images using xen-blkback (or is PV drivers better in terms of terminology)
- Significant stability improvements across the board
- ARM/multiboot booting protocol design and implementation in Xen Project and U-boot
- PSCI support in Xen Project
- Same DMA in Dom0 even with no hardware IOMMUs (not sure what the implications of this are)
- ARM and ARM64 ABIs in Xen are declared stable and maintained for backwards compatibility
- Significant usability improvements, such as automatic creation of guest device trees and improved handling of host DTBs.
- Adding new hardware platforms to Xen Project on ARM has been vastly improved, making it easier for Hardware vendors and embedded vendors to port Xen on ARM to their board.
- Xen on ARM now supports the Arndale board, Calxeda ECX-2000 (aka Midway), Applied Micro X-Gene Storm, TI OMAP5 and Allwinner A20/A30 boards.
- ARM server class hardware (Calxeda Midway) has been introduced in the Xen OSSTest automated testing framework.
- Updated qemu to 1.6
- Updated SeaBIOS to 220.127.116.11
You can find Xen 4.4 documentation in the following two locations:
- Xen 4.4 Release Notes
- Xen 4.4 Man Pages
- Articles and tutorials related to new functionality in Xen 4.4
We wanted to thank the various contributors to Xen 4.4 : for a complete list of contributions check the Xen 4.4 Acknowledgements.
Xen 4.4 (and update releases) can be downloaded from the 4.4 Download Archives.