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A Recap of the Xen Project Developer and Design Summit: Community Health, Development Trends, Coding Changes and More

We were extremely thrilled to host our Xen Project Developer and Design Summit in Nanjing Jiangning, China this June. The event brought together our community and power users under one roof to collaborate and to learn more about the future of our project. It also gave us the opportunity to connect with a large group of our community who is based in China. We’ve seen a steady stream of Xen Project hypervisor adoption in this region.

If you were unable to attend the event, we have recordings of the presentations, and we also have the slideshares from the presentation available. Please check them out!

During our event, we always start with a weather report on the Xen Project. It covers areas that we are improving upon, where we need more support, and also the potential direction of the project. This blog covers information from the weather report as well as next steps and focus areas for the project.

Community Health
Code commits for the hypervisor have on average grown by 11% YoY since 2014. Commits in the first 5 months of 2018 have grown 11% compared to the same period last year. The top 6 contributors to the project since 2011 have been Citrix, Suse, AMD, Arm, Intel, Oracle. This is also true for the last 12 months in which 90% of contributions came from the top 6 players.

However, we have seen a larger than normal volume of contributions from Arm and AMD, which contributed twice as much as in previous years. In addition, EPAM is establishing itself on the top table with first contributions and a significant number of code reviews.  In addition, AWS started to make first significant code contributions in 2017.

Hardware security issues had an impact on the code review process of the project and thus on the project’s capability to take in some code. In other words, x86 related development that was not directly attributed to hardware security issues were slowed down, because developers normally reviewing contributions had less bandwidth to do so.

This has forced the community to make some changes that are starting to have a positive effect: x86 developers across companies are collaborating more and better, meaning that hardware security issues in 2018 had a smaller impact on the community than those in 2017.

Innovation and Development Trends
Unikraft, a Xen Project sub-project, is on a healthy growth projection. Unikraft aims to simplify the process of building unikernels through a unified and customizable code base. It was created after Xen Project Developer and Design Summit 2017.

The project recently upstreamed a significant amount of functionality, including:

  • Scheduling support, better/more complete support for KVM/Xen/Linux. Supporting Xen/KVM allows Unikraft to cater to a larger set of potential users/companies. Linux user-space provides an excellent development environment: Unikraft users can create their Unikraft unikernels as a Linux executable, use Linux’s wide range of debugging and performance optimization tools, and when done simply re-compile as a KVM or Xen unikernel (work on creating x86/Arm bare metal images is ongoing).
  • A release of newlib (a libc-like library) and lwip (a network stack: This support allows Unikraft to compile with most applications. It is a basic requirement to support a potentially wide range of applications.
  • The project is beginning to pick up traction with contributions coming from companies like NEC, Arm, and Oracle.

For more information check out the following two presentations: Unikraft and Unikraft on Arm.

We have been re-writing the x86 core. We are working on adding complex new CPU hardware features such as support for NVDIMMs and SGX. In addition, we are working on making technologies that have been used by security-conscious vendors in non-server environments ready to be used in server virtualization and cloud computing; support for measured boot is an example.

Another key innovation is a project called Panopticon, which aims to re-write some portions of the hypervisor to make Xen resilient to all types of side-channel attacks by removing unnecessary information about guests from the hypervisor.

You can find presentations related to these topics here (x86 evolution) and here (side-channel attacks and mitigations).

Continued Growth in Embedded and Automotive
We are seeing continued contributions within the embedded and automotive space to Xen Project Core with new features and functionality, including:

  • Co-processor (GPU) sharing framework enabling virtualization of co-processors such as FPGAs, DRMs, etc.
  • 2nd generation Power management and HPM on Arm  – this enables a huge reduction in power consumption, which is significant for some embedded market segments.
  • RTOS based Dom0 and code size reduction – this reduces the cost of safety certification significantly and is important for market segments where safety certification is important (such as automotive, avionics, medical, etc). We already managed to get Xen code size on Arm to below 45K SLOC and we expect that Dom0 will also be below 50K SLOC. This makes it possible to safety certify a Xen based stack to DAL C ASIL-B/C standards at a cost equivalent to less than 10 years.
  • Improved startup latency to boot multiple VMs in parallel from the device tree – this opens up the use of Xen to small IoT and embedded devices and allows booting of a complete Xen system in milliseconds compared to seconds. In addition, it halves the cost of safety certifications for systems where a Dom0 is not necessary

You can see the progress of our re-architecture in our latest release, Xen Project hypervisor 4.11. Also, the following summit presentations were relevant: here (Xen and automotive at Samsung) here (CPUFreq) and here (Real-time support).

These are just a few features and updates that make it easier for Xen to be used in embedded environments and market segments where safety certification is relevant. In addition, this will also significantly improve BoM and security in other market segments. On x86 we are also reducing code size, but this is significantly harder because of backward compatibility guarantees for x86 hardware and older operating systems.

Conclusion
The event was a great success with a lot of community and technical topics, like “How to Get Your Code Into Xen” and “The Art of Virtualizing Cache Maintenance.” Find the playlist for the full conference here. Additionally, our design sessions focused on architecture, embedded and safety, security, performance, and working practices and processes. You can find what was discussed, and next steps with these areas on our wiki.

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