AMD, Red Hat Demo New Virtualization Capabilities with Opteron Processors

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-11-06

AMD, Red Hat Demo New Virtualization Capabilities with Opteron Processors

In a demonstration that could have a significant impact on the virtualization market, Advanced Micro Devices and Red Hat have shown that it is possible to live-migrate a virtual machine from a physical server using an Intel processor to a system based on an Opteron chip. 

Red Hat and AMD, which have partnered for a number of years to develop virtualization technology, posted a video on YouTube Nov. 6 of a virtual machine live migration from a server based on a quad-core Intel Xeon E5420 processor to another machine based on a 65-nanometer AMD Opteron chip. The demonstration also showed the same virtual machines migrating between the server based on the 65-nm Opteron processor and a system using the newer 45-nm "Shanghai" chip.

AMD is expected to release Shanghai in the coming weeks.

Virtualization on the chip level is becoming an increasingly important part of processor design and Intel and AMD plan to enhance the virtualization capabilities of their microprocessors in the next year with additional technology that will allow for greater use of virtual memory as well as ways to create virtual I/O.

In the past, virtual machines could move between physical servers that used the same microprocessors with the help of technology such as VMware's VMotion. For a number of years, AMD incorporated this technology into its processors through its AMD-V technology. At this year's VMworld conference, Intel demonstrated a new technology with its Xeon 7400 series processors called Flex Migration, which makes it easier to move virtual machines from one Intel-based system to another.

However, it was considered a long shot that AMD and Intel, fierce rivals in the x86 processor market, would cooperate to allow virtual machines to migrate between different systems.

The demonstration that AMD and Red Hat released Nov. 6 showed that it was at least possible to live-migrate virtual machines in a controlled environment. Margaret Lewis, AMD's director of commercial solutions and software strategy, said customers have been asking for this type of technology but there was no time frame for when it would be available in the commercial market.

Virtual Machines Between Physical Servers

In an interview, Lewis said outside of ensuring that the AMD processor had AMD-V capabilities, the company's engineers did not have to change the basic CPU architecture to make the live migration work. She said as long as the Intel and AMD processors had similar characteristics, such as both chips being 64-bit and using basic x86 architecture, then virtual machines could move between the physical servers.

"They [Red Hat] have taken standard 'Barcelona' and standard Shanghai and done this migration with us without us having to add any special hardware capabilities to it," Lewis said. "Now that we have started to look down the path of how this could be done, the software vendors might come back and ask us to add some sort of hardware capabilities that might make this easier or faster or better."

Tim Mueting, manager of Virtualization Solutions for AMD, explained that in order to make the migration work, AMD provided Red Hat with a CPUID, which allows the software to identify what processor it is using and to see what features, such as the instruction set, each processor uses. As long as the Intel and AMD processors have similar features, the live migration seems to work.

In the demonstration, several white-box servers are set up. One holds the Intel chip, while the other two support the AMD processors. The servers are running different operating systems, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux and several versions of Microsoft Windows. A desktop PC shows a video playing while the application is moved live across the different physical systems.

While AMD talked about the hardware aspects of the demonstration, Red Hat did not offer any specifics about whether it wrote new code to support live migration or adjusted the software in another way. Red Hat also did not mention whether it was using the KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) hypervisor or another piece of underlying software to create the virtual environments.

The demonstration doesn't mean that this type of live migration will work on all systems or work with different types of Intel and AMD processors. It should also be noted that VMware, the world's top virtualization vendor, was not involved in the demonstration and did not announce a similar plan that would allow for these types of live migrations across heterogeneous environments.

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