Xen is a heavy weight of open source. This hypervisor, which runs and manages virtual machines (VMs), powers some of the largest clouds. You know their names: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Tencent, Alibaba Cloud, Oracle Cloud or IBM SoftLayer. It is also a base for VM products from Citrix, Huawei, Inspur and Oracle. But, with the release of its latest edition, Xen Project Hypervisor 4.11 , there are major changes under the hood.
Xen, 15, has been completely re-architected. All of its core technologies, such as x86 support, device emulation, and boot sequence, have been rewritten. The new Xen uses less code and has a smaller trusted computing base (TCB). It is also less complex and easier to maintain. This latest update has both better performance and better scalability. It also better supports ARM architectures.
“Xen worked to meet the security needs of Specter and Meltdown”
Xen’s security has also benefited from several major improvements. Lars Kurth, chairman of the Xen Project Advisory Board, said in a statement: “The Xen project community has been working to meet the security needs of Specter and Meltdown.”
Xen did more than just patch the old security holes. Programmers have combined the best features of Xen paravirtualization (PV) and Hardware Assisted Virtualization (HVM) into PVH . This simplifies the interface between operating systems with Xen Project Support and the Xen Project hypervisor. It also reduces Xen’s attack surface.
The new version also includes the experimental support of PVH Dom0. When you run Xen in this mode, you lose about 1 million lines of VM QEMU code. This further reduces Xen’s attack surface. You can use it with PVH Dom0 or FreeBSD compatible Linux distributions . Fixes for this are currently under development. They will be available in the next major releases of Linux and FreeBSD.
Xen at the heart of public clouds
What does all this mean? Citrix Chief Technology Officer James Bulpin said in a statement: “The Xen Project 4.11 hypervisor is based on its maturity and flexibility as a reliable and secure hypervisor.” This combination with “several other performance, security and maintainability improvements” demonstrates the Xen community’s dedication to making Xen the best hypervisor for a wide range of use cases, from huge private clouds to embedded systems.
With Xen at the heart of so many public clouds, these improvements should make many users happy even if they have no idea that their work depends on it.
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