What was new in libvirt for the OpenStack Nova Folsom release

Posted: November 16th, 2012 | Filed under: Fedora, libvirt, OpenStack, Virt Tools | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Folsom release of OpenStack has been out for a few weeks now, and I had intended to write this post much earlier, but other things (moving house, getting married & travelling to LinuxCon Europe / KVM Forum all in the space of a month) got in the way. There are highlighted release notes, but I wanted to give a little more detail on some of the changes I was involved with making to the libvirt driver and what motivated them.

XML configuration

First off was a change in the way Nova generates libvirt XML configurations. Previously the libvirt driver in Nova used the Cheetah templating system to generate its XML configurations. The problem with this is that there was alot of information that needed to be passed into the template as parameters, so Nova was inventing a adhoc configuration format for libvirt guest config internally which then was further translated into proper guest config in the template. The resulting code was hard to maintain and understand, because the logic for constructing the XML was effectively spread across both the template file and the libvirt driver code with no consistent structure. Thus the first big change that went into the libvirt driver during Folsom was to introduce a formal set of python configuration objects to represent the libvirt XML config. The libvirt driver code now directly populates these config objects with the required data, and then simply serializes the objects to XML. The use of Cheetah has been completely eliminated, and the code structure is clarified significantly as a result. There is a wiki page describing this in a little more detail.

CPU model configuration

The primary downside from the removal of the Cheetah templating, is that it is no longer possible for admins deploying Nova to make adhoc changes to the libvirt guest XML that is used. Personally I’d actually argue that this is a good thing, because the ability to make adhoc changes meant that there was less motivation for directly addressing the missing features in Nova, but I know plenty of people would disagree with this view :-) It was quickly apparent that the one change a great many people were making to the libvirt XML config was to specify a guest CPU model. If no explicit CPU model is requested in the guest config, KVM will start with a generic, lowest common denominator model that will typically work everywhere. As can be expected, this generic CPU model is not going to offer optimal performance for the guests. For example, if your host has shiny new CPUs with builtin AES encryption instructions, the guest is not going to be able to take advantage of them. Thus the second big change in the Nova libvirt driver was to introduce explicit support for configuration the CPU model. This involves two new Nova config parameters, libvirt_cpu_mode which chooses between “host-model”, “host-passthrough” and “custom”. If mode is set to “custom”, then the libvirt_cpu_model parameter is used to specify the name of the custom CPU that is required. Again there is a wiki page describing this in a little more details.

Once the ability to choose CPU models was merged, it was decided that the default behaviour should also be changed. Thus if Nova is configured to use KVM as its hypervisor, then it will use the “host-model” CPU mode by default. This causes the guest CPU model to be a (almost) exact copy of the host CPU model, offering maximum out of the box performance. There turned out to be one small wrinkle in this choice when using nested KVM though. Due to a combination of problems in libvirt and KVM, use of “host-model” fails for nested KVM. Thus anyone using nested KVM needs to set libvirt_cpu_model=”none” as a workaround for now. If you’re using KVM on bare metal everything should be fine, which is of course the normal scenario for production deployments.

Time keeping policy

Again on the performance theme, the libvirt Nova driver was updated to set time time keeping policies for KVM guests. Virtual machines on x86 have a number of timers available including the PIT, RTC, PM-Timer, HPET. Reliable timers are one of the hardest problems to solve in full machine virtualization platforms, and KVM is no exception. If all comes down to the question of what to do when the hypervisor cannot inject a timer interrupt at the correct time, because a different guest is running. There are a number of policies available, inject the missed tick as soon as possible, merged all missed ticks into 1 and deliver it as soon as possible, temporarily inject missed ticks at a higher rate than normal to “catch up”, or simply discard the missed tick entirely. It turns out that Windows 7 is particularly sensitive to timers and the default KVM policies for missing ticks were causing frequent crashes, while older Linux guests would often experience severe time drift. Research validated by the oVirt project team has previously identified an optimal set of policies that should keep the majority of guests happy. Thus the libvirt Nova driver was updated to set explicit policies for time keeping with the PIT and RTC timers when using KVM, which should make everything time related much more reliable.

Libvirt authentication

The libvirtd daemon can be configured with a number of different authentication schemes. Out of the box it will use PolicyKit to authenticate clients, and thus Nova packages on Fedora / RHEL / EPEL include a policykit configuration file which grants Nova the ability to connect to libvirt. Administrators may, however, decide to use a different configuration scheme, for example, SASL. If the scheme chosen required a username+password, there was no way for Nova’s libvirt driver to provide these authentication credentials. Fortunately the libvirt client has the ability to lookup credentials in a local file. Unfortunately the way Nova connected to libvirt prevented this from working. Thus the way the Nova libvirt driver used openAuth() was fixed to allow the default credential lookup logic to work. It is now possible to require authentication between Nova and libvirt thus:

# augtool -s set /files/etc/libvirt/libvirtd.conf/auth_unix_rw sasl
Saved 1 file(s)

# saslpasswd -a libvirt nova
Password: XYZ
Again (for verification): XYZ

# su – nova -s /bin/sh
$ mkdir -p $HOME/.config/libvirt
$ cat > $HOME/.config/libvirt/auth.conf <<EOF


Other changes

Obviously I was not the only person working on the libvirt driver in Folsom, many others contributed work too. Leander Beernaert provided an implementation of the ‘nova diagnostics’ command that works with the libvirt driver, showing the virtual machine cpu, memory, disk and network interface utilization statistics. Pádraig Brady improved the performance of migration, by sending the qcow2 image between hosts directly, instead of converting it to raw file, sending that, and then converting it back to qcow2. Instead of transferring 10 G of raw data, it can now send just the data actually used which may be as little as a few 100 MB. In his test case, this reduced the time to migrate from 7 minutes to 30 seconds, which I’m sure everyone will like to hear :-) Pádraig also optimized the file injection code so that it only mounts the guest image once to inject all data, instead of mounting it separately for each injected item. Boris Filippov contributed support for storing VM disk images in LVM volumes, instead of qcow2 files, while Ben Swartzlander contributed support for using NFS files as the backing for virtual block volumes. Vish updated the way libvirt generates XML configuration for disks, to include the “serial” property against each disk, based on the nova volume ID. This allows the guest OS admin to reliably identify the disk in the guest, using the /dev/disk/by-id/virtio-<volume id> paths, since the /dev/vdXXX device numbers are pretty randomly assigned by the kernel.

Not directly part of the libvirt driver, but Jim Fehlig enhanced the Nova VM schedular so that it can take account of the hypervisor, architecture and VM mode (paravirt vs HVM) when choosing what host to boot an image on. This makes it much more practical to run mixed environments of say, Xen and KVM, or Xen fullvirt vs Xen paravirt, or  Arm vs x86, etc. When uploading an image to glance, the admin can tag it with properties specifying the desired hypervisor/architecture/vm_mode. The compute drivers then report what combinations they can support, and the scheduler computes the intersection to figure out which hosts are valid candidates for running the image.