September 2, 2010
Dynamic Memory Mapping Delivers Additional Flexibility To Virtual Resource Management
The Department of Computer Science and Technology, Peking University, Beijing, China, has shown that a novel dynamic memory mapping (DMM) model brings about additional flexibility to virtual resource management, leading to the feature-adjustable design of a virtual machine monitor (VMM). The study is reported in Issue 53 (June, 2010) of SCIENCE CHINA Information Sciences because of its significant research value.
Memory is one of the most frequently accessed components in virtual machine (VM) systems. Because a VM's memory requirement varies according to the running applications, disregarding the dynamic changes can result in suboptimal use of memory resources, which negatively affects the VM's performance. However, because the infrastructures of current technologies are usually independent of each other, they exhibit poor extensibility, integrity, and maintainability. To improve the flexibility and extensibility of the VMM, we need to implement a dynamic memory management mechanism in the VMM, while preserving the high efficiency of memory accesses from virtual machines.
In this work, Prof. Wang, Prof. Luo and their group present the principle of the DMM model, and explain the procedures of various memory management policies under this model, such as demand paging, virtual memory and memory sharing. They also implement the DMM model in KVM, an open source VMM. They first designed a memory pool, a set of machine pages provided by the VMM to a particular virtual machine whose size could be expanded or shrunk while operating. To make the model work in a real system, they manipulated a page-level protection mechanism to propagate memory-mapping updates to the shadow page tables, which is the only way for a VM to access its virtualized memory. They also utilized reverse mapping, a data structure that maps a machine page back to all the shadow page table entries that have mapped it, to facilitate the mapping propagation.
The DMM model can be applied to implement many novel management policies. For example, by swapping and ballooning, the VMM should be able to give to a VM the illusion of an address space which is larger than the actual system memory. The operating system inside the VM can then transparently use it as if it was running on a native environment. Another useful policy is memory sharing, which enables multiple VMs to share identical memory regions. Memory sharing can alleviate the memory pressure when many similar VMs are running concurrently.
The DMM model has several advantages over the current memory management mechanism in VMMs. The first is platform independency - the model is defined abstractly, thus is independent of implementations and computer architectures. The second is flexibility - the DMM model provides a uniform interface for integrating advanced memory management policies. Through the general mechanism, they can work together without conflict. Last but not least, the modular and layered design of the DMM reduces the complexity of a VMM's code base, and therefore improves the security and dependability of the system.
A journal reviewer noted; "This paper addresses the inefficiency in the design of current virtual machine monitors. Their approach is novel and systematic, and incurs only minor overheads. The result is of academic significance and practical value". Another reviewer said, "It enriches and expands the capacity and capability of virtualization. It offers us new methods to deploy and manage large numbers of virtual machines". A series of papers about virtual machine system optimization written by Prof. Wang, Prof. Luo and their group have been published in SCIENCE CHINA Information Sciences , IEEE Cluster , ACM SIGOPS Operating System Review  and IEEE ISPA .
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