Everything You Need to Know About the Intel Virtualization Technology

How It Works

Processors with Virtualization Technology have an extra instruction set called Virtual Machine Extensions or VMX. VMX brings 10 new virtualization-specific instructions to the CPU: VMPTRLD, VMPTRST, VMCLEAR, VMREAD, VMWRITE, VMCALL, VMLAUNCH, VMRESUME, VMXOFF, and VMXON.

There are two modes to run under virtualization: VMX root operation and VMX non-root operation. Usually, only the virtualization controlling software, called Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM), runs under root operation, while operating systems running on top of the virtual machines run under non-root operation. Software running on top of virtual machines is also called “guest software.”

To enter virtualization mode, the software should execute the VMXON instruction and then call the VMM software. The VMM software can enter each virtual machine using the VMLAUNCH instruction, and exit it by using the VMRESUME instruction. If the VMM wants to shutdown and exit the virtualization mode, it executes the VMXOFF instruction.

Operation of the Virtualization TechnologyFigure 4: Operation of the Virtualization Technology

Each guest shown in Figure 4 can be a different operating system, running its own programs (even several programs at the same time as we have shown in Figure 3).

More recent processors have an extension called EPT (Extended Page Tables), which allows each guest to have its own page table to keep track of memory addresses. Without this extension, the VMM has to exit the virtual machine to perform address translations. This exiting-and-returning task reduces performance. Therefore, the EPT increases virtualization performance.

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Author: Gabriel Torres

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.

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