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iWave Demos Xen Virtualization on its I.MX8QM-Based Module

iWave Systems has announced that it has successfully demonstrated the Xen virtualization hypervisor on their i.MX8 QM SoC based System on Module. The SMARC R2.0 compatible SOM is based on the i.MX8 QuadMax SoC. The SoC is comprised of 2x Arm Cortex-A72  cores at 1.8 GHz and 4x Arm Cortex-A53 cores at 1.2 GHz and 2x additional Cortex-M4F cores at 266 MHz.

On the i.MX8 QM, iWave has implemented the virtualization of hardware using the open-source type 1 Xen hypervisor. The Xen hypervisor enables multiple virtual machines to be created over a single hardware resource, each virtual machine capable of running its independent operating system. This enables i.MX8 QM SOM (shown) to run multiple operating systems concurrently on the same physical board. The Xen hypervisor allows maximum utilization of resources thereby improving overall system performance and efficiency.
Xen is an open-source type-1 hypervisor developed by the University of Cambridge and is now being developed by the Linux Foundation. Xen runs directly on the hardware to manage guest operating systems. Hence, it’s also considered as a bare-metal hypervisor. Xen has less overhead enabling faster performance and operating systems are more secure because they don’t rely on base OS for installing the hypervisor.

A system running the Xen hypervisor contains three components:

  • Xen Hypervisor
  • Domain 0 (Dom0) – Privileged virtual machine running on the hypervisor that can access the hardware directly and interact with other unprivileged virtual machines running on the system.
  • Multiple Domain U (DomU) – Unprivileged virtual machine running on the hypervisor and have no direct access to the hardware (e.g. CPU, memory, timer, and interrupts cannot be directly accessed)

During the initial system start-up, Xen hypervisor launches the Dom0 that runs the Linux operating system. The Dom0 has unique privileges to access the Xen hypervisor compared to other Domains. Dom0 manages the DomU, the unprivileged domains running on the system. Dom0 allocates and maps hardware resources for the DomU domains.

The solution has the follow advantages:

  • Less overhead compared to type-2 hypervisors since type-1 hypervisors make use of ARM virtualization extensions.
  • Having faulty/buggy OS in the DOM-U domain will not disrupt the functionalities of DOM-0 OS.
  • DOM-U driver domains can support legacy hardware drivers no longer supported by the new OS.
  • Have completely isolated workspaces with different requirements. For example: gaming and multimedia.
  • Better resource management since resources rarely used will not be powered on if the domain it belongs to is not booted.

In iWave’s Xen Demo on i.MX8QM Board, the DOM-0 OS runs Linux 4.9.88 from eMMC and DOM-U runs Android Oreo 8.1 from USB drives. Such a system can be used where there is a need for both faster, highly reliable OS (such as Linux) and more multi-featured slightly slower OS (such as Android) to be running on the same hardware.

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