NSDI '05 Paper
[NSDI '05 Technical Program]
Live Migration of Virtual Machines
Christopher Clark, Keir Fraser, Steven Hand, Jacob Gorm
Eric Julf , Christian Limpach, Ian Pratt, Andrew Warfield
|University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory ||f Department of Computer Science |
|15 JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge, UK ||University of
Copenhagen, Denmark |
Migrating operating system instances across distinct physical hosts is
a useful tool for administrators of data centers and clusters: It
allows a clean separation between hardware and software, and
facilitates fault management, load balancing, and low-level system
By carrying out the majority of migration while OSes continue to run,
we achieve impressive performance with minimal service downtimes; we
demonstrate the migration of entire OS instances on a commodity
cluster, recording service downtimes as low as 60ms. We show that
that our performance is sufficient to make live migration a practical
tool even for servers running interactive loads.
In this paper we consider the design options for migrating OSes
running services with liveness constraints, focusing on data center
and cluster environments. We introduce and analyze the concept of
writable working set, and present the design, implementation
and evaluation of high-performance OS migration built on top of the
Operating system virtualization has attracted considerable interest in
recent years, particularly from the data center and cluster computing
communities. It has previously been shown  that
paravirtualization allows many OS instances to run concurrently on a
single physical machine with high performance, providing better use of
physical resources and isolating individual OS instances.
In this paper we explore a further benefit allowed by virtualization:
that of live OS migration. Migrating an entire OS and all of its
applications as one unit allows us to avoid many of the difficulties
faced by process-level migration approaches. In particular the narrow
interface between a virtualized OS and the virtual machine monitor
(VMM) makes it easy avoid the problem of `residual
dependencies'  in which the original host machine must
remain available and network-accessible in order to service certain
system calls or even memory accesses on behalf of migrated processes.
With virtual machine migration, on the other hand, the original host
may be decommissioned once migration has completed. This is
particularly valuable when migration is occurring in order to allow
maintenance of the original host.
Secondly, migrating at the level of an entire virtual machine means
that in-memory state can be transferred in a consistent and (as will
be shown) efficient fashion. This applies to kernel-internal state
(e.g. the TCP control block for a currently active connection) as
well as application-level state, even when this is shared between
multiple cooperating processes. In practical terms, for example, this
means that we can migrate an on-line game server or streaming media
server without requiring clients to reconnect: something not possible
with approaches which use application-level restart and layer 7
Thirdly, live migration of virtual machines allows a separation of
concerns between the users and operator of a data center or cluster.
Users have `carte blanche' regarding the software and services they
run within their virtual machine, and need not provide the operator
with any OS-level access at all (e.g. a root login to
quiesce processes or I/O prior to migration). Similarly the operator
need not be concerned with the details of what is
occurring within the virtual machine; instead they can simply migrate
the entire operating system and its attendant processes as a single
Overall, live OS migration is a extremelely powerful tool for cluster
administrators, allowing separation of hardware and software
considerations, and consolidating clustered hardware into a single
coherent management domain. If a physical machine needs to be removed
from service an administrator may migrate OS instances including the
applications that they are running to alternative machine(s), freeing
the original machine for maintenance. Similarly, OS instances may be
rearranged across machines in a cluster to relieve load on congested
hosts. In these situations the combination of virtualization and
migration significantly improves manageability.
We have implemented high-performance migration support for
Xen , a freely available open source VMM for
commodity hardware. Our design and implementation addresses the issues
and tradeoffs involved in live local-area migration. Firstly, as we
are targeting the migration of active OSes hosting live services, it
is critically important to minimize the downtime during which
services are entirely unavailable. Secondly, we must consider the
total migration time, during which state on both machines is
synchronized and which hence may affect reliability. Furthermore we
must ensure that migration does not unnecessarily disrupt active
services through resource contention (e.g., CPU, network bandwidth)
with the migrating OS.
Our implementation addresses all of these concerns, allowing for
example an OS running the SPECweb benchmark to migrate across two
physical hosts with only 210ms unavailability, or an OS running a
Quake 3 server to migrate with just 60ms downtime. Unlike
application-level restart, we can maintain network connections and
application state during this process, hence providing effectively
seamless migration from a user's point of view.
We achieve this by using a pre-copy approach in
which pages of memory are iteratively copied from the source machine
to the destination host, all without ever stopping the execution of
the virtual machine being migrated. Page-level protection hardware is
used to ensure a consistent snapshot is transferred, and a
rate-adaptive algorithm is used to control the impact of migration
traffic on running services. The final phase pauses the virtual machine,
copies any remaining pages to the destination, and resumes execution
there. We eschew a `pull' approach which faults in missing pages
across the network since this adds a residual dependency of
arbitrarily long duration, as well as
providing in general rather poor performance.
Our current implementation does not address migration
across the wide area, nor does it include support for migrating
local block devices, since neither of these are required for our
target problem space. However we discuss ways in which such
support can be provided in Section 7.
2 Related Work
The Collective project  has previously
explored VM migration as a tool to provide mobility to users who work
on different physical hosts at different times, citing as an example
the transfer of an OS instance to a home computer while a user drives
home from work. Their work aims to optimize for slow (e.g., ADSL)
links and longer time spans, and so stops OS execution for the
duration of the transfer, with a set of enhancements to reduce the
transmitted image size. In contrast, our efforts are concerned with
the migration of live, in-service OS instances on fast neworks with only
tens of milliseconds of downtime. Other projects that have explored
migration over longer time spans by stopping and then transferring
include Internet Suspend/Resume  and
Zap  uses partial OS virtualization to allow the
migration of process domains (pods), essentially process groups, using
a modified Linux kernel. Their approach is to isolate all
process-to-kernel interfaces, such as file handles and sockets, into a
contained namespace that can be migrated. Their approach is
considerably faster than results in the Collective work, largely due
to the smaller units of migration. However, migration in their system
is still on the order of seconds at best, and does not allow live
migration; pods are entirely suspended, copied, and then
resumed. Furthermore, they do not address the problem of maintaining
open connections for existing services.
The live migration system presented here has considerable shared
heritage with the previous work on NomadBIOS , a
virtualization and migration system built on top of the L4
microkernel . NomadBIOS uses pre-copy migration to
achieve very short best-case migration downtimes, but makes no attempt
at adapting to the writable working set behavior of the migrating OS.
VMware has recently added OS migration support, dubbed VMotion,
to their VirtualCenter management software. As this is commercial
software and strictly disallows the publication of third-party
benchmarks, we are only able to infer its behavior through VMware's
own publications. These limitations make a thorough technical
comparison impossible. However, based on the VirtualCenter User's
Manual , we believe their approach is
generally similar to ours and would expect it to perform to a
Process migration, a hot topic in systems research during the
1980s [10,[11,[12,[13,, has seen very little use for real-world applications.
Milojicic et al  give a thorough survey of
possible reasons for this, including the problem of the residual
dependencies that a migrated process retains on the machine from
which it migrated. Examples of residual dependencies include open
file descriptors, shared memory segments, and other local
resources. These are undesirable because the original machine must
remain available, and because they usually negatively impact the
performance of migrated processes.
For example Sprite  processes executing on
foreign nodes require some system calls to be forwarded to the home
node for execution, leading to at best reduced performance and at
worst widespread failure if the home node is unavailable. Although
various efforts were made to ameliorate performance issues, the
underlying reliance on the availability of the home node could not be
avoided. A similar fragility occurs with MOSIX 
where a deputy process on the home node must remain available to
support remote execution.
We believe the residual dependency problem cannot easily be solved
in any process migration scheme - even modern mobile run-times
such as Java and .NET suffer from problems when network
partition or machine crash causes class loaders to fail. The
migration of entire operating systems inherently involves fewer
or zero such dependencies, making it more resilient and robust.
At a high level we can consider a virtual machine to encapsulate
access to a set of physical resources. Providing live migration of
these VMs in a clustered server environment leads us to focus on the
physical resources used in such environments: specifically on memory,
network and disk.
This section summarizes the design decisions that we have made in our
approach to live VM migration. We start by describing how memory and
then device access is moved across a set of physical hosts and then go
on to a high-level description of how a migration progresses.
3.1 Migrating Memory
Moving the contents of a VM's memory from one physical host to another
can be approached in any number of ways. However, when a VM is
running a live service it is important that this transfer occurs in a
manner that balances the requirements of minimizing both
downtime and total migration time. The former is the
period during which the service is unavailable due to there being no
currently executing instance of the VM; this period will be directly
visible to clients of the VM as service interruption. The latter is
the duration between when migration is initiated and when the original
VM may be finally discarded and, hence, the source host may
potentially be taken down for maintenance, upgrade or repair.
It is easiest to consider the trade-offs between these
requirements by generalizing memory transfer into three
Although one can imagine a scheme incorporating all three phases, most
practical solutions select one or two of the three. For example,
involves halting the original VM, copying all pages to the
destination, and then starting the new VM. This has advantages in
terms of simplicity but means that both downtime and total migration
time are proportional to the amount of physical memory allocated to
the VM. This can lead to an unacceptable outage if the VM is running
a live service.
Another option is pure demand-migration  in
which a short stop-and-copy phase transfers essential kernel data
structures to the destination. The destination VM is then
started, and other pages are transferred across the network on first
use. This results in a much shorter downtime, but produces a
much longer total migration time; and in practice, performance
after migration is likely to be unacceptably degraded until a
considerable set of pages have been faulted across. Until this time
the VM will fault on a high proportion of its memory accesses, each of
which initiates a synchronous transfer across the network.
The approach taken in this paper, pre-copy 
migration, balances these concerns by combining a bounded iterative
push phase with a typically very short stop-and-copy phase. By
`iterative' we mean that pre-copying occurs in rounds, in which
the pages to be transferred during round n are those that are
modified during round n-1 (all pages are transferred in the first
round). Every VM will have some (hopefully small) set of pages that
it updates very frequently and which are therefore poor candidates for
pre-copy migration. Hence we bound the number of rounds of
pre-copying, based on our analysis of the writable working set
(WWS) behavior of typical server workloads, which we present in
Finally, a crucial additional concern for live migration is the
impact on active services. For instance, iteratively scanning and
sending a VM's memory image between two hosts in a cluster could
easily consume the entire bandwidth available between them and hence
starve the active services of resources. This service
degradation will occur to some extent during any live migration
scheme. We address this issue by carefully controlling the network and
CPU resources used by the migration process, thereby ensuring that it
does not interfere excessively with active traffic or processing.
- Push phase
source VM continues running while certain pages are
pushed across the network to the new destination. To
ensure consistency, pages modified during
this process must be re-sent.
- Stop-and-copy phase
- The source
VM is stopped, pages are copied across to
the destination VM, then the new VM is started.
- Pull phase
- The new
VM executes and, if it accesses a page that has not yet
been copied, this page is faulted in ("pulled") across
the network from the source VM.
3.2 Local Resources
A key challenge in managing the migration of OS instances is what to
do about resources that are associated with the physical machine that
they are migrating away from. While memory can be copied directly to
the new host, connections to local devices such as disks and network
interfaces demand additional consideration. The two key problems that
we have encountered in this space concern what to do with network
resources and local storage.
For network resources, we want a migrated OS to maintain all open
network connections without relying on forwarding mechanisms on the
original host (which may be shut down following migration), or on
support from mobility or redirection mechanisms that are not already
present (as in ). A migrating VM will include all
protocol state (e.g. TCP PCBs), and will carry its IP address with
To address these requirements we observed that in a cluster
environment, the network interfaces of the source and destination
machines typically exist on a single switched LAN. Our solution for
managing migration with respect to network in this environment is to
generate an unsolicited ARP reply from the migrated host, advertising
that the IP has moved to a new location. This will reconfigure peers
to send packets to the new physical address, and while a very small
number of in-flight packets may be lost, the migrated domain will be
able to continue using open connections with almost no observable
Some routers are configured not to accept broadcast ARP replies (in
order to prevent IP spoofing), so an unsolicited ARP may not work in
all scenarios. If the operating system is aware of the migration, it
can opt to send directed replies only to interfaces listed in its own
ARP cache, to remove the need for a broadcast. Alternatively, on a
switched network, the migrating OS can keep its original Ethernet MAC
address, relying on the network switch to detect its move to a new
In the cluster, the migration of storage may be similarly addressed:
Most modern data centers consolidate their storage requirements using
a network-attached storage (NAS) device, in preference to using local
disks in individual servers. NAS has many advantages in this
environment, including simple centralised administration, widespread
vendor support, and reliance on fewer spindles leading to a reduced
failure rate. A further advantage for migration is that it obviates
the need to migrate disk storage, as the NAS is uniformly accessible
from all host machines in the cluster. We do not address the problem
of migrating local-disk storage in this paper, although we suggest
some possible strategies as part of our discussion of future work.
3.3 Design Overview
Figure 1: Migration timeline
The logical steps that we execute when migrating an OS are summarized in
Figure 1. We take a conservative approach to the
management of migration with regard to safety and failure
handling. Although the consequences of hardware failures can
be severe, our basic principle is that safe migration should at
no time leave a virtual OS more exposed to system failure than when it
is running on the original single host. To achieve this, we view the
migration process as a transactional interaction between the two hosts
This approach to failure management ensures that at least one
host has a consistent VM image at all times during migration.
It depends on the assumption that the original host remains stable
until the migration commits, and that the VM may be suspended and
resumed on that host with no risk of failure. Based on these
assumptions, a migration request essentially attempts to move the VM
to a new host, and on any sort of failure execution is resumed
locally, aborting the migration.
- Stage 0: Pre-Migration
- We begin with an active VM on physical
host A. To speed any future migration, a target host may be
preselected where the resources required to receive migration will
- Stage 1: Reservation
- A request is issued to
migrate an OS from host A to host B. We initially confirm that
the necessary resources are available on B and reserve a VM
container of that size. Failure to secure resources here means that
the VM simply continues to run on A unaffected.
- Stage 2: Iterative Pre-Copy
- During the first iteration,
all pages are transferred from A to B. Subsequent iterations copy only
those pages dirtied during the previous transfer phase.
- Stage 3: Stop-and-Copy
- We suspend the running OS instance at
A and redirect its network traffic to B. As described earlier,
CPU state and any remaining inconsistent memory pages are then
transferred. At the end of this stage there is a consistent
suspended copy of the VM at both A and B. The copy at A is
still considered to be primary and is resumed in case of failure.
- Stage 4: Commitment
- Host B
indicates to A that it has successfully received a consistent OS
image. Host A acknowledges this message as commitment of the
migration transaction: host A may now discard the original VM, and
host B becomes the primary host.
- Stage 5: Activation
- The migrated VM on B is now
activated. Post-migration code runs to reattach device drivers to
the new machine and advertise moved IP addresses.
4 Writable Working Sets
When migrating a live operating system, the most significant influence
on service performance is the overhead of coherently transferring the
virtual machine's memory image. As mentioned previously, a simple
stop-and-copy approach will achieve this in time proportional to the
amount of memory allocated to the VM. Unfortunately, during
this time any running services are completely unavailable.
A more attractive alternative is pre-copy migration, in which the
memory image is transferred while the operating system (and hence all
hosted services) continue to run. The drawback however, is the wasted
overhead of transferring memory pages that are subsequently modified,
and hence must be transferred again. For many workloads there will be
a small set of memory pages that are updated very frequently, and
which it is not worth attempting to maintain coherently on the
destination machine before stopping and copying the remainder of the
The fundamental question for iterative pre-copy migration is:
how does one determine when it is time to stop the pre-copy phase
because too much time and resource is being wasted? Clearly if the VM
being migrated never modifies memory, a single pre-copy of each memory
page will suffice to transfer a consistent image to the
destination. However, should the VM continuously dirty pages faster
than the rate of copying, then all pre-copy work will be in vain and
one should immediately stop and copy.
In practice, one would expect most workloads to lie somewhere between
these extremes: a certain (possibly large) set of pages will seldom
or never be modified and hence are good candidates for pre-copy, while
the remainder will be written often and so should best be transferred
via stop-and-copy - we dub this latter set of pages the
writable working set (WWS) of the operating system by
obvious extension of the original working set
In this section we analyze the WWS of operating systems running a
range of different workloads in an attempt to obtain some insight to
allow us build heuristics for an efficient and controllable
4.1 Measuring Writable Working Sets
To trace the writable working set behaviour of a number of
representative workloads we used Xen's shadow page tables (see
Section 5) to track dirtying statistics on all pages used
by a particular executing operating system. This allows us to
determine within any time period the set of pages written to by the
Using the above, we conducted a set of experiments to sample the
writable working set size for a variety of benchmarks. Xen was running
on a dual processor Intel Xeon 2.4GHz machine, and the virtual
machine being measured had a memory allocation of 512MB. In each case
we started the relevant benchmark in one virtual machine and read the
dirty bitmap every 50ms from another virtual machine, cleaning it
every 8 seconds - in essence this allows us to compute the WWS with
a (relatively long) 8 second window, but estimate it at a finer (50ms)
The benchmarks we ran were SPEC CINT2000, a Linux kernel compile, the
OSDB OLTP benchmark using PostgreSQL and SPECweb99 using Apache. We
also measured a Quake 3 server as we are particularly interested in
highly interactive workloads.
Figure 2: WWS curve for a complete run of SPEC CINT2000 (512MB VM)
Figure 2 illustrates the writable working set
curve produced for the SPEC CINT2000 benchmark run. This benchmark
involves running a series of smaller programs in order and measuring
the overall execution time. The x-axis measures elapsed time, and the
y-axis shows the number of 4KB pages of memory dirtied within the
corresponding 8 second interval; the graph is annotated with the names
of the sub-benchmark programs.
From this data we observe that the writable working set varies
significantly between the different sub-benchmarks. For programs such
as `eon' the WWS is a small fraction of the total
working set and hence is an excellent candidate for migration. In
contrast, `gap' has a consistently high dirtying rate
and would be problematic to migrate. The other benchmarks go through
various phases but are generally amenable to live migration. Thus
performing a migration of an operating system will give different
results depending on the workload and the precise moment at which
4.2 Estimating Migration Effectiveness
We observed that we could use the trace data acquired to estimate the
effectiveness of iterative pre-copy migration for various
workloads. In particular we can simulate a particular network
bandwidth for page transfer, determine how many pages would be dirtied
during a particular iteration, and then repeat for successive
iterations. Since we know the approximate WWS behaviour at every point
in time, we can estimate the overall amount of data transferred in the
final stop-and-copy round and hence estimate the downtime.
show our results for the four remaining workloads. Each figure
comprises three graphs, each of which corresponds to a particular
network bandwidth limit for page transfer; each individual graph shows
the WWS histogram (in light gray) overlaid with four line plots
estimating service downtime for up to four pre-copying rounds.
Figure 3: Expected downtime due to last-round memory copy on traced
page dirtying of a Linux kernel compile.
Figure 4: Expected downtime due to last-round memory copy on traced
page dirtying of OLTP.
Figure 5: Expected downtime due to last-round memory copy on traced
page dirtying of a Quake 3 server.
Looking at the topmost line (one pre-copy iteration), the first thing
to observe is that pre-copy migration always performs considerably
better than naive stop-and-copy. For a 512MB virtual machine this
latter approach would require 32, 16, and 8 seconds downtime for the
128Mbit/sec, 256Mbit/sec and 512Mbit/sec bandwidths respectively. Even
in the worst case (the starting phase of SPECweb), a single pre-copy
iteration reduces downtime by a factor of four. In most cases we can
expect to do considerably better - for example both the Linux kernel
compile and the OLTP benchmark typically experience a reduction in
downtime of at least a factor of sixteen.
The remaining three lines show, in order, the effect of performing a
total of two, three or four pre-copy iterations prior to the final
stop-and-copy round. In most cases we see an increased reduction in
downtime from performing these additional iterations, although with
somewhat diminishing returns, particularly in the higher bandwidth
This is because all the observed workloads exhibit a small but
extremely frequently updated set of `hot' pages. In practice these
pages will include the stack and local variables being
accessed within the currently executing processes as well as
pages being used for network and disk traffic. The hottest pages
will be dirtied at least as fast as we can transfer them, and
hence must be transferred in the final stop-and-copy phase. This
puts a lower bound on the best possible service downtime for a
particular benchmark, network bandwidth and migration start time.
This interesting tradeoff suggests that it may be worthwhile
increasing the amount of bandwidth used for page transfer
in later (and shorter) pre-copy iterations. We will describe
our rate-adaptive algorithm based on this observation
in Section 5, and demonstrate its effectiveness
in Section 6.
Figure 6: Expected downtime due to last-round memory copy on traced
page dirtying of SPECweb.
5 Implementation Issues
We designed and implemented our pre-copying migration engine to
integrate with the Xen virtual machine monitor . Xen
securely divides the resources of the host machine amongst a set of
resource-isolated virtual machines each running a dedicated OS
instance. In addition, there is one special management virtual
machine used for the administration and control of the machine.
We considered two different methods for initiating and managing
state transfer. These illustrate two extreme points in the design
space: managed migration is performed largely outside the
migratee, by a migration daemon running in the management VM; in
contrast, self migration is implemented almost entirely within
the migratee OS with only a small stub required on the destination
In the following sections we describe some of the implementation
details of these two approaches. We describe how we use dynamic
network rate-limiting to effectively balance network contention
against OS downtime. We then proceed to describe how we ameliorate the
effects of rapid page dirtying, and describe some performance
enhancements that become possible when the OS is aware of its
migration - either through the use of self migration, or by adding
explicit paravirtualization interfaces to the VMM.
5.1 Managed Migration
Managed migration is performed by migration daemons running in the
management VMs of the source and destination hosts. These are
responsible for creating a new VM on the destination machine, and
coordinating transfer of live system state over the network.
When transferring the memory image of the still-running OS, the
control software performs rounds of copying in which it performs
a complete scan of the VM's memory pages. Although in the first round
all pages are transferred to the destination machine, in subsequent
rounds this copying is restricted to pages that were dirtied during
the previous round, as indicated by a dirty bitmap that is
copied from Xen at the start of each round.
During normal operation the page tables managed by each guest OS are
the ones that are walked by the processor's MMU to fill the TLB. This
is possible because guest OSes are exposed to real physical addresses
and so the page tables they create do not need to be mapped to
physical addresses by Xen.
To log pages that are dirtied, Xen inserts shadow page tables
underneath the running OS. The shadow tables are populated on demand
by translating sections of the guest page tables. Translation is very
simple for dirty logging: all page-table entries (PTEs) are initially
read-only mappings in the shadow tables, regardless of what is
permitted by the guest tables. If the guest tries to modify a page of
memory, the resulting page fault is trapped by Xen. If write access is
permitted by the relevant guest PTE then this permission is extended
to the shadow PTE. At the same time, we set the appropriate bit in the
VM's dirty bitmap.
When the bitmap is copied to the control software at the start of each
pre-copying round, Xen's bitmap is cleared and the shadow page tables
are destroyed and recreated as the migratee OS continues to run. This
causes all write permissions to be lost: all pages that are
subsequently updated are then added to the now-clear dirty bitmap.
When it is determined that the pre-copy phase is no longer beneficial,
using heuristics derived from the analysis in Section 4, the
OS is sent a control message requesting that it suspend itself in a
state suitable for migration. This causes the OS to prepare for
resumption on the destination machine; Xen informs the control
software once the OS has done this. The dirty bitmap is scanned one
last time for remaining inconsistent memory pages, and these are
transferred to the destination together with the VM's checkpointed
Once this final information is received at the destination, the VM
state on the source machine can safely be discarded. Control software
on the destination machine scans the memory map and rewrites the
guest's page tables to reflect the addresses of the memory pages that
it has been allocated. Execution is then resumed by starting the new
VM at the point that the old VM checkpointed itself. The OS then restarts
its virtual device drivers and updates its notion of wallclock time.
Since the transfer of pages is OS agnostic, we can easily support
any guest operating system - all that is required is a small
paravirtualized stub to handle resumption. Our implementation
currently supports Linux 2.4, Linux 2.6 and NetBSD 2.0.
5.2 Self Migration
In contrast to the managed method described above, self
migration [, ] places the majority of the
implementation within the OS being migrated. In this design no
modifications are required either to Xen or to the management software
running on the source machine, although a migration stub must run on
the destination machine to listen for incoming migration requests,
create an appropriate empty VM, and receive the migrated system state.
The pre-copying scheme that we implemented for self migration is
conceptually very similar to that for managed migration. At the start
of each pre-copying round every page mapping in every virtual address
space is write-protected. The OS maintains a dirty bitmap tracking
dirtied physical pages, setting the appropriate bits as write faults
occur. To discriminate migration faults from other possible causes
(for example, copy-on-write faults, or access-permission faults) we
reserve a spare bit in each PTE to indicate that it is write-protected
only for dirty-logging purposes.
The major implementation difficulty of this scheme is to transfer a
consistent OS checkpoint. In contrast with a managed migration, where
we simply suspend the migratee to obtain a consistent checkpoint, self
migration is far harder because the OS must continue to run in order
to transfer its final state. We solve this difficulty by logically
checkpointing the OS on entry to a final two-stage stop-and-copy
phase. The first stage disables all OS activity except for migration
and then peforms a final scan of the dirty bitmap, clearing the
appropriate bit as each page is transferred. Any pages that are
dirtied during the final scan, and that are still marked as dirty in
the bitmap, are copied to a shadow buffer. The second and final stage
then transfers the contents of the shadow buffer - page updates are
ignored during this transfer.
5.3 Dynamic Rate-Limiting
It is not always appropriate to select a single network bandwidth
limit for migration traffic. Although a low limit avoids impacting the
performance of running services, analysis in Section 4
showed that we must eventually pay in the form of an extended downtime
because the hottest pages in the writable working set are not amenable
to pre-copy migration. The downtime can be reduced by increasing the
bandwidth limit, albeit at the cost of additional network contention.
Our solution to this impasse is to dynamically adapt the bandwidth
limit during each pre-copying round. The administrator selects a
minimum and a maximum bandwidth limit. The first pre-copy round
transfers pages at the minimum bandwidth. Each subsequent round counts
the number of pages dirtied in the previous round, and divides this by
the duration of the previous round to calculate the dirtying
rate. The bandwidth limit for the next round is then determined by
adding a constant increment to the previous round's dirtying rate -
we have empirically determined that 50Mbit/sec is a suitable value.
We terminate pre-copying when the calculated rate is greater than the
administrator's chosen maximum, or when less than 256KB remains to be
transferred. During the final stop-and-copy phase we minimize service
downtime by transferring memory at the maximum allowable rate.
As we will show in Section 6, using this adaptive scheme
results in the bandwidth usage remaining low during the transfer of the
majority of the pages, increasing only at the end of the migration
to transfer the hottest pages in the WWS. This effectively
balances short downtime with low average network contention and
5.4 Rapid Page Dirtying
Our working-set analysis in Section 4 shows that every OS
workload has some set of pages that are updated extremely frequently,
and which are therefore not good candidates for pre-copy migration
even when using all available network bandwidth. We observed that
rapidly-modified pages are very likely to be dirtied again by the time
we attempt to transfer them in any particular pre-copying round. We
therefore periodically `peek' at the current round's dirty bitmap and
transfer only those pages dirtied in the previous round that have not
been dirtied again at the time we scan them.
We further observed that page dirtying is often physically
clustered - if a page is dirtied then it is disproportionally
likely that a close neighbour will be dirtied soon after. This
increases the likelihood that, if our peeking does not detect one page
in a cluster, it will detect none. To avoid this unfortunate behaviour
we scan the VM's physical memory space in a pseudo-random order.
5.5 Paravirtualized Optimizations
One key benefit of paravirtualization is that operating systems can be
made aware of certain important differences between the real and
virtual environments. In terms of migration, this allows a number of
optimizations by informing the operating system that it is about to be
migrated - at this stage a migration stub handler within the OS could
help improve performance in at least the following ways:
Stunning Rogue Processes. Pre-copy migration works
best when memory pages can be copied to the destination host faster
than they are dirtied by the migrating virtual machine. This may not
always be the case - for example, a test program which writes one
word in every page was able to dirty memory at a rate of 320 Gbit/sec,
well ahead of the transfer rate of any Ethernet interface. This is a
synthetic example, but there may well be cases in practice in which
pre-copy migration is unable to keep up, or where migration is
prolonged unnecessarily by one or more `rogue' applications.
Figure 7: Rogue-process detection during migration of a Linux kernel
build. After the twelfth iteration a maximum limit of forty write
faults is imposed on every process, drastically reducing the total
writable working set.
In both the managed and self migration cases, we can mitigate against
this risk by forking a monitoring thread within the OS kernel when
migration begins. As it runs within the OS, this thread can monitor
the WWS of individual processes and take action if required. We
have implemented a simple version of this which simply limits each
process to 40 write faults before being moved to a wait queue - in
essence we `stun' processes that make migration difficult. This
technique works well, as shown in Figure 7, although
one must be careful not to stun important interactive services.
Freeing Page Cache Pages. A typical operating system
will have a number of `free' pages at any time, ranging from truly
free (page allocator) to cold buffer cache pages. When informed a
migration is to begin, the OS can simply return some or all of these
pages to Xen in the same way it would when using the ballooning
mechanism described in . This means that the time
taken for the first "full pass" iteration of pre-copy migration can
be reduced, sometimes drastically. However should the contents of
these pages be needed again, they will need to be faulted back in
from disk, incurring greater overall cost.
In this section we present a thorough evaluation of our
implementation on a wide variety of workloads. We begin by describing
our test setup, and then go on explore the migration of several
workloads in detail. Note that none of the experiments in this
section use the paravirtualized optimizations discussed above
since we wished to measure the baseline performance of our
6.1 Test Setup
We perform test migrations between an identical pair of Dell PE-2650
server-class machines, each with dual Xeon 2GHz CPUs and 2GB
memory. The machines have Broadcom TG3 network interfaces and are
connected via switched Gigabit Ethernet. In these experiments only a
single CPU was used, with HyperThreading enabled. Storage is accessed
via the iSCSI protocol from an NetApp F840 network attached storage
server except where noted otherwise. We used XenLinux 2.4.27 as
the operating system in all cases.
6.2 Simple Web Server
We begin our evaluation by examining the migration of an Apache 1.3 web
server serving static content at a high rate.
Figure 8 illustrates the throughput
achieved when continuously serving a single 512KB file to a set of one hundred
concurrent clients. The web server virtual machine has a memory
allocation of 800MB.
Figure 8: Results of migrating a running web server VM.
At the start of the trace, the server achieves a consistent throughput
of approximately 870Mbit/sec. Migration starts twenty seven seconds
into the trace but is initially rate-limited to 100Mbit/sec (12%
CPU), resulting in the server throughput dropping to 765Mbit/s. This
initial low-rate pass transfers 776MB and lasts for 62 seconds, at
which point the migration algorithm described in Section 5
increases its rate over several iterations and finally suspends the VM
after a further 9.8 seconds. The final stop-and-copy phase then
transfer the remaining pages and the web server resumes at full rate
after a 165ms outage.
This simple example demonstrates that a highly loaded server can be
migrated with both controlled impact on live services and a short
downtime. However, the working set of the server in this case is
rather small, and so this should be expected to be a relatively easy
case for live migration.
6.3 Complex Web Workload: SPECweb99
A more challenging Apache workload is presented by SPECweb99, a
complex application-level benchmark for evaluating web servers and
the systems that host them. The workload is a complex mix of page
requests: 30% require dynamic content generation, 16% are HTTP POST
operations, and 0.5% execute a CGI script. As the server runs, it
generates access and POST logs, contributing to disk (and therefore
A number of client machines are used to generate the load for the
server under test, with each machine simulating a collection of users
concurrently accessing the web site. SPECweb99 defines a minimum
quality of service that each user must receive for it to count as
`conformant'; an aggregate bandwidth in excess of 320Kbit/sec over a
series of requests. The SPECweb score received is the number of
conformant users that the server successfully maintains. The
considerably more demanding workload of SPECweb represents a
challenging candidate for migration.
We benchmarked a single VM running SPECweb and recorded a maximum
score of 385 conformant clients - we used the RedHat
gnbd network block device in place of iSCSI as the lighter-weight
protocol achieves higher performance.
Since at this point the server is effectively in overload,
we then relaxed the offered load to 90% of maximum (350 conformant
connections) to represent a more realistic scenario.
Using a virtual machine configured with 800MB of memory,
we migrated a SPECweb99 run in the middle of its execution.
Figure 9 shows a detailed analysis of
this migration. The x-axis shows time elapsed since start
of migration, while the y-axis shows the network bandwidth
being used to transfer pages to the destination. Darker
boxes illustrate the page transfer process while lighter
boxes show the pages dirtied during each iteration. Our
algorithm adjusts the transfer rate relative to the page
dirty rate observed during the previous round (denoted by
the height of the lighter boxes).
Figure 9: Results of migrating a running SPECweb VM.
As in the case of the static web server, migration begins with a long
period of low-rate transmission as a first pass is made through the
memory of the virtual machine. This first round takes 54.1 seconds
and transmits 676.8MB of memory. Two more low-rate rounds follow,
transmitting 126.7MB and 39.0MB respectively before the transmission
rate is increased.
The remainder of the graph illustrates how the adaptive algorithm
tracks the page dirty rate over successively shorter iterations before
finally suspending the VM. When suspension takes place, 18.2MB of
memory remains to be sent. This transmission takes 201ms, after which
an additional 9ms is required for the domain to resume normal
The total downtime of 210ms experienced by the SPECweb clients is
sufficiently brief to maintain the 350 conformant clients. This
result is an excellent validation of our approach: a heavily (90% of
maximum) loaded server is migrated to a separate physical host with a
total migration time of seventy-one seconds. Furthermore the migration
does not interfere with the quality of service demanded by SPECweb's
workload. This illustrates the applicability of migration as
a tool for administrators of demanding live services.
6.4 Low-Latency Server: Quake 3
Another representative application for hosting environments is
a multiplayer on-line game server. To determine the effectiveness
of our approach in this case we configured a virtual machine with
64MB of memory running a Quake 3 server. Six players joined the
game and started to play within a shared arena, at which point
we initiated a migration to another machine. A detailed analysis
of this migration is shown in Figure 10.
Figure 10: Results of migrating a running Quake 3 server VM.
The trace illustrates a generally similar progression as for SPECweb,
although in this case the amount of data to be transferred is
significantly smaller. Once again the transfer rate increases as the
trace progresses, although the final stop-and-copy phase transfers so
little data (148KB) that the full bandwidth is not utilized.
Overall, we are able to perform the live migration with a total
downtime of 60ms. To determine the effect of migration on the live
players, we performed an additional experiment in which we migrated
the running Quake 3 server twice and measured the inter-arrival time
of packets received by clients. The results are shown in
Figure 11. As can be seen, from the client
point of view migration manifests itself as a transient increase
in response time of 50ms. In neither case was this perceptible
to the players.
Figure 11: Effect on packet response time of migrating a running Quake 3 server VM.
6.5 A Diabolical Workload: MMuncher
As a final point in our evaluation, we consider the situation in which
a virtual machine is writing to memory faster than can be transferred
across the network. We test this diabolical case by running a 512MB
host with a simple C program that writes constantly to a 256MB region
of memory. The results of this migration are shown in Figure
Figure 12: Results of migrating a VM running a diabolical workload.
In the first iteration of this workload, we see that half of the
memory has been transmitted, while the other half is immediately
marked dirty by our test program. Our algorithm attempts to adapt to
this by scaling itself relative to the perceived initial rate of
dirtying; this scaling proves insufficient, as the rate at which the
memory is being written becomes apparent. In the third round, the
transfer rate is scaled up to 500Mbit/s in a final attempt to outpace
the memory writer. As this last attempt is still unsuccessful, the
virtual machine is suspended, and the remaining dirty pages are
copied, resulting in a downtime of 3.5 seconds. Fortunately such
dirtying rates appear to be rare in real workloads.
7 Future Work
Although our solution is well-suited for the environment we have
targeted - a well-connected data-center or cluster with
network-accessed storage - there are a number of areas in which
we hope to carry out future work. This would allow us to extend
live migration to wide-area networks, and to environments
that cannot rely solely on network-attached storage.
7.1 Cluster Management
In a cluster environment where a pool of virtual machines are hosted on
a smaller set of physical servers, there are great opportunities for
dynamic load balancing of processor, memory and networking resources.
A key challenge is to develop cluster control software which can
make informed decision as to the placement and movement of virtual
A special case of this is `evacuating' VMs from a node that
is to be taken down for scheduled maintenance. A sensible
approach to achieving this is to migrate the VMs in increasing
order of their observed WWS. Since each VM migrated frees
resources on the node, additional CPU and network becomes
available for those VMs which need it most. We are in the
process of building a cluster controller for Xen systems.
7.2 Wide Area Network Redirection
Our layer 2 redirection scheme works efficiently and with remarkably
low outage on modern gigabit networks. However, when migrating outside the
local subnet this mechanism will not suffice. Instead, either
the OS will have to obtain a new IP address which is within the
destination subnet, or some kind of indirection layer, on top of IP,
must exist. Since this problem is already familiar to laptop users, a
number of different solutions have been suggested. One of the more
prominent approaches is that of Mobile IP  where
a node on the home network (the home agent) forwards packets
destined for the client (mobile node) to a care-of
address on the foreign network. As with all residual dependencies
this can lead to both performance problems and additional failure
Snoeren and Balakrishnan  suggest addressing the problem
of connection migration at the TCP level, augmenting TCP with a secure
token negotiated at connection time, to which a relocated host can
refer in a special SYN packet requesting reconnection from a new IP
address. Dynamic DNS updates are suggested as a means of locating
hosts after a move.
7.3 Migrating Block Devices
Although NAS prevails in the modern data center, some environments may
still make extensive use of local disks. These present a significant
problem for migration as they are usually considerably larger than
volatile memory. If the entire contents of a disk must be transferred
to a new host before migration can complete, then total migration
times may be intolerably extended.
This latency can be avoided at migration time by arranging to
mirror the disk contents at one or more remote hosts. For example, we are
investigating using the built-in software RAID and iSCSI functionality
of Linux to implement disk mirroring before and during OS migration.
We imagine a similar use of software RAID-5, in cases where data on
disks requires a higher level of availability. Multiple hosts can act as
storage targets for one another, increasing availability at the cost
of some network traffic.
The effective management of local storage for clusters of virtual
machines is an interesting problem that we hope to further explore in
future work. As virtual machines will typically work from a small set
of common system images (for instance a generic Fedora Linux
installation) and make individual changes above this, there seems to
be opportunity to manage copy-on-write system images across a cluster
in a way that facilitates migration, allows replication, and makes
efficient use of local disks.
By integrating live OS migration into the Xen virtual machine monitor
we enable rapid movement of interactive workloads within clusters and
data centers. Our dynamic network-bandwidth adaptation allows
migration to proceed with minimal impact on running services, while
reducing total downtime to below discernable thresholds.
Our comprehensive evaluation shows that realistic server workloads
such as SPECweb99 can be migrated with just 210ms downtime, while a
Quake3 game server is migrated with an imperceptible 60ms outage.
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1Note that on most Ethernet controllers, hardware MAC
filtering will have to be disabled if multiple addresses are in use
(though some cards support filtering of multiple addresses in
hardware) and so this technique is only practical for switched