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G. Lettieri, V. Maffione, L. Rizzo: "A Study of I/O Performance of Virtual Machines", The Computer Journal, 28 September 2017

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In this study, we investigate some counterintuitive but frequent performance issues that arise when doing high-speed networking (or I/O in general) with Virtual Machines (VMs). VMs use one or more single-producer/single-consumer systems to exchange I/O data (e.g. network packets) with their hypervisor. We show that when the producer and the consumer process packets at different rates, the high cost required for synchronization (interrupts and ‘kicks’) may reduce throughput of the system well below the slowest of the two parties; moreover, accelerating the faster party may cause the throughput to decrease. Our work provides a model for throughput, efficiency and latency of producer/consumer systems when notifications or sleeping are used as a synchronization mechanism; identifies different operating regimes depending on the operating parameters; validates the accuracy of our model against a VirtIO-based prototype, taking into account most of the details of real-world deployments; provides practical and robust strategies to maximize throughput and minimize energy while keeping the latency under control, without depending on precise timing measurements nor unreasonable assumptions on the system’s behavior. The study is particularly interesting for Network Function Virtualization deployments, where high-rate producer/consumer systems in virtualized environments are the core components.

Keywords: {virtual machines, high-speed I/O, energy efficiency}