FreeBSD comes to Amazon’s lightweight hypervisor • The Register

The FreeBSD developer who brought FreeBSD to Amazon EC² has now made it work on the company’s lightweight Firecracker hypervisor.

“AWS Community Hero” Colin Percival is the developer of the online backup service Tarsnap and the portsnap Tool for updating FreeBSD. It is thanks to his efforts that FreeBSD is supported on Amazon EC².

Now he’s announced that FreeBSD supports another new platform: Amazon’s Firecracker hypervisor. The reg covered Firecracker when it was announced and when Amazon lowered the price of the Firecracker-powered “serverless” Fargate platform. It is derived from the lightweight Rust-based crosvm that is part of Google ChromeOS.

This meant making several adjustments to the FreeBSD kernel to enable a limited set of services that Firecracker offers to its so-called “microVMs”. For example, Firecracker does not support ACPI and makes heavy use of Virtio. While FreeBSD already supported Virtio, it did so via ACPI calls, so a rewrite was required.

Firecracker also informs the guest operating system about the handful of devices in an unusual way: it was only designed to support Linux guests, although the OSv unikernel has also been ported to it.

The new FreeBSD support also meant changes to the hypervisor itself, such as: B. Incorporating existing patches to improve Firecracker’s support for Xen-style PVH booting.

In describing Firecracker, we drew comparisons to other lightweight hypervisors such as Kata containers – which aren’t actually containers – and Google’s gVisor, a kernel designed to run in a container to make it look more like a VM close.

Eleven years ago, when the Reg offered A Brief History of Virtualization (and its second, third, fourth, and fifth editions), there was a clear distinction between hypervisors and the then-new Linux technology of containers. A hypervisor emulates an entire computer and runs an entire operating system in each virtual machine, while containers all share the same kernel and run separate userlands on top of it.

Now, lightweight hypervisors and MicroVMs are blurring the lines between the two, as we described recently when discussing Kubernetes cluster encryption. A microVM is an operating system that knows it’s running as a guest inside another operating system and is designed to communicate with a hypervisor’s services, so it doesn’t require emulated hardware. The main idea is that the guest can be much smaller and launch much faster.

The downside to this are “container visors”, particularly Ubuntu’s LXD. From comments on various forums, it is clear that this is one of Canonical’s most popular and popular technologies. Unlike Docker and its ilk, which focus on running a single app in isolation in each container, LXD is explicitly designed to run an entire Linux operating system (minus the kernel) in its containers, complete with its own init system. LXD even supports dedicated hardware for each container.

In other words, as containers get bigger and more complicated, VMs shrink to keep up with container size and launch speed. The more different operating systems this supports, the better we feel. FreeBSD comes to Amazon’s lightweight hypervisor • The Register

Rick Schindler

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