Hypervisor is a general computing term and not a brand name. IBM first coined this term back in 1960s. Very interesting to note forms of virtualization have existed since that time. Even more interesting to note that the IBM mainframe can even today, technically support binary compatibility of code developed in 1960s!
In computing, a hypervisor, also called virtual machine manager (VMM), is one of many hardware virtualization techniques that allow multiple operating systems, termed guests, to run concurrently on a host computer. It is so named because it is conceptually one level higher than a supervisory program. The hypervisor presents to the guest operating systems a virtual operating platform and manages the execution of the guest operating systems. Multiple instances of a variety of operating systems may share the virtualized hardware resources. Hypervisors are installed on server hardware whose only task is to run guest operating systems. Non-hypervisor virtualization systems are used for similar tasks on dedicated server hardware, but also commonly on desktop, portable and even handheld computers.
Robert P. Goldberg classifies two types of hypervisor:
- Type 1 (or native, bare metal) hypervisors run directly on the host’s hardware to control the hardware and to manage guest operating systems. A guest operating system thus runs on another level above the hypervisor.
- Type 2 (or hosted) hypervisors run within a conventional operating system environment. With the hypervisor layer as a distinct second software level, guest operating systems run at the third level above the hardware.
IBM provides virtualization partition technology known as logical partitioning (LPAR) on System/390, zSeries, pSeries and iSeries systems. For IBM’s Power Systems, the Power Hypervisor (PowerVM) functions as a native (bare-metal) hypervisor and provides EAL4+ strong isolation between LPARs. Processor capacity is provided to LPARs in either a dedicated fashion or on an entitlement basis where unused capacity is harvested and can be re-allocated to busy workloads. Groups of LPARs can have their processor capacity managed as if they were in a “pool” – IBM refers to this capability as Multiple Shared-Processor Pools (MSPPs) and implements it in servers with the POWER6 processor. LPAR and MSPP capacity allocations can be dynamically changed. Memory is allocated to each LPAR (at LPAR initiation or dynamically) and is address-controlled by the POWER Hypervisor. For real-mode addressing by operating systems (AIX, Linux, IBM i), the POWER processors (POWER4 onwards) have architected virtualization capabilities where a hardware address-offset is evaluated with the OS address-offset to arrive at the physical memory address. Input/Output (I/O) adapters can be exclusively “owned” by LPARs or shared by LPARs through an appliance partition known as the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS). The Power Hypervisor provides for high levels of reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) by facilitating hot add/replace of many parts (model dependent: processors, memory, I/O adapters, blowers, power units, disks, system controllers, etc.)
Similar trends have occurred with x86/x86_64 server platforms, where open-source projects such as Xen have led virtualization efforts. These include hypervisors built on Linux and Solaris kernels as well as custom kernels. Since these technologies span from large systems down to desktops, they are described in the next section.