Tag Archives: nested virtualization

Supernested on the QEMU Advent Calendar


I wrote supernested a few years ago to see if I could break nested KVM. It works by repeatedly nesting KVM guests until either something breaks or the whole thing grinds to a halt. Even on my very fastest machine I can only get to an L4 guest (L0 = host, L1 = normal guest).

Kashyap and Thomas Huth resurrected the QEMU Advent Calendar this year, and today (day 13) supernested is featured.

Please note that supernested should only be run on idle machines which aren’t doing anything else, and it can crash the machine.

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Super-nested KVM

Regular readers of this blog will of course be familiar with the joys of virtualization. One of those joys is nested virtualization — running a virtual machine in a virtual machine. Nested KVM is a thing too — that is, emulating the virtualization extensions in the CPU so that the second level guest gets at least some of the acceleration benefits that a normal first level guest would get.

My question is: How deeply can you nest KVM?

This is not so easy to test at the moment, so I’ve created a small project / disk image which when booted on KVM will launch a nested guest, which launches a nested guest, and so on until (usually) the host crashes, or you run out of memory, or your patience is exhausted by the poor performance of nested KVM.

The answer, by the way, is just 3 levels [on AMD hardware], which is rather disappointing. Hopefully this will encourage the developers to take a closer look at the bugs in nested virt.

Git repo: http://git.annexia.org/?p=supernested.git;a=summary
Binary images: http://oirase.annexia.org/supernested/

How does this work?

Building a simple appliance is easy. I’m using supermin to do that.

The problem is how does the appliance run another appliance? How do you put the same appliance inside the appliance? Obviously that’s impossible (right?)

The way it works is inside the Lx hypervisor it runs the L(x+1) qemu on /dev/sda, with a protective overlay stored in memory so we don’t disrupt the Lx hypervisor. Since /dev/sda literally is the appliance disk image, this all kinda works.


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Nested virtualization (not) enabled

Interesting thing I learned a few days ago:

kvm: Nested Virtualization enabled

does not always mean that nested virtualization is being used.

If you use qemu’s software emulation (more often known as TCG) then it emulates a generic-looking AMD CPU with SVM (AMD’s virtualization feature).

AMD virtualization easily supports nesting (unlike Intel’s VT which is a massive PITA to nest), and when the KVM module is loaded, it notices the “AMD” host CPU with SVM and willingly enables nested virt. There’s actually a little bit of benefit to this because it avoids a second layer of TCG being needed if you did run a L2 guest in there (although it’s still going to be slow).

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