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New CPUs, GPUs, and faster migrations: QEMU looks forward to 2017

by Will Hawkins on December 27, 2016

This series covers new developments and exciting projects taken on by Conservancy member projects. To learn more about Conservancy member projects, or the non-profit infrastructure support and services offered by the Conservancy, check out Conservancy’s Projects page. Please support Conservancy so we can continue to help all this important software.

The cloud—the great modern technology buzzword. Even those who don’t think of themselves as technical users have heard the phrase and perhaps even benefited from it. Though there are many proprietary cloud providers, OpenStack is the most popular FLOSS cloud software platform, powering massive web sites like Overstock.com and PayPal. What you might not know is that Conservancy member project QEMU is at the heart of OpenStack, and the project is proud to support them.

QEMU is a FLOSS project that makes it possible to emulate one hardware platform on another hardware platform and/or run multiple virtual machines (VMs) on a single physical machine. QEMU is just one of the many great FLOSS communities that Conservancy supports and I was lucky enough to be able to interview several of QEMU’s main contributors to ask them about their project, its future, and how Conservancy supporters have helped them succeed! In my interview with Stefan Hajnoczi, one of several QEMU subsystem maintainers and a contributor to the project since 2010, he said that the project benefits from Conservancy’s infrastructure, legal and community support.

An important moment in the life of any FLOSS project is when it adopts a structure that can outlast any single individual. Stefan says that Conservancy has helped QEMU make that trasition. Conservancy provides the infrastructure for holding domain names, hosting the project’s website, handling the project’s finances and accepting tax-free donations.

Conservancy also helps QEMU when the rare legal issue arises. “It’s difficult for any open source project that doesn’t have lots of funds to get legal clarity,” says Mr. Hajnoczi, and QEMU’s many different uses make legal clarity particularly important for the project.

QEMU is a widely used project and accepts contributions from a variety of sources, from corporate developers to hobbyists. Corporate and FLOSS projects of all kinds integrate and modify QEMU because its utility and flexibility make it a great foundation on which to build solutions for their end users’ problems. This means that QEMU is often mixed with software distributed under several different licenses. Because so many end users benefit from QEMU’s integration in these solutions, there are plenty of people who can report potential license violations that QEMU and Conservancy work together to resolve.

Although it’s already an invaluable resource in the corporate world, in other FLOSS communities and for many end users, the QEMU project is not slowing down! 2017 is shaping up to be a very productive year for QEMU and it could not sustain its growth without support for the user and developer community by Conservancy.

In 2017, QEMU will advance their support for the ARM and RISC-V architectures. Full support for these architectures is vital. The heart of almost every mobile phone is an ARM processor, and the chip is even starting to be used in datacenter servers because of its power efficiency. RISC-V is a completely open architecture specification developed by a consortium whose members include Google, Microsoft, Nvidia, IBM, and HP Enterprises, among others. The goal is to develop RISC-V to work in a variety of contexts, from high-performance computing to computer science and engineering education.

In 2017 QEMU also plans improvements in the software’s ability to move running systems between different computers without pausing execution, called live migration. QEMU has supported live migration since 2010 but plans on expanding support for this feature in the new year. This work will make it possible for administrators to immediately shift a VM to another physical machine without having to wait for the VM’s utilization to reach a certain level, a limitation that exists today.

Finally, 2017 will also bring new support for QEMU’s ability to virtualize graphics processing units (GPUs). These days many artificial intelligence and machine learning software tools are being written to take advantage of GPUs. Virtualizing those resources in the way that QEMU already virtualizes a CPU, hard drive or network card would reduce the total amount physical resources required for GPU-intensive applications by sharing the resources efficiently.

These advances are all driven by QEMU’s community of developers and users. Conservancy helps QEMU foster that community by providing hardware and software resources for Internet hosting and facilitating the nuts and bolts of its participation in Google Summer of Code and Outreachy. The work from developers mentored through those projects has pushed QEMU into new areas. Conservancy has worked with QEMU to make it as easy as possible for both mentors and mentees to work together productively.

Since its founding in 2004, QEMU has made a huge technical and social impact thanks to its role in facilitating cloud deployments. Its incredible success so far is only overshadowed by its future. Conservancy looks forward to continuing to work with QEMU as it expands and grows in 2017 and beyond.

Tags: conservancy, Year In Review 2016, Member Projects, QEMU

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