I know that Xen is usually better than OpenVZ as the provider cannot oversell in Xen. However, what is the difference between Xen PV, Xen KVM and HVM (I was going through this provider's specs? Which one is better for what purposes and why?


For an end-user who will just be hosting websites, which is better? From efficiency or other point of view, is there any advantage of one over the other?

2 Answers 2


Xen supported virtualization types

Xen supports running two different types of guests. Xen guests are often called as domUs (unprivileged domains). Both guest types (PV, HVM) can be used at the same time on a single Xen system.

Xen Paravirtualization (PV)

Paravirtualization is an efficient and lightweight virtualization technique introduced by Xen, later adopted also by other virtualization solutions. Paravirtualization doesn't require virtualization extensions from the host CPU. However paravirtualized guests require special kernel that is ported to run natively on Xen, so the guests are aware of the hypervisor and can run efficiently without emulation or virtual emulated hardware. Xen PV guest kernels exist for Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenSolaris and Novell Netware operating systems.

PV guests don't have any kind of virtual emulated hardware, but graphical console is still possible using guest pvfb (paravirtual framebuffer). PV guest graphical console can be viewed using VNC client, or Redhat's virt-viewer. There's a separate VNC server in dom0 for each guest's PVFB.

Upstream kernel.org Linux kernels since Linux 2.6.24 include Xen PV guest (domU) support based on the Linux pvops framework, so every upstream Linux kernel can be automatically used as Xen PV guest kernel without any additional patches or modifications.

See XenParavirtOps wiki page for more information about Linux pvops Xen support.

Xen Full virtualization (HVM)

Fully virtualized aka HVM (Hardware Virtual Machine) guests require CPU virtualization extensions from the host CPU (Intel VT, AMD-V). Xen uses modified version of Qemu to emulate full PC hardware, including BIOS, IDE disk controller, VGA graphic adapter, USB controller, network adapter etc for HVM guests. CPU virtualization extensions are used to boost performance of the emulation. Fully virtualized guests don't require special kernel, so for example Windows operating systems can be used as Xen HVM guest. Fully virtualized guests are usually slower than paravirtualized guests, because of the required emulation.

To boost performance fully virtualized HVM guests can use special paravirtual device drivers to bypass the emulation for disk and network IO. Xen Windows HVM guests can use the opensource GPLPV drivers. See XenLinuxPVonHVMdrivers wiki page for more information about Xen PV-on-HVM drivers for Linux HVM guests.

This is from http://wiki.xenproject.org/wiki/XenOverview

KVM is not Xen at all, it is another technology, where KVM is a Linux native kernel module and not an additional kernel, like Xen. Which makes KVM a better design. the downside here is that KVM is newer than Xen, so it might be lacking some of the features.

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    +1 KVM is not Xen at all. It totally disagree that KVM is a better design. Xen provides much better isolation and does not depend on the Linux kernel and it's potential vulnerabilites. Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 13:50
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    Thanks for the info! I couldn't understand all. From an end-user point-of-view, who will just be hosting websites, which is better? Is there significant advantage of one over the other?
    – JP19
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 14:12
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    Xen has it's own vulnerabilities. But running an OS with two kernels bootstrapped is a design flaw, no matter how well you do it
    – dyasny
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 14:12
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    JP19: that depends on the websites. If you can define the load on the VPS, you can ask here or google for the best solution.
    – dyasny
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 14:14
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    Xen is a hypervisor, and so is KVM. KVM has PV devices, and adds more with time, it also allows PCI passthrough. So I don't see the point to your argument, Nils
    – dyasny
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 7:26

Xen is an hypervisor that runs on metal (the pc / server) and then hosts virtual machines called domains.

A Xen PV domain is a paravirtualized domain, that means the operating system (usually we're talking linux here) has been modified to run under Xen, and there's no need to actually emulate hardware. This should be the most efficient way to go, performance wise.

A Xen HVM domain is hardware emulated domain, that means the operating system (could be Linux, Windows, whatever) has not been modified in any way and hardware gets emulated. This is rather slow, so usually you install PV drivers in the guest os for critical hardware (usually disk and network), so the guest as a whole will run fully virtualized but the most performance-critical pieces of hardware will run paravirtualized. Recent linux systems have pv drivers for both disk and network in the kernel, and there exist various PV drivers for Windows too. With all the development on HVM in recent years there usually is little difference in performance between HVM and PV for standard workloads.

KVM is not Xen, it is another virtualization platform built inside the Linux kernel. From a guest point of view it resembles Xen HVM: the guest runs fully virtualized and there are specific driver to run some parts paravirtualized (again, disk and network).

Both Xen HVM and Linux KVM need hardware assisted virtualization support (Intel VT-x, AMD AMD-V), whereas Xen PV does not but can't run operating systems without PV support (you can't run Windows on Xen PV).

Both Xen HVM and Linux KVM will use parts of the qemu virtualization software to emulate actual hardware for devices not using PV drivers in the guest system.

Xen (both PV and HVM) can do live migration of a running guest from one physical server to another, I don't know if KVM can too.

Both Xen and KVM cannot overcommit memory so you usually get "true RAM", while other platforms like VMware can swap part of the guest ram to disk.

There are differences but usually apply to specific installations and not to the generic virtual private server for sale to other people. For example recent Xen hypervisors support transcendent memory that could improve memory utilization and guest performance if the guest has support for it (linux kernels >= 3.something).

All those technologies will give you a great experience if they are implemented correctly, and will not make a big difference from your point of view. Of course, there are a thousand ways things can go wrong and that's not related to the specific virtualization solution (i.e., your guest could be stored on slow disks and that would hurt your performance).

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    KVM can overcommit memory and so can Xen.
    – dyasny
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 17:03
  • @dyasny I don't know about KVM but I'm pretty sure Xen cannot overcommit memory in the actual sense of the word (allowing a different maximum size is a different thing). Please link your sources if you believe it does.
    – Luke404
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 0:03
  • Xen supports balooning. Add standard swapping to this and you already have at least 2 overcommit mechanisms. This is as old as 2008: blog.xen.org/index.php/2008/08/27/…
    – dyasny
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 6:50
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    @dyasny you probably think about overcommit as allowing an higher maximum. AFAIK, the accepted meaning is to actually allocate to guests more memory than physically present in the host, and this is not implemented in Xen. You can't deflate a guest balloon (eg. give it more memory) if you don't have available physical memory in the host, and you cannot either start a new guest if you have already allocated all your host memory (unless you inflate running guests balloons, thus actually reducing allocated memory so you don't overcommit anything).
    – Luke404
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 14:38
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    I think about overcommit as not only allowing more than the host physically has, but also as actually using more than the host physically has. Swapping is horrible, but it's a mechanism that allows you to allocate more memory pages than you physically have on a host, whether for processes, or VMs - doesn't matter. This is as far as I will go into semantics on this one.
    – dyasny
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 16:31

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