QEMU 5.0 continues a legacy of emulation


QEMU is an open source emulator and virtualization tool specializing in emulating different CPU architectures. QEMU 5.0 introduced new and updated features, such as support for non-volatile inline dual memory module hardware and shared file systems.

QEMU is one of the few options available to run software for different processor architectures. Indeed, QEMU allows developers to run applications compiled for one architecture on another architecture. Many Linux distributions come with QEMU preinstalled.

When administrators take a close look at the architecture of popular virtualization products, they may notice a combination of hardware and software working in tandem. QEMU can emulate a complete machine in software without requiring hardware virtualization support. While this is a much lower performing virtualization method, it eliminates any potential conflict with the underlying hardware, as QEMU 5.0 supports x86, PowerPC, ARM, and SPARC architectures.

An introduction to QEMU

QEMU started out as a new way to run alternative operating systems from a Linux environment and has grown into a full-featured virtualization tool. QEMU 5.0 works on Linux, macOS and Windows. On Linux, administrators can run full system emulation mode or user mode emulation. It is also possible to run KVM or Xen virtual machines, with performance close to that of native hardware.

Both KVM and Xen operate as hypervisors, which means they act as a layer between hardware and virtual images running in their own memory space. KVM – a type 2 hypervisor – runs on the underlying Linux operating system, while Xen – a type 1 hypervisor – runs directly on the hardware without an underlying operating system.

QEMU is an application that runs like any other application on the host operating system. QEMU works as a type 2 hypervisor because it runs on a host operating system. For this reason, administrators may notice that QEMU and KVM are similar; KVM can perform hardware acceleration. The big difference is that QEMU can emulate different processor architectures in software.

Kata Containers is an example of QEMU in action. Kata Containers aims to take the best of containers and virtual machines and merge them. Security stands out as a primary focus of Kata Containers, demonstrated by providing stronger workload isolation using hardware virtualization technology as a second layer of defense.

QEMU 5.0 version offers improved features, new capabilities

In April 2020, QEMU 5.0 was officially released and version 5.1 was released four months later in August. QEMU 5.0 introduced new features, including support for additional CPU architectures and hardware, such as the non-volatile inline dual memory module. An important new feature included in QEMU 5.0 is support for a shared file system using Virtio-fs. This feature makes local file sharing much better than in previous versions.

QEMU 5.1 also introduced updated support for secure guests. This function takes advantage of the Trusted Platform Module to enable secure VM mode. Additionally, QEMU 5.1 introduced memory encryption to address security concerns.

Administrators can manage QEMU instances in several different ways. The QEMU monitor provides a command line interface that supports a large list of commands. This approach lends itself well to automation using PowerShell or Python scripts.

In addition, Gnome Boxes is a utility for managing virtual machines based on QEMU and KVM. It provides a user-friendly graphical interface for the rapid creation of new virtual machines. Virt-manager is another graphical tool for managing virtual machines based on libvirt. The libvirt project provides a toolkit for managing a variety of virtualization products, which administrators can access from a variety of programming languages.

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