GPU support evolution

Design document
Revision v3
Status released (7.0)
Review create new issue
Revision history
v1 Documented interface changes between xapi and xenopsd for vGPU
v2 Added design for storing vGPU-to-pGPU allocation in xapi database
v3 Marked new xapi DB fields as internal-only


As of XenServer 6.5, VMs can be provisioned with access to graphics processors (either emulated or passed through) in four different ways. Virtualisation of Intel graphics processors will exist as a fifth kind of graphics processing available to VMs. These five situations all require the VM’s device model to be created in subtly different ways:

Pure software emulation

  • qemu is launched either with no special parameter, if the basic Cirrus graphics processor is required, otherwise qemu is launched with the -std-vga flag.

Generic GPU passthrough

  • qemu is launched with the -priv flag to turn on privilege separation
  • qemu can additionally be passed the -std-vga flag to choose the corresponding emulated graphics card.

Intel integrated GPU passthrough (GVT-d)

  • As well as the -priv flag, qemu must be launched with the -std-vga and -gfx_passthru flags. The actual PCI passthrough is handled separately via xen.


  • qemu is launched with the -vgpu flag
  • a secondary display emulator, demu, is launched with the following parameters:
    • --domain - the VM’s domain ID
    • --vcpus - the number of vcpus available to the VM
    • --gpu - the PCI address of the physical GPU on which the emulated GPU will run
    • --config - the path to the config file which contains detail of the GPU to emulate

Intel vGPU (GVT-g)

  • here demu is not used, but instead qemu is launched with five parameters:
    • -xengt
    • -vgt_low_gm_sz - the low GM size in MiB
    • -vgt_high_gm_sz - the high GM size in MiB
    • -vgt_fence_sz - the number of fence registers
    • -priv


To handle all these possibilities, we will add some new types to xenopsd’s interface:

module Pci = struct
  type address = {
    domain: int;
    bus: int;
    device: int;
    fn: int;


module Vgpu = struct
  type gvt_g = {
    physical_pci_address: Pci.address;
    low_gm_sz: int64;
    high_gm_sz: int64;
    fence_sz: int;

  type nvidia = {
    physical_pci_address: Pci.address;
    config_file: string

  type implementation =
    | GVT_g of gvt_g
    | Nvidia of nvidia

  type id = string * string

  type t = {
    id: id;
    position: int;
    implementation: implementation;

  type state = {
    plugged: bool;
    emulator_pid: int option;

module Vm = struct
  type igd_passthrough of
    | GVT_d

  type video_card =
    | Cirrus
    | Standard_VGA
    | Vgpu
    | Igd_passthrough of igd_passthrough


module Metadata = struct
  type t = {
    vm: Vm.t;
    vbds: Vbd.t list;
    vifs: Vif.t list;
    pcis: Pci.t list;
    vgpus: Vgpu.t list;
    domains: string option;

The video_card type is used to indicate to the function Xenops_server_xen.VM.create_device_model_config how the VM’s emulated graphics card will be implemented. A value of Vgpu indicates that the VM needs to be started with one or more virtualised GPUs - the function will need to look at the list of GPUs associated with the VM to work out exactly what parameters to send to qemu.

If Vgpu.state.emulator_pid of a plugged vGPU is None, this indicates that the emulation of the vGPU is being done by qemu rather than by a separate emulator.

n.b. adding the vgpus field to Metadata.t will break backwards compatibility with old versions of xenopsd, so some upgrade logic will be required.

This interface will allow us to support multiple vGPUs per VM in future if necessary, although this may also require reworking the interface between xenopsd, qemu and demu. For now, xenopsd will throw an exception if it is asked to start a VM with more than one vGPU.


To support the above interface, xapi will convert all of a VM’s non-passthrough GPUs into Vgpu.t objects when sending VM metadata to xenopsd.

In contrast to GVT-d, which can only be run on an Intel GPU which has been has been hidden from dom0, GVT-g will only be allowed to run on a GPU which has not been hidden from dom0.

If a GVT-g-capable GPU is detected, and it is not hidden from dom0, xapi will create a set of VGPU_type objects to represent the vGPU presets which can run on the physical GPU. Exactly how these presets are defined is TBD, but a likely solution is via a set of config files as with NVIDIA vGPU.

Allocation of vGPUs to physical GPUs

For NVIDIA vGPU, when starting a VM, each vGPU attached to the VM is assigned to a physical GPU as a result of capacity planning at the pool level. The resulting configuration is stored in the VM.platform dictionary, under specific keys:

  • vgpu_pci_id - the address of the physical GPU on which the vGPU will run
  • vgpu_config - the path to the vGPU config file which the emulator will use

Instead of storing the assignment in these fields, we will add a new internal-only database field:

  • VGPU.scheduled_to_be_resident_on (API.ref_PGPU)

This will be set to the ref of the physical GPU on which the vGPU will run. From here, xapi can easily obtain the GPU’s PCI address. Capacity planning will also take into account which vGPUs are scheduled to be resident on a physical GPU, which will avoid races resulting from many vGPU-enabled VMs being started at once.

The path to the config file is already stored in the VGPU_type.internal_config dictionary, under the key vgpu_config. xapi will use this value directly rather than copying it to VM.platform.

To support other vGPU implementations, we will add another internal-only database field:

  • VGPU_type.implementation enum(Passthrough|Nvidia|GVT_g)

For the GVT_g implementation, no config file is needed. Instead, VGPU_type.internal_config will contain three key-value pairs, with the keys

  • vgt_low_gm_sz
  • vgt_high_gm_sz
  • vgt_fence_sz

The values of these pairs will be used to construct a value of type Xenops_interface.Vgpu.gvt_g, which will be passed down to xenopsd.