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Comparing Virtio and SR-IOV


You can enable communication between a Linux-based virtualized device and a Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) module either by using virtio or by using suitable hardware and single-root I/O virtualization (SR-IOV). Each method has distinct characteristics.

Virtio is part of the standard libvirt library of helpful virtualization functions and is normally included in most versions of Linux. Virtio adopts a software-only approach. SR-IOV requires software written in a certain way and specialized hardware, which means an increase in cost, even with a simple device.

Generally, using virtio is quick and easy. Libvirt is part of every Linux distribution and the commands to establish the bridges are well-understood. However, virtio places all of the burden of performance on the host OS, which normally bridges all the traffic between VNFs, into and out of the device.

Generally, SR-IOV can provide lower latency and lower CPU utilization—in short, almost native, non-virtual device performance. But VNF migration from one device to another is complex because the VNF is dependent on the NIC resources on one machine. Also, the forwarding state for the VNF resides in the Layer 2 switch built into the SR-IOV NIC. Because of this, forwarding is no longer quite as flexible because the rules for forwarding are coded into the hardware and cannot be changed often.

While support for virtio is nearly universal, support for SR-IOV varies by NIC hardware and platform. The Juniper Networks NFX250 Network Services Platform supports SR-IOV capabilities and allows 16 partitions on each physical NIC port.

Note that a given VNF can use either virtio or SR-IOV, or even both methods simultaneously, if supported.


Virtio is the recommended method for establishing connection between a virtualized device and an NFV module.