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E.4. IOMMU Strategies and Use Cases

There are many ways to handle IOMMU groups that contain more devices than intended. For a plug-in card, the first option would be to determine whether installing the card into a different slot produces the intended grouping. On a typical Intel chipset, PCIe root ports are provided via both the processor and the Platform Controller Hub (PCH). The capabilities of these root ports can be very different. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 has support for exposing the isolation of numerous PCH root ports, even though many of them do not have native PCIe ACS support. Therefore, these root ports are good targets for creating smaller IOMMU groups. With Intel® Xeon® class processors (E5 series and above) and "High End Desktop Processors", the processor-based PCIe root ports typically provide native support for PCIe ACS, however the lower-end client processors, such as the Core™ i3, i5, and i7 and Xeon E3 processors do not. For these systems, the PCH root ports generally provide the most flexible isolation configurations.
Another option is to work with the hardware vendors to determine whether isolation is present and quirk the kernel to recognize this isolation. This is generally a matter of determining whether internal peer-to-peer between functions is possible, or in the case of downstream ports, also determining whether redirection is possible. The Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 kernel includes numerous quirks for such devices and Red Hat Customer Support can help you work with hardware vendors to determine if ACS-equivalent isolation is available and how best to incorporate similar quirks into the kernel to expose this isolation. For hardware vendors, note that multifunction endpoints that do not support peer-to-peer can expose this using a single static ACS table in configuration space, exposing no capabilities. Adding such a capability to the hardware will allow the kernel to automatically detect the functions as isolated and eliminate this issue for all users of your hardware.
In cases where the above suggestions are not available, a common reaction is that the kernel should provide an option to disable these isolation checks for certain devices or certain types of devices, specified by the user. Often the argument is made that previous technologies did not enforce isolation to this extent and everything "worked fine". Unfortunately, bypassing these isolation features leads to an unsupportable environment. Not knowing that isolation exists, means not knowing whether the devices are actually isolated and it is best to find out before disaster strikes. Gaps in the isolation capabilities of devices may be extremely hard to trigger and even more difficult to trace back to device isolation as the cause. VFIO’s job is first and foremost to protect the host kernel from user owned devices and IOMMU groups are the mechanism used by VFIO to ensure that isolation.
In summary, by being built on top of IOMMU groups, VFIO is able to provide an increased degree of security and isolation between devices than was possible using legacy KVM device assignment. This isolation is now enforced at the Linux kernel level, allowing the kernel to protect itself and prevent dangerous configurations for the user. Additionally, hardware vendors should be encouraged to support PCIe ACS support, not only in multifunction endpoint devices, but also in chip sets and interconnect devices. For existing devices lacking this support, Red Hat may be able to work with hardware vendors to determine whether isolation is available and add Linux kernel support to expose this isolation.