Chapter 8. KVM Guest Timing Management

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Virtualization involves several challenges for time keeping in guest virtual machines.
  • Interrupts cannot always be delivered simultaneously and instantaneously to all guest virtual machines. This is because interrupts in virtual machines are not true interrupts. Instead, they are injected into the guest virtual machine by the host machine.
  • The host may be running another guest virtual machine, or a different process. Therefore, the precise timing typically required by interrupts may not always be possible.
Guest virtual machines without accurate time keeping may experience issues with network applications and processes, as session validity, migration, and other network activities rely on timestamps to remain correct.
KVM avoids these issues by providing guest virtual machines with a paravirtualized clock (kvm-clock). However, it is still important to test timing before attempting activities that may be affected by time keeping inaccuracies, such as guest migration.


To avoid the problems described above, the Network Time Protocol (NTP) should be configured on the host and the guest virtual machines. On guests using Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 and earlier, NTP is implemented by the ntpd service. For more information, see the Red Hat Enterprise 6 Deployment Guide.
On systems using Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7, NTP time synchronization service can be provided by ntpd or by the chronyd service. Note that Chrony has some advantages on virtual machines. For more information, see the Configuring NTP Using the chrony Suite and Configuring NTP Using ntpd sections in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 System Administrator's Guide.
The mechanics of guest virtual machine time synchronization

By default, the guest synchronizes its time with the hypervisor as follows:

  • When the guest system boots, the guest reads the time from the emulated Real Time Clock (RTC).
  • When the NTP protocol is initiated, it automatically synchronizes the guest clock. Afterwards, during normal guest operation, NTP performs clock adjustments in the guest.
  • When a guest is resumed after a pause or a restoration process, a command to synchronize the guest clock to a specified value should be issued by the management software (such as virt-manager). This synchronization works only if the QEMU guest agent is installed in the guest and supports the feature. The value to which the guest clock synchronizes is usually the host clock value.

Constant Time Stamp Counter (TSC)

Modern Intel and AMD CPUs provide a constant Time Stamp Counter (TSC). The count frequency of the constant TSC does not vary when the CPU core itself changes frequency, for example to comply with a power-saving policy. A CPU with a constant TSC frequency is necessary in order to use the TSC as a clock source for KVM guests.

Your CPU has a constant Time Stamp Counter if the constant_tsc flag is present. To determine if your CPU has the constant_tsc flag enter the following command:
$ cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep constant_tsc
If any output is given, your CPU has the constant_tsc bit. If no output is given, follow the instructions below.
Configuring Hosts without a Constant Time Stamp Counter

Systems without a constant TSC frequency cannot use the TSC as a clock source for virtual machines, and require additional configuration. Power management features interfere with accurate time keeping and must be disabled for guest virtual machines to accurately keep time with KVM.


These instructions are for AMD revision F CPUs only.
If the CPU lacks the constant_tsc bit, disable all power management features . Each system has several timers it uses to keep time. The TSC is not stable on the host, which is sometimes caused by cpufreq changes, deep C state, or migration to a host with a faster TSC. Deep C sleep states can stop the TSC. To prevent the kernel using deep C states append processor.max_cstate=1 to the kernel boot. To make this change persistent, edit values of the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX key in the /etc/default/grubfile. For example. if you want to enable emergency mode for each boot, edit the entry as follows:
Note that you can specify multiple parameters for the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX key, similarly to adding the parameters in the GRUB 2 boot menu.
To disable cpufreq (only necessary on hosts without the constant_tsc), install kernel-tools and enable the cpupower.service (systemctl enable cpupower.service). If you want to disable this service every time the guest virtual machine boots, change the configuration file in /etc/sysconfig/cpupower and change the CPUPOWER_START_OPTS and CPUPOWER_STOP_OPTS. Valid limits can be found in the /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpuid/cpufreq/scaling_available_governors files. For more information on this package or on power management and governors, see the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Power Management Guide.

8.1. Host-wide Time Synchronization

Virtual network devices in KVM guests do not support hardware timestamping, which means it is difficult to synchronize the clocks of guests that use a network protocol like NTP or PTP with better accuracy than tens of microseconds.
When a more accurate synchronization of the guests is required, it is recommended to synchronize the clock of the host using NTP or PTP with hardware timestamping, and to synchronize the guests to the host directly. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.5 and later provide a virtual PTP hardware clock (PHC), which enables the guests to synchronize to the host with a sub-microsecond accuracy.


Note that for PHC to work properly, both the host and the guest need be using RHEL 7.5 or later as the operating system (OS).
To enable the PHC device, do the following on the guest OS:
  1. Set the ptp_kvm module to load after reboot.
    # echo ptp_kvm > /etc/modules-load.d/ptp_kvm.conf
  2. Add the /dev/ptp0 clock as a reference to the chrony configuration:
    # echo "refclock PHC /dev/ptp0 poll 2" >> /etc/chrony.conf
  3. Restart the chrony daemon:
    # systemctl restart chronyd
  4. To verify the host-guest time synchronization has been configured correctly, use the chronyc sources command on a guest. The output should look similar to the following:
    # chronyc sources
    210 Number of sources = 1
    MS Name/IP address         Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample
    #* PHC0                          0   2   377     4     -6ns[   -6ns] +/-  726ns
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