The bhyve hypervisor

bhyve, pronounced beehive, is a hypervisor/virtual machine manager that supports most processors which have hardware virtualisation support.


bhyve was originally integrated into FreeBSD by NetApp in around 2011 where it became part of the base system with FreeBSD 10.0-RELEASE. It continued to evolve and was ported to illumos by Pluribus Networks in around 2013 and they contributed the resulting code to the illumos community in late 2017. From there, Joyent worked on integrating bhyve into their illumos fork, bringing it up-to-date with bhyve from FreeBSD-11.1 and making many improvements along the way. The intention that they have stated is for them to continue to work closely with the FreeBSD maintainers so that improvements make it back where appropriate. Some slides on Joyent’s work in this area were presented at bhyvecon 2018

With many thanks to all of the above, bhyve has been integrated into OmniOS and is available for beta testing from release v11 r151026 (and in the bloody release right now).


What is the status of bhyve in OmniOS

bhyve is available for beta testing at present and not recommended for production use. It is expected to be considered stable and officially supported from release r151028 and will be included alongside KVM in the next LTS version (r151030).

Why bhyve?

OmniOS already has a type-2 hypervisor, KVM, so why are we introducing bhyve?

  • bhyve already has significantly better performance than KVM and tuning continues;
  • Joyent are putting a lot of development time into bhyve and this looks like their future direction for SmartOS;
  • KVM uses QEMU in userspace which is a large general-purpose CPU emulator; this is a case where simpler is better - bhyve is streamlined and single-purpose;
  • illumos KVM is fairly old now and the upstream in Linux has changed a lot since it was first ported; to the point where re-syncing would effectively require another major porting effort;
  • The bhyve licence is compatible with illumos meaning that it can be fully integrated rather than having to remain separate as KVM does;
  • It will be easier to keep up-to-date with upstream changes in FreeBSD and to contribute improvements back.

What’s the future of KVM in OmniOS?

We have no immediate plans to remove KVM from OmniOS although we would encourage moving to bhyve once it is stable and supports your guest operating system. bhyve is expected to be fully supported from OmniOS release r151028 and will be included alongside KVM in the next LTS version (r151030).

What host Processors are supported?

bhyve on OmniOS comes with a utility to test for processor support (see below), but most intel processors with Extended Page Table (EPT) support will work. Refer to Intel’s processor search tool for a complete list.

bhyve also has support for AMD processors but this has not been widely tested with the illumos port. Specifically, nothing has been done to remove AMD support but no work has been done on it either.

What guest operating systems are supported?

bhyve supports many operating systems including OmniOS, SmartOS, *BSD, Linux, Windows - however, in illumos, most testing so far has concentrated on Linux guests.

Can I run KVM and bhyve at the same time?

No, only one hypervisor can use the processor hardware virtualisation at a time. It is possible to run KVM in full software emulation mode alongside bhyve, but this is not recommended. Mike Gerdts of Joyent did a nice write-up of this in his blog.


The following information is presented as-is for anyone who wishes to experiment with this new feature; in the future OmniOS will support easy provisioning of bhyve virtual machines in non-global zones. For now, if you want any help, please get in touch via one of the methods in the Contact section below.

It is expected that bhyve will be updated many times during the life of the r151026 release and so it is not installed by default. To install, just add the system/bhyve package:

% pfexec pkg install system/bhyve

This also installs some other dependant packages such as the required firmware and ACPI compiler.

To check if bhyve will work on your hardware, run bhhwcompat:

% pfexec bhhwcompat -v
processor does not support VMX operation

or, hopefully:

% pfexec bhhwcompat -v
bhyve is supported on this host.

Starting a VM

What follows is a basic overview on how to start a VM in the global zone for testing.

Create a virtual NIC (VNIC)

Create a virtual network interface on top of the selected link. Here, the new VNIC is named bhyve0 and it is based on the physical interface igb0:

# dladm create-vnic -l igb0 vnic0
# dladm show-vnic
LINK         OVER         SPEED  MACADDRESS        MACADDRTYPE         VID
bhyve0       igb0         100    2:8:20:38:a5:d6   random              0

Create a ZFS volume for the virtual hard drive

Prepare a volume for the VM:

# zfs create -V 30G rpool/hdd/bhyve0

Grab an ISO:

# mkdir -p /export/iso
# cd /export/iso
# wget

Start the Virtual Machine

pfexec bhyve \
        -H \
        -B "1,product=OmniOS HVM" \
        -s 0,amd_hostbridge \
        -s 1,lpc \
        -l bootrom,/usr/share/bhyve/firmware/BHYVE.fd \
        -l com1,stdio \
        -c 4 \
        -m 1G \
        -s 2:0,ahci-cd,/export/iso/FreeBSD-11.1-RELEASE-amd64-disc1.iso \
        -s 3:0,virtio-blk,/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd/bhyve0 \
        -s 5:0,virtio-net-viona,bhyve0 \
	-s 30,fbuf,vga=off,tcp=,wait,w=1024,h=768 \
	-s 31,xhci,tablet \

You should be able to connect to the host machine via VNC to continue the boot and finish installation. If you wish to skip VNC support, just remove the fbuf and xhci lines. To connect to the serial console, use nc -U /tmp/test.cons.

More Options

pfexec bhyve
        -B "1,product=OmniOS HVM"
        # amd_hostbridge is needed for at least Free/OpenBSD
        # Options are none, hostbridge or amd_hostbridge
        # NB: For 'hostbridge' vendor and device are set to a NetApp id
        -s 0,amd_hostbridge
        # LPC PCI-ISA bridge providing connectivity to com1, com2, and bootrom
        -s 1,lpc
        -l bootrom,/usr/share/bhyve/firmware/BHYVE_CSM.fd
        # SmartOS does not support the 'wait' attribute.
        # They attach com1 to the zone console when inside a zone allowing zlogin -C to the guest.
	# You can connect to a socket console using `nc -U /tmp/test.cons`
        -l com1,socket,/tmp/test.cons,wait
        # -l com1,stdio
        -c 4    # CPUs
        -m 1G   # RAM
        -s 2:0,ahci-cd,/build/iso/smartos-latest.iso
        # boot disk is always 3:0
        -s 3:0,virtio-blk,/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd-bhyve
        # Other disks 4:n - limits to 8 disks but could put others on 6:x etc.
        -s 4:0,virtio-blk,/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd-bhyve1
        -s 4:1,virtio-blk,/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd-bhyve2
        # Can also do the following for multiple disks on the same controller but only for ahci
        #-s 4:0,ahci,hd:/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd-bhyve1,hd:/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/hdd-bhyve2
        # 'primary' net on :0, others :1+
        -s 5:0,virtio-net-viona,bhyve0
        -s 5:1,virtio-net-viona,bhyve1
        # VM name
 Also, with UEFI bootrom:
        -s 30,fbuf,vga=off,tcp=,wait,w=1024,h=768
        -s 31,xhci,tablet


bhyve in OmniOS is an experimental feature. If you have any problems or questions, please get in touch via the lobby or #omnios on Freenode