VEE 2017
Conference paper

Safe Inspection of live virtual machines

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With DevOps automation and an everything-as-code approach to lifecycle management for cloud-native applications, challenges emerge from an operational visibility and control perspective. Once a VM is deployed in production it typically becomes a hands-off entity in terms of restrictions towards inspecting or tuning it, for the fear of negatively impacting its operation. We present CIVIC (Cloning and Injection based VM Inspection for Cloud), a new mechanism that enables safe inspection of unmodified production VMs on-the-fly. CIVIC restricts all impact and side-effects of inspection or analysis operations inside a live clone of the production VM. New functionality over the replicated VM state is introduced using code injection. In this paper, we describe the design and implementation of our solution over KVM/QEMU. We demonstrate four of its use-cases-(i) safe reuse of system monitoring agents, (ii) impact-heavy problem diagnostics and troubleshooting, (iii) attaching an intrusive anomaly detector to a live service, and (iv) live tuning of a webserver's configuration parameters. Our evaluation shows CIVIC is nimble and lightweight in terms of memory footprint as well as clone activation time (6:5s), and has a low impact on the original VM (< 10%).