Using N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) with kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) guests on IBM Power servers

A guide to use NPIV technology across KVM guests on IBM Power Systems


In this article, I am sharing with you my experience in implementing N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) on IBM® Power Systems™ with kernel-based virtual machine (KVM). NPIV is a Fibre Channel (FC) technology to share a single physical Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) as multiple virtual ports, known as virtual HBA (vHBAs) - Each virtual port is identified by its own word wide port name (WWPN) and word wide node name(WWNN). Typically, with virtualization, vHBA has the control of the logical unit numbers (LUNs) to be used by the virtual machines (VMs). This explains why multiple HBAs are required for multiple guests, and thus signifies the use of NPIV (as NPIV provides unique HBAs as vHBAs that each guest can make use of).

A storage area network (SAN) fabric is a network with routers and switches. A SAN is configured into a number of zones. A device using the SAN can communicate only with the devices that are included in the same zone.


The following are the prerequisites and steps involved in using LUNs (SAN storage volumes in this context) across guests using NPIV, which is the technology used to share a single physical HBA as vHBAs.

  • SAN storage to create volumes
  • SAN switch to provide connectivity between the hypervisor host and the SAN storage using zones. In our case, it is the vHBA on hypervisor host side paired with controllers of SAN storage.
  • Hypervisor host and SAN connected through FC switches
  • Hypervisor host operating system with the following version:
    • libvirt version 1.0.0 or later
    • QEMU version 2.7 or later

The following are the sequential steps involved in utilizing SAN storage LUN in KVM guests using NPIV.

  1. Creating vHBA in host hypervisor
  2. Zoning in switch
  3. Creating a SAN volume
  4. Discovering LUN in host
  5. Booting KVM with LUN

Figure 1 provides a pictorial representation of vHBA connectivity with SAN and FC Switch.

Figure 1. Virtual FC connectivity to SAN and storage

vHBA creation

A physical HBA that is capable of supporting NPIV can be seen in the hypervisor host using the following libvirt command:

     # virsh nodedev-list --cap vports

Run the following command to view the WWPN of the HBA:

# virsh nodedev-dumpxml scsi_host1
  <capability type='scsi_host'>
    <capability type='fc_host'>
    <capability type='vport_ops'>

The <path> XML tag above shows the files associated with scsi_host1.
Login to the FC switch interface and check whether the hypervisor host and the SAN controller WWPNs are connected using the switchshow command. You can notice that the WWPN of the hypervisor host as well as the SAN storage are connected to one of the ports.

> switchshow

Index Port Address Media Speed     State       Proto
   0   0   010000   id    N8	   Online      FC  F-Port  50:05:17:28:0b:12:55:ab 
   1   1   010100   id    N8	   Online      FC  F-Port  50:05:17:28:0b:12:55:ac 
  12  12   010c00   id    N16	   No_Light    FC  
  13  13   010d00   id    N16	   No_Light    FC  
  14  14   010e00   --    N16	   No_Module   FC  
  15  15   010f00   id    N16	   No_Light    FC 
  22  22   011600   id    N8	   Online      FC  F-Port  10:00:00:90:fb:9f:1e:bc 
  23  23   011700   id    N8	   Online      FC  F-Port  10:00:00:90:fa:8f:0e:bd

The highlights show the WWPNs of the hypervisor host and SAN controller connected to the FC switch. Using a single HBA as parent, a number of vHBAs can be created. You can notice that scsi_host1 is used as parent in following XML file, which is used as an input for the nodedev-create command.


	<capability type='scsi_host'>
	<capability type='fc_host'>

# virsh nodedev-create vhba.xml
Node device scsi_host3 created from vhba.xml
# virsh nodedev-create vhba.xml
Node device scsi_host4 created from vhba.xml
# virsh nodedev-dumpxml scsi_host3

  <capability type='scsi_host'>
    <capability type='fc_host'>

We have created two vHBAs for zoning.
The output of switchshow command confirms the usage of NPIV.

> switchshow

Index Port Address Media Speed     State       Proto
  22  22   011600   id    N8	   Online      FC  F-Port  1 N Port + 2 NPIV public

The next step is to zone the vHBA WWPN with the SAN controller WWPNs.

Zoning in Brocade FC switch

Zoning is the process of binding WWPN's of intended devices (ports) together so that the devices can communicate with each other. Devices are identified using unique WWPNs. Hence, the zoned WWPNs can communicate with each other through the switch. Login to the FC switch interface. The WWPN of the scsi_host3 vHBA (which is 5001a4ae03a79be0) has to be zoned to the WWPN of the controller. The zoneshow command shows the existing zones and an Effective configuration named current_cfg which is the current configuration for zones.

Effective configuration:
cfg:	current_cfg

Assuming that the WWPN of the other scsi_host4 vHBA is 5002b4152fcb28a4 and the WWPN of the SAN controller is 500507680b2255fe, you can create a zone using the following commands:

> zonecreate "vhba01", "50:05:17:28:0b:22:55:ab"
> zoneadd "vhba01", "50:01:a4:ae:03:a7:9b:e0"
> zoneadd "vhba01”, "50:02:b4:15:2f:cb:28:a4"

You can add the created zone to the current configuration current_cfg.

> cfgadd "current_cfg","vhba01"
> cfgsave
> cfgenable current_cfg

Make sure that your new zone vhba01 is visible in the Effective configuration section using the zoneshow command.

Note: All the above switch commands are specific to the Brocade FC switch. There are similar commands for Cisco FCoE switch.

SAN Volume creation

After zoning is complete, the hypervisor host's WWPNs must be mapped to the new volume created on SAN. Refer to the IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller and Storwize V7000 Best Practices and Performance Guidelines for detailed steps.

LUN discovery in hypervisor host

For the new LUN to be displayed at the hypervisor host, run the command available as part of the sg3_utils package. Observe new disks available in the hypervisor host which are the LUNs being accessed using two virtual HBAs.
Install the sg3_utils package and scan the new disks using the following command:

Host adapter 0 (ipr) found.
Host adapter 1 (lpfc) found.
Host adapter 2 (lpfc) found.
Scanning SCSI subsystem for new devices
Scanning host 0 for  SCSI target IDs  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, all LUNs
2 new device(s) found.    
0 device(s) removed.

Now these devices can be used as any other disk. Libvirt implementation allows to configure the LUNs either directly to the virtual machine or as part of a storage pool that can then be configured for use on a virtual machine.

Booting KVM guest with NPIV-based storage volume

The available LUNs can be configured to be used as any other disk. You can choose to use the LUN as a raw disk, install guest on LUN or create a volume out of the LUN with pools and more. The following example demonstrates a guest using the volumes created from LUNs (configured with pools).

Creation of pool

Pool uses WWPN and WWNN of the scsi_host3 vHBA in the following XML file:


<pool type="scsi">
    <source><adapter type="scsi_host" wwnn="5001a4aa3d07073a" wwpn="5001a4ae03a79be0" /></source>

# virsh pool-define pool.xml
Pool npiv-pool defined from pool.xml

# virsh pool-start npiv-pool
Pool npiv-pool started

After a pool has been started, you can see the LUN being controlled by the scsi_host3 vHBA.

        # virsh vol-list npiv-pool --details
        Name       Path
        unit:0:1:0 /dev/disk/by-path/pci-0001:09:00.0-vport-0x5001a4ae03a79be0-fc-0x500507680b2255fe-lun-0

Create a volume XML using this LUN and hot/cold attach to a guest.


<disk type='volume' device='disk'>
     <driver name='qemu' type='raw'/>
     <source pool='npiv-pool' volume='unit:0:1:0'/>
     <target dev='sdc' bus='scsi'/>

Assuming that a guest is defined and is yet to be started, cold-attach the disk using the following command:

# virsh attach-disk <guest-name> volume-atch.xml
Device attached successfully

Boot the guest system and observe a new disk using the lsblk command inside the guest, which is LUN passed-through from the host. In guest, you can see the disk attached.

[root@localhost ~]# lsblk
sda               8:0    0   30G  0 disk 
├─sda1            8:1    0    4M  0 part 
├─sda2            8:2    0  500M  0 part /boot
└─sda3            8:3    0 29.5G  0 part /
vda               1:0    0   50G  0 disk

Significance of NPIV with guests

Without NPIV, all guests would be sharing the same WWPN on the single physical N_Port. Any LUN zoned to this WWPN would be visible to all guests on that hypervisor host because all guests are using the same physical N_Port, same WWPN, and same N_Port_ID. With NPIV, the physical N_Port can register additional WWPNs (and N_Port_IDs). Each guest can have its own WWPN. When you build SAN zones and present LUNs using the guest-specific WWPN, then the LUNs will only be visible to that guest and not to any other guests.


This article described the steps to setup and use a SAN storage volume in a KVM guest environment using NPIV on an IBM Power® server. To summarize, NPIV is significant in allowing multiple guests of a same hypervisor host to use different volumes from a SAN storage using a single physical HBA connected to FC host.


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ArticleTitle=Using N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) with kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) guests on IBM Power servers