Configuring virtio-blk and virtio-scsi Devices

19 Jan 2021 — by Stefan Hajnoczi and Sergio Lopez

The previous article in this series introduced QEMU storage concepts. Now we move on to look at the two most popular emulated storage controllers for virtualization: virtio-blk and virtio-scsi.

This post provides recommendations for configuring virtio-blk and virtio-scsi and how to choose between the two devices. The recommendations provide good performance in a wide range of use cases and are suitable as default settings in tools that use QEMU.

Virtio storage devices

Key points

  • Prefer virtio storage devices over other emulated storage controllers.
  • Use the latest virtio drivers.

Virtio devices are recommended over other emulated storage controllers as they are generally the most performant and fully-featured storage controllers in QEMU.

Unlike emulations of hardware storage controllers, virtio-blk and virtio-scsi are specifically designed and optimized for virtualization. The details of how they work are published for driver and device implementors in the VIRTIO specification.

Virtio drivers are available for Linux, Windows, and other operating systems. Installing the latest version is recommended for the latest bug fixes and performance enhancements.

If virtio drivers are not available, the AHCI (SATA) device is widely supported by modern x86 operating systems and can be used as a fallback. On non-x86 guests the default storage controller can be used as a fallback.

Comparing virtio-blk and virtio-scsi

Key points

  • Prefer virtio-blk in performance-critical use cases.
  • Prefer virtio-scsi for attaching more than 28 disks or for full SCSI support.
  • With virtio-scsi, use scsi-block for SCSI passthrough and otherwise use scsi-hd.

Two virtio storage controllers are available: virtio-blk and virtio-scsi.


The virtio-blk device presents a block device to the virtual machine. Each virtio-blk device appears as a disk inside the guest. virtio-blk was available before virtio-scsi and is the most widely deployed virtio storage controller.

The virtio-blk device offers high performance thanks to a thin software stack and is therefore a good choice when performance is a priority. It does not support non-disk devices such as CD-ROM drives.

CD-ROMs and in general any application that sends SCSI commands are better served by the virtio-scsi device, which has full SCSI support. SCSI passthrough was removed from the Linux virtio-blk driver in v5.6 in favor of using virtio-scsi.

Virtual machines that require access to many disks can hit limits based on availability of PCI slots, which are under contention with other devices exposed to the guest, such as NICs. For example a typical i440fx machine type default configuration allows for about 28 disks. It is possible to use multi-function devices to pack multiple virtio-blk devices into a single PCI slot at the cost of losing hotplug support, or additional PCI busses can be defined. Generally though it is simpler to use a single virtio-scsi PCI adapter instead.


The virtio-scsi device presents a SCSI Host Bus Adapter to the virtual machine. SCSI offers a richer command set than virtio-blk and supports more use cases.

Each device supports up to 16,383 LUNs (disks) per target and up to 255 targets. This allows a single virtio-scsi device to handle all disks in a virtual machine, although defining more virtio-scsi devices makes it possible to tune for NUMA topology as we will see in a later blog post.

Emulated LUNs can be exposed as hard disk drives or CD-ROMs. Physical SCSI devices can be passed through into the virtual machine, including CD-ROM drives, tapes, and other devices besides hard disk drives.

Clustering software that uses SCSI Persistent Reservations is supported by virtio-scsi, but not by virtio-blk.

Performance of virtio-scsi may be lower than virtio-blk due to a thicker software stack, but in many use cases, this is not a significant factor. The following graph compares 4KB random read performance at various queue depths:

Comparing virtio-blk and virtio-scsi performance

virtio-scsi configuration

The following SCSI devices are available with virtio-scsi:

Device SCSI Passthrough Performance
scsi-hd No Highest
scsi-block Yes Lower
scsi-generic Yes Lowest

The scsi-hd device is suitable for disk image files and host block devices when SCSI passthrough is not required.

The scsi-block device offers SCSI passthrough and is preferred over scsi-generic due to higher performance.

The following graph compares the sequential I/O performance of these devices using virtio-scsi with an iothread:

Comparing scsi-hd, scsi-block, and scsi-generic performance


The virtio-blk and virtio-scsi offer a choice between a single block device and a full-fledged SCSI Host Bus Adapter. Virtualized guests typically use one or both of them depending on functional and performance requirements. This post compared the two and offered recommendations on how to choose between them.

The next post in this series will discuss the iothreads feature that both virtio-blk and virtio-scsi support for increased performance.