Monday, August 15, 2011

Linux virtualization with chroot

Big savings with virtualization (Exponential?)

According to Moore's Law we get better, and generally cheaper servers every year. In the data center, we can take advantage of this by leasing servers instead of buying- if we are using Linux virtualization.

There are many virtualization containers that work perfectly well for Linux. The three I have used most over the years are Xen, VMware and Oracle VM VirtualBox. Each has it's own quirks you need to learn and requires a software install to use. The one disadvantage they all share though, is that they add complexity and there is a cost to switching containers. For a pure linux shop there is a simpler way to virtualize without adding software.

Good old chroot will do the trick

As long as the host and the virtualized OS will run on the same kernel, you don't need any special software to virtualize in Linux. Using chroot, you can build an OS inside an OS. I currently run CentOS as the host OS and Gentoo for my virtualized instances.

Here is how I set it up:
# cat /etc/redhat-release
CentOS release 5.5 (Final)

#mkdir /mnt/gentoo
#cd /mnt/gentoo

First: Download a tar ball of a running Gentoo OS and unpack it

#bunzip2 stage3-amd64-20110811.tar.bz2
#tar xvf stage3-amd64-20110811.tar

Next: Setup networking and devices, copy these 3 lines into the /etc/rc.local of your host OS (CentOS in my case)
mount -t proc none /mnt/gentoo/proc
cp -L /etc/resolv.conf /mnt/gentoo/etc/resolv.conf
chroot /mnt/gentoo su -c '/etc/init.d/' -

Last: add a shell script into your virtualized OS (/mnt/gentoo) to start your webservers, databases and any other programs you need to run on a reboot.

To login to your new virtualized server
#chroot /mnt/gentoo

Come back in 1 year

To copy it to a new leased machine in a year once prices have dropped and CPU cores have doubled:
Stop the running programs (whatever you put into so that you don't copy things like your database tables during a write.
#tar cvfz /mnt/gentoo/gentoo.20110815.tar.gz /mnt/gentoo

You can now ftp this to your new server, make a new /mnt/gentoo directory, untar the tar ball, setup your start script and /etc/rc.local and you are up and running on your new, faster machine.
#chroot /mnt/gentoo

Improving a good thing

So that's it! I have had this setup up and working for the past 5 years and every year I change to new servers it gets easier (Hint- if you use the cloud to host your web content, upgrading to new servers gets even easier- see my next post on this topic).

Now I am planning to switch my setup from Gentoo to Ubuntu because Ubuntu has better support in the community. I will write that up once I get it working (I started using Ubuntu initially because it is a source distribution, and due to that, there are tar balls that unpack and work easily in chroot). If anyone has tips on how to get Ubuntu running in a chroot environment, please leave a comment.

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