Ubuntu's vmbuilder Script
One of the coolest features of Ubuntu on servers is vmbuilder, which makes it super-easy to roll out guest machines. Here’s a look at this tool, and some thoughts on where it fits in to Ubuntu’s enterprise strategy.
If you’ve ever administered a virtual server, you’ll like agree that virtualization is great, but actually creating virtual machines is not always fun. The traditional approach, which involves building a disk image, booting it to a CD or ISO file and then running an interactive installer, takes a long time and requires having installation media on-hand.
Ubuntu’s vmbuilder script, however, obviates all that hassle. Introduced with Hardy and rewritten in python for Intrepid, vmbuilder allows images for KVM, Xen and VMware guest machines to be rolled out automatically with one single command. For example:
vmbuilder kvm ubuntu
is all it takes to build an image of an Ubuntu virtual machine for use with the KVM hypervisor. Many more arguments can be optionally added to customize the image.
As with all things in life, there are caveats, of course. For one, vmbuilder only supports creation of certain types of Linux-based guest machines. Its capabilities can also be limited by the hardware on which it’s run.
Nonetheless, for server administrators who want to automate the creation of guest machines, or developers looking to create virtual appliances with minimal effort, vmbuilder is a great tool.
Why it matters
There’s no need to go over the details of using vmbuilder here, since those are documented online. But what is worth thinking about is how vmbuilder contributes to Ubuntu’s efforts to compete in the server market.
It goes without saying that Ubuntu remains an underdog in the server room, its presence dwarfed by Red Hat, Solaris and the like. Virtualization, however, has been a central focus of the Ubuntu server team for the last couple years, marked by pushes like Canonical’s cloud software initiative. vmbuilder is clearly an important factor in helping to make Ubuntu more attractive to enterprises by streamlining its virtualization infrastructure.
As we wrote recently, free, open-source virtualization tools on Ubuntu and other Linux distributions have become increasingly feature-rich in recent years, and are finally able to compete on an equal footing with expensive proprietary alternatives. The vmbuilder script represents another example of how the enterprise virtualization market is evolving in the open-source direction, and one way Ubuntu is trying to distinguish itself from competing server distributions.
Granted, it may be a long time before Ubuntu gains server market share equivalent to Red Hat’s. But we’d recommend keeping your eyes on vmbuilder and other tools in Ubuntu’s virtualization arsenal as this vital component of the enterprise market evolves.