Linux VServer: Cheap and Easy Virtualisation

By: on July 17, 2006

Whilst projects like Xen and new hardware extensions to CPUs from Intel and AMD allow multiple OSes to run on the same machine at the same time, for me, there are currently few cases where I need this. I work under Linux and all I need is virtualisation to run multiple Linuxes at the same time. Also, virtualisation at the level of Xen requires that you set harddisc space and RAM for each running OS instance: the instances don’t share resources very well.

Linux VServer is virtualisation at a different level: there is only one Linux kernel ever running, but a *chroot-on-steroids*-like system ensures that you can start up multiple instances of linux and they do not interfere with each other in anyway possible. However, because it’s only one kernel running, the multiple instances do share resources such as RAM and harddisc partitions much more effectively. Having got some vservers up and running), they can be cloned, moved between machines, started and stopped easily and generally be manipulated very easily. You can do private networking between your vservers, and you can even get X up and running inside a vserver.

Once this is all up and running, it makes migration between different services very much easier. For example, last week I upgraded our bugzilla installation. In the past I’ve tended to upgrade our main installation in place which has been a bad idea in several cases. So this time, I copied our current installation onto a clean vserver and checked it worked. I then cloned that vserver and performed the upgrade on the clone, then fixing everything that broke. This meant that at all points I had a working copy of the original installation to refer to and that I could make sure I got the upgraded version at least to the same level of functionality as the old version before rolling it out on top of our main installation. The result was that I knew in advance all the “gotchas” of the upgrade before doing the upgrade on the main installation and consequently it went very smoothly. Almost as important is that as the upgrade is now complete, I can quite happily delete the bugzilla vservers as they’re no longer needed: because of the total separation of the vservers, this is very easy (much easier that trying to uninstall packages and delete databases) and it means that if you use vservers, you never have your main working environment polluted by the software you are working on.

It rather looks like I’ll be putting vserver on every machine I install from now on…

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