Version 17 (modified by Geoff Lawler, 5 years ago) (diff)


The Basics

The neo-containers system uses cloud-container technology to abstract and generalize container creation and initialization. At the DETER level, the experiments have a number of "pnodes" which serve as hosts for the virtualized containers and a DETER-wide Chef server at

HOWTO run neo-containers

  1. Checkout the containers repository and switch to the configdb branch:
    users: > cd src
    users: > git clone ssh:// containers
    users: > cd containers
    users: > git checkout configdb
  1. Create a containerized experiment with an NS file and the /share/containers/ script.

In your NS file for each container in the experiment, specify image_os, image_type, image_name, and image_url via the tb-add-node-attribute syntax. Details on each attribute is given below.

  • image_os - This is really just to distinguish Windows from non-Windows nodes. If the image_os starts with "windows", the image will be treated as a Windows node. Otherwise it'll be assumed to be some sort of Unix-y container.
  • image_type - This setting describes the containerization tech of the node. Currently this is *always* set to "vagrant" as Vagrant is the only package used to spin up the containers.
  • image_name - The name of the image. Any containers that share a name will also share an image.
  • image_url - A URL must be specified which the neo-containers system uses to download the container image. This URL must be resolvable from the experiment nodes. The image will only be downloaded once as long as the image_names are the same for each container. Existing and supported images are Ubuntu 14.04 64 @ http://scratch/containers/ and Windows 7 @ http://scratch/containers/

Here is an example that creates Windows and Ubuntu 14.04 containers:

set r2d2 [$ns node]
tb-add-node-attribute $r2d2 containers:image_os windows
tb-add-node-attribute $r2d2 containers:image_type vagrant
tb-add-node-attribute $r2d2 containers:image_name deter/win7
tb-add-node-attribute $r2d2 containers:image_url http://scratch/containers/

set c3po [$ns node]
tb-add-node-attribute $c3po containers:image_os ubuntu
tb-add-node-attribute $c3po containers:image_type vagrant
tb-add-node-attribute $c3po containers:image_name ubuntu/trusty64
tb-add-node-attribute $r2d2 containers:image_url http://scratch/containers/
  1. Use the NS file to create a containerized experiment using the existing containers scripts (on users): /share/containers/ [group] [experiment] [ns file]. Note that the experiment must currently be created in the Deter group as that's where the custom images are. This will change.

The final NS file will look something like this.

set ns [new Simulator]
source tb_compat.tcl

tb-make-soft-vtype container0 {pc2133 MicroCloud}
set pnode(0000) [$ns node]
tb-set-node-os ${pnode(0000)} CONT-BASE
tb-set-hardware ${pnode(0000)} container0
tb-set-node-failure-action ${pnode(0000)} "nonfatal"

$ns rtproto Static
$ns run
  1. Modify the NS file generated by to have a new image for the pnode machines. Navigate to the new experiment page and click Modify Experiment. Change the OS type of the pnodes to PNODE_BASE and the hardware type to MicroCloud. I.e. for each pnode in the NS file, make the lines have the form:
        tb-set-node-os ${pnode(0000)} PNODE-CONT
        tb-set-hardware ${pnode(0000)} MicroCloud

Remove all existing tb-set-node-startcmd lines as these start the old containers system.

  1. Swap in the experiment and wait a long time. There is no great way to tell when the containers are up, unfortunately. Tail the start-cmd output on the config node and look for the "complete" message.
    users: > ssh config.GID.PID
    config: > tail -F /local/logs/config_startcmd.out

Fun things to do after the containers are running.

  • Login to a node:
    • ssh pnode-0000. ssh username@[nodename]. Cygwin is installed on the Windows node so you can ssh to Windows containers as well.
  • Play around with Vagrant. To use: a) ssh to any pnode-XXXX, b) sudo su -, c) cd /space/vagrant_home
    • Confirm containers are running: vagrant status
    • ssh to a node (windows or no): vagrant ssh [node name] (login vagrant, password vagrant
    • reboot a container: vagrant reload [node name]. Or halt then restart a node: vagrant halt [node name], vagrant up [node name]
  • Login to a Windows desktop:
    • build ssh tunnel to port 3389 on the pnode. ssh -L3389:pcXXX:3389
    • use client RDP to connect to localhost:3389. Login vagrant, password vagrant.
  • Play around with knife, the command line interface to Chef.
    • login to the config node
    • cd to /space/local/chef/chef-repo
    • Use knife.
      • knife node list
      • knife node show [node name]
      • knife --help

Execution Flow

The execution flow of is as follows. The initialization uses the existing containers system as a bootstrap.

  1. Create a containerized experiment with an NS file and the /share/containers/ script. The NS file should declare a config node as an embedded container that uses the UB14-CHEF12 image.
  1. Modify the generated NS file.
    1. Change the OS type of the pnodes to PNODE-BASE. e.g. make the line in the NS file:
          tb-set-node-os ${pnode(0000)} PNODE-BASE
    2. Add a new control node. Traditionally it's been called "config", but there is no restriction on the name. Add this to the NS file:
          set config [$ns node]
          tb-set-node-os ${config} Ubuntu1404-64-STD
          tb-set-hardware ${config} MicroCloud
          tb-set-node-failure-action ${config} "nonfatal"
    3. Remove the tb-node-set-startcmd line. This starts the existing DETER containers system on the nodes. We do not want that.
  2. Swap in the experiment.
  3. Run the bootstrap script on your config node.
    1. The bootstrap script is called and it lives in the container source code on the configdb branch at ./bin/ So clone the containers repository, switch to the branch configdb, and run the script.

The bootstrap script:

  1. Uses the NFS mounted dir /share/chef/chef-packages to install Chef server and Chef client on the config node.
    1. The config node is both a Chef server (talks to all machines in the experiment) and a Chef client/workstation (holds the Chef git repo which contains all configuration scripts).
  2. Configures Chef Server on the config node.
    1. Simply runs the chef self-configure scripts.
  3. Configures Chef client/workstation on the config node.
    1. creates a chef-deter identity and organization (keys and names) for the Chef Server.
    2. installs git on the config node.
    3. git clones the canonical Chef repository from the NFS mounted dir /share/chef/chef-repo. Thie repo contains all configuration scripts and data for the system.
    4. upload all Chef recipes, data bags, and roles (configuration scripts, data, and roles) to the Chef server on config (localhost).
  4. Create an experiment-specific "data bag" and upload it to the Chef Server. The data contains experiment name, project, group, name and address of the config machine, and the name and address of the RESTful configuration server. This is per-experiment dynamic data and thus is generated at run time instead of statically kept in the chef repository.
  5. Register the config node (localhost) as a Chef client to the server, download and execute all local configuration recipes that exist in the {{config_server}} chef role. (A chef role is simply a collection of recipes.) Details of these are in the next section.

The chef repository defines three roles in the system, config_server, pnode, and container. The code that defines the roles can be found in the ./roles directory in the chef repository.

config_server recipes

Recipes are chunks of Ruby code that is are a mixture of Ruby and the Chef configuration definition language. A recipe is downloaded from a Chef server and run when chef-client is run on a node. This section describes the recipes that are run on the config_server machine itself. These recipes configure Chef communications on the nodes and tell the pnodes to configure themselves. (The pnode role recipe section is next.)

These recipes can be found in the ./cookbooks/config_server/recipes directory in the chef repository.

The config_server role consists of the following recipes, executed in order: config_db, config_server, hosts, bootstrap_pnodes, and configure_containers.

  • config_db - This recipe builds the configuration database from existing containers and DETER/emulab files found on the local machine. This database contains all the configuration information to configure the experiment. This database is RESTfully served by the config_server process started elsewhere. The recipe also installs required packages needed to build the database (python3 and SQLAlchemy).
  • config_server - This recipe installs and starts the config_server process. This server RESTfully serves configuration data to anyone in the experiment that requests it. After installing required packages, the recipe simply calls the standard script in the config_server package to install it. It then copies a local /etc/init style script from the chef repository to /etc/init.d/config_server, then invokes the it, starting the daemon. At this point configuration information requests can be made on http://config:5000/... to get configuration information.
  • hosts - This recipe (which actually lives in the pnode cookbook directory, adds container node names and address information to /etc/hosts. This is a required step for later when the config_server node connects to the containers.
  • bootstrap_pnodes - This recipe connects to all pnode machines and configures them as chef clients to the new chef server. It then sets the default role for the pnode machines to the pnode role. Finally it connects to all the pnode machines and invokes chef-client locally. This kicks off the next round of configuration in the system - all pnode machines configure themselves. These recipes are described in the next section.
  • configure_containers - This recipe simply uses the chef tool knife to connect to all (now running) containers and executes chef-client, which causes the containers to reach out to the chef server and request recipes/roles to execute. After this the containers are fully configured and integrated into DETER.

pnode recipes

The pnode role consists of the following recipes, executed in order: uml-net-group, mount_space, hosts, diod, vde, and vagrant.

  • uml-net-group - This recipe creates a uml-net group. This is just a stop-gap recipe which is needed due to a broken apt database in the PNODE-BASE image. This recipe will be removed from the role and the chef repository once the PNODE-BASE image is rebuilt.
  • mount_space - This recipe formats and mounts the /dev/sda4 partition on the disk. This is subsequently used to store and run containers images, the chef repository, etc.
  • hosts - This recipe creates entries in the pnode's /etc/hosts for all container nodes.
  • diod - This recipe installs, configures, and starts the diod daemon. The pnode has users home directories and other directories mounted locally. The containers also need these mounted to be fully integrated with DETER. Unfortunately it is not possible to use standard NFS mounting on directories that are themselves NFS mounted. (There are good reasons for this.) So the pnode uses diod to serve these directories to the container nodes. The recipe uses standard package tech to install diod and configures diod to export all directories that are locally mounted - which is just what we want. It then starts the daemon.
  • vde - This recipe installs and configures VDE, Virtual Distributed Ethernet on the pnode. It installs VDE2 and required packages (uml-utilities and bridge-utils). It installs a /etc/init style script to /etc/init.d/vde_switch to control the VDE daemon. It requests all virtual networking configuration information from the config_server and creates a number of VDE configuration files in /etc/vde2/conf.d, one for each switch needed. The recipe creates and configures all the TAP devices and bridges needed by the VDE switches. It then calls the /etc/init.d/vde2 script to start all switches. At this point all local network plumbing is there and working.
  • vagrant - This recipe installs and configures vagrant. Vagrant is a front-end for configuring and spawning virtual machines. it supports many different virtual machine image (qemu, LXE, VirtualBox?, etc), but the current neo-containers system only uses VirtualBox? images. (It has a few default images already configured and installed on the PNODE-BASE DETER image.) The recipe installs vagrant and virtualbox (although they are already installed on the PNODE-BASE image, so this is really a NOOP command. After that, it's big job is to create the Vagrantfile file in /space/vagrant that describes the container images and basic configuration. The Vagrantfile created does a few basic things: configure virtual NICs, setup basic networking so the containers route correctly to the DETER control net, and invoke a basic NOOP chef configuration that *only* register the container node with the chef server. It does not invoke chef-client on the containers to configure the nodes, that happens next. The recipe also sets up a few things on the pnode for smoother vagrant operations: a vagrant user and home directory at /vagrant are created, an /etc/profile.d/ file is created with vagrant-specific environment variables, Virtual Box is configured to not store disk image copies on NFS mounted dirs, but in /space/vagrant. Finally /etc/init.d/vagrant is invoked to spawn the containers. At this point, the containers are running, but not configured/integrated into DETER (no user accounts, mounts, etc).

container recipes

The container role consists of the following recipes: apt, hosts, groups, accounts, mounts. All these recipes work to integrate the container into the running DETER experiment.

  • apt - Runs apt clean and apt update on the nodes. It would be nice to get rid of this recipe as it will slam the DETER apt repository server. Need to investigate why and if this is still needed.
  • hosts - Adds container names and addresses to /etc/hosts so all containers can resolve each others' names.
  • groups - Requests group information from the config_server and creates the DETER groups on the container.
  • accounts - Requests user account information from the config_server and recreates the accounts locally on the container. This includes creating mount points for the user home directories.
  • mounts - This recipe installs the client side diod package and configures it to talk to the local pnode on which the container runs. It requests mount information from the config_server and mounts what it finds via diod.

Outstanding Issues

This section lists outstanding issues for the container system. And not "outstanding" as in "awesome", but outstanding as in this still has to get done.

  • diod - The diod daemon (re)mounts NFS mounted filesystems on the containers. The pnode acts is a server, the containers are clients.
    • diod fails to fully mount filesystems sometimes during the application of the mounts recipe. It fails in mount -a. It fails to allocate memory. This only seems to happen when running in chef. Running sudo mount -a on the command line of the container works just fine. Which is a little annoying, but so it goes.
  • Windows - is fragile and doesnt' really work. Working on this now.
  • LXC - Does not come up. Looked into this briefly. Tried booting outside of vagrant and still had issues. See here for a getting started doc:
  • Using ~glawler - some scripts are still run (via recipes) out of ~glawler. They should be fed a path to a containers repo or just assume /share/containers.
  • Vagrant
    • Does do some things in parallel, but not bringing up virtualbox machines. This makes things very slow.
    • chef provisioning via vagrant does not work well. It registers the node with the chef server, but does not properly setup the node for future runs. Does not create proper client.rb config files.
  • everything else.