SUSE Studio is powerful OS instance builderMarch 29, 2010, 1:19 AM EDT
By Tom Henderson
We first saw SUSE Studio in beta at VMWorld in 2008, a skunkworks tool for building SUSE instances. It's come a long way since then.
Today, Novell's SUSE Studio is a Web-based virtual appliance/ISO image creator using SUSE Linux. It has no parallels that we can find for building operating systems instances.
Novell supplies Studio users with a 15GB online playground to make instances. You're not limited to just CD/DVD results, and you can see the work you've done online — then download it or even execute it online.
Once built, operating system combinations can be output as ISO images, virtual machine images for VMware, or other forms of the combos you build of the actual SUSE servers. The provisioning capabilities of Studio are profound.
Once we joined the SUSE studio community and logged in, we were presented with quite a few template choices. The three main choices of operating systems are OpenSUSE 11.2, SLE 11 and SLE 10. Within each version, there are a handful of choices such as Gnome Desktop, JeOS (Just enough OS), Server (text-only/non-GUI), KDE Desktop or Minimal X (windows) blends. Then we could choose either 32-bit or 64-bit kernels.
There are additional templates from Novell's partner Ingres, plus LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PhP) server.
After selecting the initial template, there are quite a few customizations that can be made. The customizations can be used for one or a hundred duplicate instances (duplicated offline) and are checked by Studio to see if the instances can be supported by Novell — officially.
First, a choice is made from a large number of application packages. Choices fall along the line of other SUSE packages and the selection drill will be familiar to Linux admins. You can optionally upload your own custom RPM's or add repositories if you want -- even pre-seeding data files or combinations of apps and data.
Miming the familiar SUSE installer, we could search for packages with Studio by category, pattern or list them all. If we added a package that had dependencies, SUSE Studio would check and add them to the package list, which is a huge time saver.
Then, within our Studio webspace, the modified instance could be stored or moved to another destination until it becomes a live instance, in some format that we chose.
The next section of Studio configures the SUSE instance environment. Here we could configure the network, time zone, users, firewall settings (limited), logo, background, startup runlevel, and more.
There are other options. For example, under the Server tab, we could configure the MySQL service by uploading a database and creating users — although not all services are available for customization. Under the appliance section, customizations include the amount of RAM and virtual disk size (for VMware and XenServer formats). Also, we could setup our script to run at the end of the build or every time the appliance boots. The LAMP template included setup to turn on Apache and MySQL by default.
After configuring the environment, we had another chance to add our own files. Single files or archives (tar, .tar.gz, .tar.bz2, .tgz, or.zip) are supported. Single files will be place in a chosen directory, and archives could be extracted to a selected directory.
The final stage is the build stage. We found that Studio offers quite a few output formats which include VMware/VirtualBox (.vmdk), Xen guest, Live ISO and USB hard drive image. We were not limited to only one output format, in fact, we could create an image for all of these types from the operating system combination we constructed in Studio. We could then follow along with Studio as it built the OS with a progress bar. Once the building is complete, we could download our complete image(s) or we could actually test it -- on SUSE' Studio's servers no less!
We could watch the built SUSE instance boot, interact with it, even use ssh to gain access to the live hosted instance as though we were at the console itself (access is limited to just 1 hour though). The console portion requires Flash, although it's possible to connect with a normal VNC viewer if you have trouble with Flash. (Make sure to disable SUSE's firewall though.)
Although, there is always room for improvement (such as additional configuration options for servers or desktops), Studio is a "cloud-ish" app that ought to sell a lot of SUSE operating systems just based on its ease of integration and fleet management provisioning skills.
Henderson is a researcher for ExtremeLabs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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