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Ubuntu Orchestra - Servers in Concert!

Server rollouts striking a bad chord? Let Orchestra bring some harmony back into your life.

Imagine you have 50 new Linux servers to install. You probably don't want to hawk your installation CD around each one, working through the installer steps over and over again. Your preferred scenario might go something like this: (1) unpack the servers from their boxes, (2) plug them into the network, (3) switch them on, and (4) walk away, knowing you could return later to find 50 fully-installed systems.

Infact, if your servers can do a PXE boot it's possible to do this, but potentially it requires a lot of set up - you probably need a DHCP server, a TFTP server to supply the boot image, and a repository mirror (or proxy) to provide access to the packages.

I've set this up in the past (as have countless sysadmin, no doubt) and I even designed a training lab for an Ubuntu Server course but I've never had the courage to run it in class because frankly it feels more like a small research project than a training lab.

Fancy virtual footwork

To ease the pain. a project from the Fedora community called Cobbler(https://fedorahosted.org/cobbler) automates the set-up of an installation server, supporting PXE -based installations onto bare metal, and installations into virtual machines.

Cobbler is also installable on Ubuntu, and can be used to deploy Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora, Red Hat and SUSE systems. Now Dustin Kirkland's server team at Canonical is taking things a stage further with a project called Orchestra, which is slated for release in Ubuntu 11.10. Orchestra co-ordinates several pieces of open source software including:
  1. Cobbler (ported onto Ubuntu)
  2. quid-deb-proxy (a package that makes it easy to create a proxy for the Ubuntu repositories)
  3. puppetmaster (a configuration management tool that's used to automate the deployment of specific server workloads)
  4. cloud-init (a mechanism for running a customization script on first boot of a virtual machine instance). 
In part, the development of Orchestra has been sparked by the decision to switch from Eucalyptus to Open Stack in 11.10, with the resulting need to modify (yet again) the installation technologies.

We'll take a more in-depth look at Orchestra, possibly next month, when we've had a chance to play around with it.