Simple Virtual Appliances with Linux and Xen

Use Xen and Linux to make your own ready-to-use software virtual appliances. Create a DNS server, a Web server, a MySQL server—whatever you need, ready to go when you need it.
Packaging and Deploying the Appliance

Next, let's package up the appliance and then go through the motions of deploying it as To package up the appliance, simply tar up the disk image and configuration:

xenhost$ cd /xen/appliance-base
xenhost$ tar -cvzf appliance-base.img appliance-base.cfg
xenhost$ mkdir /xen/
xenhost$ cd /xen/
xenhost$ tar -xvzf /xen/appliance-base.tar.gz
xenhost$ mv appliance-base.cfg /etc/xen/auto/
xenhost$ vim /etc/xen/auto/

Edit the Xen configuration file /etc/xen/auto/ as shown in Listing 4. Set the name, the path to the disk image, and give this guest a unique MAC address. Placing the configuration under /etc/xen/auto means the appliance will be started automatically when the Xen host boots.

Start the new appliance using the following command:

xenhost$ xm create /etc/xen/auto/
xenhost$ vm console

Examine the console output as the guest boots; the last bit of output will have the DHCP-assigned IP, thanks to your rc.local additions. Point a Web browser at the URL shown; by default, Webmin listens on TCP port 10000. Once logged in as root, you will be able to manage your MySQL appliance. Webmin will allow you to set a static IP, maintain YUM updates, create additional users, configure firewall rules, create and maintain MySQL databases and tables, and configure automated system and MySQL backups.


Using these simple steps and readily available components, you can create a thin virtual appliance to do almost anything. Because its a virtual machine, you can move it between physical computers and deploy it multiple times with ease.

As I stated in the introduction, all of these steps could have been done with VMware virtualization products. VMware is certainly the most widely deployed technology and has its own tools for creating virtual appliances, including an on-line “Appliance Marketplace” for sharing prebuilt appliances. No matter whether you use VMware or Xen, virtual appliances are a simple way to deploy preconfigured services with minimal hassle. If you are a software author, it allows you to hand your customers a “known working configuration” every time.

Matthew Hoskins is a UNIX/Storage and Virtualization Administrator for The New Jersey Institute of Technology where he maintains many of the corporate administrative systems. He enjoys trying to get wildly different systems and software working together, usually with a thin layer of Perl (locally known as “MattGlue”). When not hacking systems, he often can be found hacking in the kitchen. Matt can be reached at



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help please

Anonymous's picture

this is probably a simple error on my part, but I can't get beyond it. at the line extra = "text ks=nfs:"
in the 'appliance-base.install.cfg file I have replaced it with
extra = "text ks=nfs:' but the installer stops at this point. I have tried all sorts of combinations, 'localhost' (the dhcp supplied ip address, the full name, the short name of the 'puter, but it don't work. Any help appreciated.

Possible Typo?

mmarshall's picture

Great article!

However, I think instead of the following line:

xenhost$ vm console

you may have meant:

xenhost$ xm console