A Virtual Machine for a Virtual World

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Creating a VM from a template

Let us start by creating our second virtual machine from the Ubuntu template. Right-click on the template and select Clone, as shown in the following screenshot:

Use the settings shown in the following screenshot for the new virtual machine. You can also use any virtual machine name you like. A VM name can only be alphanumeric without any special characters.

You can also use any other VM you have already created in your own virtual environment. Access the virtual machine through the Proxmox console after cloning and setting up network connectivity such as IP address, hostname, and so on. For our Ubuntu virtual machine, we are going to edit interfaces in /etc/network/, hostname in /etc/, and hosts in /etc/.

Advanced configuration options for a VM

We will now look at some of the advanced configuration options we can use to extend the capability of a KVM virtual machine.

The hotplugging option for a VM

Although it is not a very common occurrence, a virtual machine can run out of storage unexpectedly whether due to over provisioning or improper storage requirement planning. For a physical server with hot swap bays, we can simply add a new hard drive and then partition it, and you are up and running. Imagine another situation when you have to add some virtual network interface to the VM right away, but you cannot afford shutting down the VM to add the vNICs. The hotplug option also allows hotplugging virtual network interfaces without shutting down a VM.

Proxmox virtual machines by default do not support hotplugging. There are some extra steps needed to be followed in order to enable hotplugging for devices such as virtual disks and virtual network interfaces. Without the hotplugging option, the virtual machine needs to be completely powered off and then powered on after adding a new virtual disk or virtual interface. Simply rebooting the virtual machine will not activate the newly added virtual device. In Proxmox 3.2 and later, the hotplug option is not shown on the Proxmox GUI. It has to be done through CLI by adding options to the <vmid>.conf file. Enabling the hotplug option for a virtual machine is a three-step process:

  1. Shut down VM and add the hotplug option into the <vmid>.conf file.
  2. Power up VM and then load modules that will initiate the actual hotplugging.
  3. Add a virtual disk or virtual interface to be hotplugged into the virtual machine.

The hotplugging option for <vmid>.conf

Shut down the cloned virtual machine we created earlier and then open the configuration file from the following location. Securely log in to the Proxmox node or use the console in the Proxmox GUI using the following command:

# nano /etc/pve/nodes/<node_name>/qemu-server/102.conf

With default options added during the virtual machine creation process, the following code is what the VM configuration file looks like:

ballon: 512 bootdisk: virtio0 cores: 1 ide2: none, media=cdrom kvm: 0 memory: 1024 name: pmxUB01 net0: e1000=56:63:C0:AC:5F:9D,bridge=vmbr0 ostype: l26 sockets: 1 virtio0: vm-nfs-01:102/vm-102-disk-1.qcow2,format=qcow2,size=32G

Now, at the bottom of the 102.conf configuration file located under /etc/pve/nodes/<node_name>/qemu-server/, we will add the following option to enable hotplugging in the virtual machine:

hotplug:

Save the configuration file and power up the virtual machine.

Loading modules

After the hotplug option is added and the virtual machine is powered up, it is now time to load two modules into the virtual machine, which will allow hotplugging a virtual disk anytime without rebooting the VM. Securely log in to VM or use the Proxmox GUI console to get into the command prompt of the VM. Then, run the following commands to load the acpiphp and pci_hotplug modules. Do not load these modules to the Proxmox node itself:

# sudo modprobe acpiphp # sudo modprobe pci_hotplug

 

The acpiphp and pci_hotplug modules are two hot plug drivers for the Linux operating system. These drivers allow addition of a virtual disk image or virtual network interface card without shutting down the Linux-based virtual machine.

The modules can also be loaded automatically during the virtual machine boot by inserting them in /etc/modules. Simply add acpiphp and pci_hotplug on two separate lines in /etc/modules.

Adding virtual disk/vNIC

After loading both the acpiphp and pci_hotplug modules, all that remains is adding a new virtual disk or virtual network interface in the virtual machine through a web GUI. On adding a new disk image, check that the virtual machine operating system recognizes the new disk through the following command:

#sudo fdisk -l

For a virtual network interface, simply add a new virtual interface from a web GUI and the operating system will automatically recognize a new vNIC. After adding the interface, check that the vNIC is recognized through the following command:

#sudo ifconfig –a

Please note that while the hotplugging option works great with Linux-based virtual machines, it is somewhat problematic on Windows XP/7-based VMs. Hotplug seems to work great with both 32- and 64-bit versions of the Windows Server 2003/2008/2012 VMs. The best practice for a Windows XP/7-based virtual machine is to just power cycle the virtual machine to activate newly added virtual disk images. Forcing the Windows VM to go through hotplugging will cause an unstable operating environment. This is a limitation of the KVM itself.

Nested virtual environment

In simple terms, a virtual environment inside another virtual environment is known as a nested virtual environment. If the hardware resource permits, a nested virtual environment can open up whole new possibilities for a company. The most common scenario of a nested virtual environment is to set up a fully isolated test environment to test software such as hypervisor, or operating system updates/patches before applying them in a live environment.

A nested environment can also be used as a training platform to teach computer and network virtualization, where students can set up their own virtual environment from the ground without breaking the main system. This eliminates the high cost of hardware for each student or for the test environment. When an isolated test platform is needed, it is just a matter of cloning some real virtual machines and giving access to authorized users. A nested virtual environment has the potential to give the network administrator an edge in the real world by allowing cost cutting and just getting things done with limited resources.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that a nested virtual environment will have a significantly lower performance than a real virtual environment. If the nested virtual environment also has virtualized storage, performance will degrade significantly. The loss of performance can be offset by creating a nested environment with an SSD storage backend. When a nested virtual environment is created, it usually also contains virtualized storage to provide virtual storage for nested virtual machines. This allows for a fully isolated nested environment with its own subnet and virtual firewall.

There are many debates about the viability of a nested virtual environment. Both pros and cons can be argued equally. But it will come down to the administrator’s grasp on his or her existing virtual environment and good understanding of the nature of requirement. This allowed us to build a fully functional Proxmox cluster from the ground up without using additional hardware. The following screenshot is a side-by-side representation of a nested virtual environment scenario:

In the previous comparison, on the right-hand side we have our basic cluster we have been building so far. On the left-hand side we have the actual physical nodes and virtual machines used to create the nested virtual environment.

Our nested cluster is completely isolated from the rest of the physical cluster with a separate subnet. Internet connectivity is provided to the nested environment by using a virtualized firewall 1001-scce-fw-01.

Like the hotplugging option, nesting is also not enabled in the Proxmox cluster by default. Enabling nesting will allow nested virtual machines to have KVM hardware virtualization, which increases the performance of nested virtual machines. To enable KVM hardware virtualization, we have to edit the modules in /etc/ of the physical Proxmox node and <vmid>.conf of the virtual machine. We can see that the option is disabled for our cloned nested virtual machine in the following screenshot:

Enabling KVM hardware virtualization

KVM hardware virtualization can be added just by performing the following few additional steps:

  1. In each Proxmox node, add the following line in the /etc/modules file:

    kvm-amd nested=1

  2. Migrate or shut down all virtual machines of Proxmox nodes and then reboot.
  3. After the Proxmox nodes reboot, add the following argument in the <vmid>.conf file of the virtual machines used to create a nested virtual environment:

    args: -enable-nesting

  4. Enable KVM hardware virtualization from the virtual machine option menu through GUI. Restart the nested virtual machine.

Network virtualization

Network virtualization is a software approach to set up and maintain network without physical hardware. Proxmox has great features to virtualize the network for both real and nested virtual environments. By using virtualized networking, management becomes simpler and centralized. Since there is no physical hardware to deal with, the network ability can be extended within a minute’s notice. Especially in a nested virtual environment, the use of virtualized network is very prominent. In order to set up a successful nested virtual environment, a better grasp of the Proxmox network feature is required. With the introduction of Open vSwitch (www.openvswitch.org) in Proxmox 3.2 and later, network virtualization is now much more efficient.

Backing up a virtual machine

A good backup strategy is the last line of defense against disasters, such as hardware failure, environmental damages, accidental deletions, and misconfigurations. In a virtual environment, a backup strategy turns into a daunting task because of the number of machines needed to be backed up. In a busy production environment, virtual machines may be created and discarded whenever needed or not needed. Without a proper backup plan, the entire backup task can go out of control. Gone are those days when we only had few server hardware to deal with and backing them up was an easy task. Today’s backup solutions have to deal with several dozens or possibly several hundred virtual machines.

Depending on the requirement, an administrator may have to backup all the virtual machines regularly instead of just the files inside them. Backing up an entire virtual machine takes up a very large amount of space after a while depending on how many previous backups we have. A granular file backup helps to quickly restore just the file needed but sure is a bad choice if the virtual server is badly damaged to a point that it becomes inaccessible. Here, we will see different backup options available in Proxmox, their advantages, and disadvantages.

Proxmox backup and snapshot options

Proxmox has the following two backup options:

  • Full backup: This backs up the entire virtual machine.
  • Snapshot: This only creates a snapshot image of the virtual machine. Proxmox 3.2 and above can only do a full backup and cannot do any granular file backup from inside a virtual machine. Proxmox also does not use any backup agent.

Backing up a VM with a full backup

All full backups are in the .tar format containing both the configuration file and virtual disk image file. The TAR file is all you need to restore the virtual machine on any nodes and on any storage. Full backups can also be scheduled on a daily and weekly basis. Full virtual backup files are named based on the following format:

vzdump-qemu-<vm_id>-YYYY_MM_DD-HH_MM_SS.vma.lzo

The following screenshot shows what a typical list of virtual machine backups looks like:

Proxmox 3.2 and above cannot do full backups on LVM and Ceph RBD storage. Full backups can only occur on local, Ceph FS, and NFS-based storages, which are defined as backup during storage creation. Please note that Ceph FS and RBD are not the same type of storage even though they both coexist on the same Ceph cluster. The following screenshot shows the storage feature through the Proxmox GUI with backup-enabled attached storages:

The backup menu in Proxmox is a true example of simplicity. With only three choices to select, it is as easy as it can get. The following screenshot is an example of a Proxmox backup menu. Just select the backup storage, backup mode, and compression type and that’s it:

Creating a schedule for Backup

Schedules can be created from the virtual machine backup option. We will see each option box in detail in the following sections. The options are shown in the following screenshot:

Node

By default, a backup job applies to all nodes. If you want to apply the backup job to a particular node, then select it here. With a node selected, backup job will be restricted to that node only. If a virtual machine on node 1 was selected for backup and later on the virtual machine was moved to node 2, it will not be backed up since only node 1 was selected for this backup task.

Storage

Select a backup storage destination where all full backups will be stored. Typically an NFS server is used for backup storage. They are easy to set up and do not require a lot of upfront investment due to their low performance requirements. Backup servers are much leaner than computing nodes since they do not have to run any virtual machines. Backups are supported on local, NFS, and Ceph FS storage systems. Ceph FS storages are mounted locally on Proxmox nodes and selected as a local directory. Both Ceph FS and RBD coexist on the same Ceph cluster.

Day of Week

Select which day or days the backup task applies to. Days’ selection is clickable in a drop-down menu. If the backup task should run daily, then select all the days from the list.

Start Time

Unlike Day of Week, only one time slot can be selected. Multiple selections of time to backup different times of the day are not possible. If the backup must run multiple times a day, create a separate task for each time slot.

Selection mode

The All selection mode will select all the virtual machines within the whole Proxmox cluster. The Exclude selected VMs mode will back up all VMs except the ones selected. Include selected VMs will back up only the ones selected.

Send email to

Enter a valid e-mail address here so that the Proxmox backup task can send an e-mail upon backup task completion or if there was any issue during backup. The e-mail includes the entire log of the backup tasks. It is highly recommended to enter the e-mail address here so that an administrator or backup operator can receive backup task feedback e-mails. This will allow us to find out if there was an issue during backup or how much time it actually takes to see if any performance issue occurred during backup. The following screenshot is a sample of a typical e-mail received after a backup task:

Compression

By default, the LZO compression method is selected. LZO (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lempel–Ziv–Oberhumer) is based on a lossless data compression algorithm, designed with the decompression ratio in mind. LZO is capable to do fast compression and even faster decompressions. GZIP will create smaller backup files at the cost of high CPU usage to achieve a higher compression ratio. Since higher compression ratio is the main focal point, it is a slow backup process. Do not select the None compression option, since it will create large backups without compression. With the None method, a 200 GB RAW disk image with 50 GB used will have a 200 GB backup image. With compression turned on, the backup image size will be around 70-80 GB.

Mode

Typically, all running virtual machine backups occur with the Snapshot option. Do not confuse this Snapshot option with Live Snapshots of VM. The Snapshot mode allows live backup while the virtual machine is turned on, while Live Snapshots captures the state of the virtual machine for a certain point in time. With the Suspend or Stop mode, the backup task will try to suspend the running virtual machine or forcefully stop it prior to commencing full backup. After backup is done, Proxmox will resume or power up the VM. Since Suspend only freezes the VM during backup, it has less downtime than the Stop mode because VM does not need to go through the entire reboot cycle. Both the Suspend and Stop modes backup can be used for VM, which can have partial or full downtime without disrupting regular infrastructure operation, while the Snapshot mode is used for VMs that can have a significant impact due to their downtime.

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