Virtual Appliances


I spent a little time today playing around with a virtual appliance (VA) from VirtualAppliances.net. They have LAMP, Tomcat, Cacti, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and HTTTP server virtual appliances that you can download and run inside a variety of virtualization environments, including VMWare and XEN.

I downloaded the LAMP stack VA and it booted in VMWare Fusion on my MacBook Pro. The VA uses DHCP to get its network address (there's no option or static IP numbers at boot time) and the boot screen gives the relevant URLs for the admin console. There's no way to log in--you use the management console exclusively. The stack includes of these components:

  • Apache
  • PHP
  • Perl
  • Python
  • ZendOptimizer (www.zend.com)
  • MySQL
  • phpMyAdmin

These come packaged in a single 65Mb download, pre-configured and ready to run.

There's no shell access on the free versions, so you have to use the management console and phpMyAdmin for everything. The document root for the HTTP server is available as a SMB file system (Samba) and can be mounted to manage the documents on the HTTP server. I was able to mount it from Finder without any trouble.

Virtual Appliance LAMP Stack Configuration Screen showing errors
Virtual Appliance LAMP Stack Configuration Screen showing errors
(click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, I can't write much about the management console because of some apparent errors in the configuration (see screen shot). You can manage passwords, logging, time, and network options and, apparently, some other things, but I'm not sure what.

This brings up the largest problem with these virtual appliances, from what I can see. Because I can't get a shell, I can't go in an debug this problem. I'm at the mercy of the builders. An look through the forums shows that the problem's come up there before, but no answers are available. I believe that with a paid option, you can get to the shell.

Configuring a server, just right, can be a large chore, so being able to download one--pre-configured by experts--is a big win. You're giving up flexibility, but gaining simplicity, a classic trade-off. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg in what we're going to see as virtualization becomes more wide-spread.

Update: In looking around, I also found this collection of virtual appliances for XEN, including virtual appliances for SugarCRM, Asterisk (Trixbox), and others.