How you can manage templates in Abiquo using Packer

By Marc Cirauqui, Support Engineer @ Abiquo

One of the questions we most frequently get from customers is regarding the management of the templates catalogue. In Abiquo, every enterprise has its own appliance library where templates are stored and can be added to the library in many different ways.

Templates consist of a default VM configuration (such as CPU, RAM or NIC drivers) and a set of disks. Although templates in Abiquo can have multiple disks, basic templates consist of only the boot disk for the OS guest, leaving further storage configuration to the user at deploy time.

Packer is a tool from Hashicorp that allows creation of such templates in a programmatic way. The basic idea is to provide the ISO image to install the OS along some kickstart or preseed file (although you can just type in commands using VNC capabilities in Packer) to get the OS installed, then run some scripts or provisioning steps, and finally process the resulting artifacts to get some valuable output. Of course, you have multiple builders allowing you to build templates in different systems, multiple kinds of provisioners and post processors, and of course there is plenty of documentation on how to write your custom plugins for Packer.

That last part is the one I want to talk about today.

As of now, you can find a Packer post processor that takes the resulting artifact of a local build and uploads it to Abiquo as a template. You can find the code in GitHub, as usual. The “readme” file in the repo will show you how to compile the plugin yourself or where to grab the latest binary release.

Now, assuming you have some Packer template, adding the Abiquo post processor is pretty straightforward. In the `post-processors` block of the template, you will need to add a block like the following:

{
  "variables": {
    "abiquo_username": "{{env `ABIQUO_USERNAME`}}",
    "abiquo_password": "{{env `ABIQUO_PASSWORD`}}"
  },
  "builders": [
    {
      "type": "vmware-iso",
      "boot_command": [
        "root",
...
  ],
  "post-processors": [
...
    {
      "type": "abiquo",
      "api_url": "https://my.abiquo.com/api",
      "api_username": "{{user `abiquo_username`}}",
      "api_password": "{{user `abiquo_password`}}",
      "datacenter": "MyDC",
      "template_name": "{{user `vm_name`}}",
      "description": "{{user `info`}} {{timestamp}}",
      "category": "{{user `category`}}",
      "cpu": "{{user `cpu`}}",
      "ram_mb": "{{user `ram`}}",
      "login_user": "{{user `ssh_username`}}",
      "login_password": "{{user `ssh_password`}}",
      "eth_driver": "VIRTIO",
      "chef_enabled": "false",
      "icon_url": "{{user `icon`}}"
    }
  ]
}

As you can see in this example there are 2 variables defined at the top to get the username and password for the Abiquo API from environment variables. In the post processor configuration you can see entries to configure the Abiquo API endpoint and several parameters of the template (for a complete reference check the GitHub repo README file)

Now, when you run this build, the post processor will connect to the specified API endpoint using the provided credentials and create a template in the apps library for the specified datacenter and that template will have one disk, which will be the VM disk built by Packer. Since Abiquo supports multiple disk formats and has a V2V conversion system, you can upload any supported disk format and Abiquo will run the necessary conversions so you can deploy your new image without issues.

Another feature regarding templates that was introduced back in Abiquo 3.6 is the ability to replace the boot disk of a template. This allows you to do some kind of versioning on a template. Imagine you have a Windows 2012 R2 template, you run the Packer build and upload it to Abiquo using the name “Windows Server 2012 R2 base OS”. At some point (probably next month) Microsoft will publish a new set of patches for Windows 2012 R2, so your template will need to be updated. With this feature, you keep the same template named “Windows Server 2012 R2 base OS” but replacing the base disk with a new one including the new patches. From that point forward, VMs deployed from that template will already include this new patches.

The Packer post processor for Abiquo also uses this feature, so if it founds a template with the same name it will replace its disk with the current build instead of creating a new template. That way, every time you run the Packer build you will get the template (or templates) updated in Abiquo.

About Abiquo

Abiquo delivers the industry’s leading cloud orchestration software for service provider clouds; allowing customers to quickly build and monetise cloud services, whilst managing hybrid, private or public cloud infrastructure from one intuitive portal – adding value through greater efficiency, visibility, simplicity and control.

Abiquo is privately held, and operates from headquarters in the UK with offices in Europe, and through its extensive global partner network. For more information, contact us.