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first look at CentOS 5 Xen

I have just installed a machine running CentOS 5 as a Xen server. I installed a full GUI environment on the dom0 so that GUI tools can be used for managing the virtual servers.

The first problem I had was selecting the “Installation source”, it’s described in the error message as an “Invalid PV media address” when you get it wrong which caused me a little confusion when installing it at 10PM. Then I had a few problems getting the syntax of a nfs://1.2.3.4:/directory URL correct. But these were trivial annoyances. It was a little annoying that my attempts to use a “file://” URL were rejected, I had hoped that it would just run exportfs to make the NFS export from the local machine (much faster than using an NFS server over the network which is what the current setup will lead people to do).

The first true deficiency I found with the tools is that it provides no way of creating filesystems on block devices. The process of allocating a block device or file from the Xen configuration tool is merely assigning a virtual block device to the Xen image – and only one such virtual block device is permitted. Then the CentOS 5 installation instance that runs under Xen will have to partition the disk (it doesn’t support installing directly to an unpartitioned disk) which will make things painful when it comes time to resize the filesystems.

When running Debian Xen servers I do everything manually. A typical Debian Xen instance that I run will have a virtual block device /dev/hda for the root FS, /dev/hdb for swap, and /dev/hdc for /home. Then if I want to resize them I merely stop the Xen instance, run “e2fsck -f” on the filesystem followed by “resize2fs” and the LVM command “lvresize” (in the appropriate order depending on whether I am extending or reducing the filesystem).

Xen also supports creating a virtual partitioned disk. This means I could have /dev/lvm/xenroot, and /dev/lvm/xenswap, and /dev/lvm/xenhome appear in the domU as /dev/hda1, /dev/hda2, and /dev/hda3. This means that I could have a single virtual disk that allows the partitions to be independently resized when the domU in question is not running. I have not tried using this feature as it doesn’t suit my usage patterns. But it’s interesting and unfortunate that the GUI tools which are part of CentOS don’t support it.

When I finally got to run the install process it had a virtual graphics environment (which is good) but unfortunately it suffered badly from the two-mouse-cursor problem with different accellerations used for both cursors so the difference in position of the two cursors varied in different parts of the screen. This was rather surprising as the dom0 had a default GNOME install.

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