Duplicating a Xen DomU

A fairly common request is to be able to duplicate a Xen instance. For example you might have a DomU for the purpose of running WordPress and want another DomU to run MediaWiki. The difference in configuration between two DomU’s for running web based services that are written in PHP and talking to a MySQL back-end is quite small, so copying the configuration is easier than a clean install.

It is a commonly held opinion that a clean install should be done every time and that Kickstart on Red Hat, FAI on Debian and comparable technologies on other distributions can be used for a quick automatic install. I have not yet got FAI working correctly or got Kickstart working on Xen (it’s on my todo list – I’ll blog about it when it’s done).

Regardless of whether it’s a good idea to copy a Xen DomU, there are often situations where clients demand it or when it’s impractically difficult to do a fresh install.

I believe that the most sensible way to store block devices with Xen is to use LVM. It is a requirement for a Xen system that you can easily create new block devices while the machine is running and that the size of block devices can be changed with minimal effort. This rules out using Linux partitions and makes it unreasonably difficult to use LUNs on a fiber-channel SAN or partitions on a hardware RAID. LVM allows creating new block devices and changing the size of block devices with minimal effort. Another option would be to use files on a regular filesystem to store the filesystem data for Xen DomU’s, if choosing this option I recommend using XFS [1] filesystem (which delivers good performance with large filesystems and large files).

If you use XFS to store the block devices for the DomU that you want to copy then you will need to halt the DomU for the duration of the copy as there is no other way of getting an atomic copy of the filesystem while it’s in use. The way of doing this would be to run the command “xm console foo ; cp /mnt/whatever/foo-root /mnt/whatever/bar-root ; xm create -c foo” where “foo” is the name of the DomU and “/mnt/whatever/foo-root” is the file that is used to store the root device for the DomU (note that multiple cp commands would be needed if there are multiple block devices). The reason for having the two xm commands on the one line is that you initially login to the DomU from the console and type halt and then the xm command will terminate when the DomU is destroyed. This means that there is no delay from the time the domain is destroyed to the time that the copy starts.

If you use LVM to store the block device then things are a little easier (and you get no down-time). You simply run the command “lvcreate -s -L 300m -n foo-snap /dev/V0/foo-root” to create a snapshot with the device name /dev/V0/foo-snap which contains a snapshot the of the LV (Logical Volume) /dev/V0/foo-root. The “-L 300m” option means to use 300Meg of storage space for the snapshot – if the writes to /dev/V0/foo-root exceed 300Meg of data then your snapshot breaks. There is no harm in setting the allocated space for the snapshot to be the same as the size of the volume that you are going to copy – it merely means that more disk space is reserved and unavailable for other LVM operations. Note that V0 needs to be replaced by the name of the LVM VG (Volume Group) Once you have created the snapshot you can create a new LV with the command “lvcreate -n new-root -L X /dev/V0” where X is the size of the device (must be at least as big as the device you are copying) and then copy the data across with a command similar to “dd if=/dev/V0/foo-snap of=/dev/V0/new-root bs=1024k“. After the copy is finished you must remove the snapshot with the command “lvremove /dev/V0/foo-snap” (please be very careful when running this command – you really don’t want to remove an LV that has important data). Note that in normal operation lvremove will always give a prompt “Do you really want to remove active logical volume“. If you made the new device bigger then you must perform the operations that are appropriate for your filesystem to extend it’s size to use the new space.

There is no need to copy a swap device, it’s easier to just create a new device and run mkswap on it.

After copying the data you will need to create the new Xen config (by copying /etc/xen/foo to the new name). Make sure that you edit the Xen config file to use the correct block devices and if you are specifying the MAC address [2] by a “vif” line in the config file make sure that you change them to unique addresses for your LAN segment (reference [2] has information on how to select addresses).

Now you must mount the filesystem temporarily to change the IP address (you really don’t want two DomU’s with the same IP address). If your Dom0 has untrusted users or services that are accessed by untrusted users (IE any Internet facing service) then you want to mount the filesystem in question with the options nosuid and nodev so that if the DomU has been cracked it won’t allow cracking of the Dom0. After changing the configuration files to change the IP address(es) of the DomU you can then umount the filesystem and start it with the xm create command.

If instead of creating the clone DomU on the same Dom0 you want to put it on a different system you can copy the block devices to files on a regular filesystem on removable media (EG an IDE disk with USB attachment). When copying the block devices you also need to copy the Xen configuration and edit it to reflect the new paths to block devices for the data once it’s copied to the new server, but you won’t necessarily need to change the MAC address if you are copying it to a different LAN segment.



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