Top 10 Virtual Appliances, Revisited

It’s been almost 4 years since I’ve rounded up VMs used on a daily basis, so it’s high time I take another kick at the can and make an update list.

My workflows have changed quite a bit over the years, with more focus being on the Windows side of things. That said, I havent stopped using Linux and still have a keen interest in both storage and management, which should be reflected here.

FreeBSD 9 – I’ve made the switch to this as my go-to server OS. The jails functionality and ports collections are amazing! This could run many of the functions listed herein, but at the very least is a great ZFSv28 test box for the uninitiated.

Astaro –  I’m still using Astaro after all these years, and Sophos purchasing them has not stopped the love. By far the easiest way to start using Squid, Quagga and OpenVPN.

GNS3 Workbench – I use this for testing Cisco configurations on my way to certification. Load up an IOS image, configure, test away!

Nexenta Community Edition – My ZFS primer was done a few years ago using Nexenta, and it is still the easiest way to get into ZFS, so it deserves the nod. The first time you see the speedometers you’ll be in love.

Solaris 11 11/11 – For newer versions of ZFS, you’re stuck with Solaris 11.11.11. You can download this for free, but won’t be able to get support and updates without a license, so I wouldn’t consider it production-ready.

Bactrack 5 – Time to test your wifi security. I’d recommend plugging an Alfa USB wifi device into ESX, sharing the device with the VM and scanning your access point in order to do quick audits.

Windows Server 2008 R2 – Not free, per se, but a good trial that should be enough to get you going on your road to certification. I use the Core install for DHCP and DNS when Windows integration is important.

Citrix XenApp – You’ll need to convert this one, but combined with the developer license, you’ll get 2 concurrent users, include the web access gateway. Click this for a tutorial on getting a hostgator coupon or the developer license, which has always been a bit of a pain.

Plop Boot Manager – Great ISO for booting and testing USB sticks.

Amahi – Easy as pie mDNS and uPnP autodiscovery. I’ve written about this being a poor Windows Home Server replacement before, but to be fair they get an awful lot right at this point in time.

OSX Lion – A $20 purchase, and well worth it! Follow the guide here to get it all working in ESXi

Ubuntu LTS – Ubuntu is currently the most popular Linux distribution, can run a wealth of software. Finally took over OpenSuSE as my go-to distribution. The only thing I would mention is that unity does not work so well in ESXi, and if you require the whole desktop experience, you might be better off with Xubuntu or Mint.


Top 10 Chrome Applications I Can’t Live Without

I’ve been trying to become as agile as possible when it comes to personal data in order to be able to run and test any platform of my choosing. To that end, I usually resort to web applications.
That said, Chrome and its open source cousin Chromium can only be run on many (but not all) platforms:
  • Windows XP/Vista/2008/7/8
  • Mac OS 10.5.6+
  • Flavours of Linux – Debian, RedHat, OpenSuSE, Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS
  • ChromeOS
  • All of the above
  • BSD: FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, DragonflyBSD
  • Solaris and Open Indiana
  • ChromiumOS
  • Gentoo
Unfortunately one OS left out is HP-UX 11i. This is typically a server install, and while I know it’s no excuse, no longer has the mindshare it once enjoyed.
On to the apps!
  • Google Music – free sync for up to 20000 songs. My iTunes replacement that allows offline play for iOS and Android
  • Adblock – A must. I block adverts on everything.
  • Google Reader – It took a very long time for me to get used to the way Google reader works, but it might actually be the best there is at the moment especially considering the aggregation of many feeds into one.
  • Mint – Personal finance application I could not live without.
  • IMO – Goodbye Adium, Pidgin and MSN Messenger! is not only a multi-instance web chat client that runs everywhere, it also runs on iOS!
  • Kindle Cloud Reader – Never lose your place. The web client knows where you were on your Kindle, iOS device and syncs it up for you.
  • Google Finance – For stock checking and even watching mutuals. Find out when the next dividend is, sort companies by financials and even display candle graphs.
  • Aviary – Has just surpassed Picnik as my only photo editor, and is now also integrated with flickr. Note that there are many Aviary editors ranging from vector to audio and even video.
  • Netflix Instant Queue – I’m sure you’ve heard of this, but did you also realize that it will resume from PS3, XBOX 360, iPhone/iPad on the web? Outside of the US, we’re not able to use “Instant Queue” but this app brings it back.
  • Offline Gmail – Spotty wifi? Don’t worry, Gmail offline has you covered.
  • Google Voice – This doesn’t get as much hype as it should, but is a great app that can not only make calls for you, but also send SMS.Soon they will make loans app and pay day loans apps.


RSync Files to a Unix/BSD Backup Device from your Mac Laptop

My photo-taking workflow while on vacation usually involves taking a lot of photos daily, dumping them to a laptop, processing, then backing them up once I have returned home.
Previously, I accomplished this manually using BeyondCompare for Windows, as that would run on Windows Home Server.
Since moving to ZFS-based storage, however, this is no longer an option as BeyondCompare only has a Linux client (nothing for Unix/BSD).
There are other ways to get around this:

  • SSHFS and Meld – Complicated, somewhat bloated, but great BeyondCompare alternative
  • *Commander Utilities – Midnight Commander derivatives can accomplish similar tasks using the ctrl+x,d shortcut
  • Rsync – typically installed by default, easy to script

I chose Rsync as I wanted something more automated, but I do find myself using Midnight Commander from time-to-time to simply “get things done” when syncing files other than my images.

Here’s how I did it:

rsync -a -e ssh /volumes/PICTURES/ 'username@mymac:/Volumes/BIGRAID/'

Let’s break this down into smaller pieces:

rsync – this is the command that will do our heavy lifting and file comparison

-a – archive mode

-e – specify an RSH replacement

ssh  – use SSH

/volumes/PICTURES/ – this specifies the “Volumes” folder on my Mac, and the “PICTURES” drive within it. Replace this with the location of your items to backup

 – note the use of single quotes here. We’re using these in case there are spaces in the folder names, and we could have done the same above.

username@mymac – We’re logging on to the host “mymac” with the username “username”. You’ll probably want to change these. I use a hostname here, but you could just as easily use an IP address if you use static IP addresses.

:/volumes/BIGRAID/ – the colon denotes a subfolder on the server we are backing up to, and /volumes/BIGRAID in this case refers to a ZFS pool called “BIGRAID”.

Do you have a similar backup strategy for BSD/Unix targets that you would like to share?

Clear All ZFS Snapshots

If you’ve been running snapshots for a while and have already backed them up, you might occasional need to delete all zfs snapshots for your pool.
Typically, you’d do this as part of your backup script, assuming that they have been written correctly.

First, to find the used snapshot space, run this command:
zfs list -o space
This will give you a detailed readout of your pools and snapshot space used.

Here’s my script to wipe ZFS snap shots, but I am certainly open to suggestion:
zfs list -H -o name -t snapshot | xargs -n1 zfs destroy
Again, caution is needed as this will remove ALL SNAPS from your pools.