Heinrich Hartmann

Setting Up A Virtual Cluster

Written on 2013-12-25

When playing around with distributed technologies like hadoop or databases, it becomes at some point important to have a number of machines available to perform tests in a truly distributed environment. In this note I am going to explain how to setup a virtual cluster using virtual box, so that you can simulate such an environment on a single laptop.

Target Network Configuration

Each host has two network interfaces.

Network Setup Sketch:

                     vboxnet0  inet
 HOST:                          |
      [vboxnet0|.1]-----+       |
                        |       |
 VLB1:                  |       |
      [eth1|.101]-------+       |
                        |       |
 VLB2:                  |       |

VM Setup

  1. Create a new virtual machine
    I used the following specs:
    • 1Gb Memory
    • 5Gb Disk (dynamically allocated)
    • two network adapters as described above.
  2. Install linux.
    I used Ubuntu 12.04 Server. Update packages and install basic tools (e.g. openssh, emacs)
  3. Network configuration
    Enable dhcp on both network interfaces in /etc/network/interfaces.
  4. Setup ssh access.
    I like to be able to get a remote shell by simply typing ssh <hostname>. Use .ssh/config to set the default user name (user), and copy the ssh key as described e.g. at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SSH/OpenSSH/

     cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | ssh VLB "cat >> .ssh/authorized_keys"

Excerpt from /etc/network/interfaces on the virtual hosts:

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

auto eth1
iface eth1 inet dhcp

Excerpt from ~/.ssh/config on the hosts:

Host VLB
User user


Before shutting down the root VM for cloning execute the following command on the shell:

sudo rm -f /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules

This will erase the network card configuration. Now shutdown the VM and clone the virtual machine in virtual box. Select ‘Reinitialize the MAC addresses of all network cards’.

We need different mac addresses to have both cards in the same network. As a result the linux kernel will detect the network cards as new interfaces and give them new names (eth1, eth2) - and not be automatically activated and configured on boot.

Hostnames and SSH Config

First adapt your ~/.ssh/config and etc/hosts to list both machines as VLB1 and VLB2. Then cofigure the remote hostnames:

echo "VLB1" | ssh VLB1 "cat | sudo tee /etc/hostname"
echo " VLB1" | ssh VLB1 "cat | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts"

Similarly for VLB2.

Remark: A drawback of this approach is that each time the 2nd command is executed a new line is appended at to /etc/hosts. In particular the command is not idempotent. An alternative variant would be to use sed for a global string replacement, which has similar issues. sed s/VLB/VLB1/g transforms VLB -> VLB1 -> VLB11. Maybe sed s/VLB$/VLB1/g could work.

Also it would be nice to set /etc/hosts correctly on the remote, but this gets too far. It seems zookeper is the right tool for this kind of problems.

Network check

To see if all hosts are sucessfully connected to the network, run a ip-range scan. E.g.

nmap 192.168.56.*

You should see three machines at .1, .101, .102.

Startup Script

Convenience script to start the whole “cluster” at once:

nohup vboxheadless -s LinuxBox &
nohup vboxheadless -s LinuxBox_1 &