Using Cloud-init with Rackspace cloud

It goes without saying that booting and configuring a server manually every time you need one gets old fast. Thankfully there are a number of tools to help with orchestration and automation available to you. 

To list a few you can:

  • create a ‘golden image’ of a server’s desired state.
  • learn and setup Chef/Puppet/Salt Stack to manage your infrastructure.
  • use Rackspace’s Cloud Deployments to spin up an environment.

All of these are great tools, but as with anything they have their pros and cons. Chef or Salt Stack gives you a good deal of customization but you’ll need to learn the format and then you’ll probably need to run some additional infrastructure to support the orchestration. Rackspace Deployments provides a variety of deployable stacks, but might lack the advanced customization you need. Using a “golden image” requires you to deploy a new server to customize and capture any changes you make. 

What if you want something simple that’s easy to use but is powerful enough to compliment your existing configuration management?

Enter cloud-init, a project that is designed to work across cloud providers and public/private clouds. It’s easy to use, and can be a great alternative or complement to your existing configuration management. 

Using cloud-init

The first piece we’ll need to create to use cloud-init is the cloud-config configuration file. This is a YAML formatted file that must begin with ‘#cloud-config’ and uses a cloud-init specific syntax. It’s a powerful tool with many options and modules, so here is some further reading:

Example configuration file.

Specific examples using cloud-init.

Wordpress and LAMP installation via cloud-init

Lets use cloud-init to set up a basic LAMP stack and then download the latest version of Wordpress. While this isn’t the most comprehensive example of a Wordpress install, it will give you a good idea of how easy a basic deployment with cloud-init can be. 

Here is the full cloud config that we’ll be using.



 - apache2
 - php5
 - php5-mysql
 - mysql-server


 - wget -P /tmp/
 - tar -zxf /tmp/latest.tar.gz -C /var/www/
 - mysql -e "create database wordpress; create user 'wpuser'@'localhost' identified by 'changemetoo'; grant all privileges on wordpress . \* to 'wpuser'@'localhost'; flush privileges;"
 - mysql -e "drop database test; drop user 'test'@'localhost'; flush privileges;"
 - mysqladmin -u root password 'changeme'

The cloud-config file is broken into sections by cloud-init module, with the appropriate parameters for each following. All of the default modules are included on the Rackspace enabled cloud-init base images. 

  • CentOS 6.x +
  • Debian 7 +
  • Fedora
  • RHEL 6.x +
  • Scientific Linux 6.x +
  • Ubuntu 12.04 +
  • Arch and Gentoo coming soon

Examining the cloud-config script

The first module in the configuration file is packages. As the name implies, any distribution specific packages listed here will be installed by cloud-init. While cloud-init syntax is universal on supported distributions, the packages that you specify to install are typically distribution specific so you’ll need to make sure all of your packages are correct. For example, on RHEL based distributions the Apache module would be referred to as ‘httpd’. This module will also update our repositories for us before trying to install anything.

Next up is the runcmd and this allows you to run arbitrary commands like you would via your Linux shell , with each command on a separate line. This is where cloud-init will pull down Wordpress and setup MySQL for the installation. All pretty standard stuff.

Building a server with config-drive

Before we can use our configuration file we’ll need to actually get it into the server, and we’ll accomplish that by using a feature called config-drive. Additional information about config-drive can be read about in the API docs, but just know for the purpose of this blog that it’s a read only drive that is attached to your server on build and used by cloud-init as a data source for user supplied files.

Now that we have our configuration file setup we’ll inject it into our server with the nova (or in this example the supernova client:

$ supernova iad boot --config-drive=true --flavor performance1-1 --image Ubuntu --user-data cloud-config Servername

This attaches the config-drive to our server at boot by specifying --configuration-drive=true, then --user-data cloud-config is letting nova know that we’re going to pass it the following user-data file which will need to go inside of config-drive.

If everything worked we should be able to list our server and ping the public IP assigned to the newly created server.

$ supernova iad list

Navigate to the IP appended with ‘/wordpress’ (for example ‘’) and we should see the default Wordpress installation page. It would be simple to extend the sample cloud-config to take care of this step for you but I leave that as an exercise for you. 

If upon navigating to your server’s IP you don’t get see the default Apache placeholder page, or cannot see your Wordpress installation, give it a few seconds as cloud-init could still be unpacking the files or running through your cloud config. 


This is a good segue into what happens if something goes wrong and you need to figure out what exploded.

Log files can typically be found in /var/log/cloud-init.log.

The copy of your cloud-config is stored here: /var/lib/cloud/instance/cloud-config.txt.

The /var/lib/cloud directory also has other useful information, such as files that let cloud-init know it’s already run once so you can rest easy cloud-init isn’t going to setup Apache again if you reboot your server.

Partioning disks at boot using cloud-init

Lets work through one more example using cloud-init. 

With the launch of Performance servers we introduced the concept of a ‘system’ disk for the operating system, and generally 1 or more additional “data disks” to use for your data storage. By default, The extra data disks are presented as  separate virtual disk(s) with a single partition spanning each. You have the flexibility to decide how to format and mount them; many customers want to automate this at boot time so lets make cloud-init do that for us.

For this example I’m going to take some examples from the Rackspace Knowledge Center on formatting your extra data disks, and the cloud-init documentation for the ‘fs_setup’ and ‘mounts’ modules. This Performance2-120GB flavor has 4x300GB disks ; if using a different flavor, refer this article to learn more about how many disks are assigned to each flavor in the Performance class.

Here’s the full configuration file we’ll be using, on an Ubuntu image.

#values are for performance2-120 flavor with 4 additional data disks
#remove label blocks as appropriate for other flavors


 - label: None
   filesystem: 'ext3'
   device: '/dev/xvde1'
   partition: 'auto'

 - label:  None
   filesystem: 'ext3'
   device: '/dev/xvdf1'
   partition: 'auto'

 - label: None
   filesystem: 'ext3'
   device: '/dev/xvdg1'
   partition: 'auto'

 - label:  None
   filesystem: 'ext3'
   device: '/dev/xvdh1'
   partition: 'auto'

#change mount point to desired path and remove devices as appropriate


 - [ /dev/xvde1, /data1, "ext3", "defaults,noatime"]
 - [ /dev/xvdf1, /data2 ]
 - [ /dev/xvdg1, /data3 ]
 - [ /dev/xvdh1, /data4 ]

# mount_default_fields
# These values are used to fill in any entries in 'mounts' that are not
# complete.  This must be an array, and must have 7 fields.

mount_default_fields: [ None, None, "ext3", "defaults,noatime", "0","2" ]

(For the four data disk scenario, device labeling starts with ‘xvde’ label and ends alphabetically with ‘xvdh’.)

We use fs_setup to determine how we setup the file system on our server. In this example we have four sections, each representing a different data disk and partition. We’re not using a label on the disks so we can set this to ‘None’. Next is the file system we want to use on each disk; in this case we’ll specify ‘ext3’. This needs to be a file system that’s available to your distribution by default, so if you want to use something exotic you’ll need to add it either via cloud-init or by using a golden image that already has the filesystem installed. The ‘device’ is the partition that we want to format, and ‘partition’ set to ‘auto’ will cause it skip that device if the file system we specified is already there.

After we’ve setup the file system that we want it’s time to mount it. This follows the same pattern of one section per device, which follows the mount options and syntax that you’d find in ‘etc/fstab’. The mount_default_fields lets us specify default values for each device. In this example we specify additional entries for the first device ‘xvde1’. Rather than add the specification for each device, this information can be set in the mount_defaults section to save time and space. Feel free to read the fs_setup and mounts documentation for a full list of features.

Note that cloud-init will format your data disks one at a time, so disk size and number of are a factor. With disks as large as 300GB this can take some time to format; however your server will be go to ‘Active’ status and you can ssh, ping, and so forth while cloud-init is finishes performing all of its actions.

We’ve just scratched the surface of what cloud-init can do, and we look forward to what our users are doing with it, so let us know in the comments what tips, tricks and solutions you’re coming up with!

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Trey Hoehne

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