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SUSE Studio Builds Customized Linux Appliances in a Flash
Automated Customization Goodness
May 21, 2009
One of the best ways to try out a new Linux distribution is to download a bootable ISO or USB image file and give it a quick spin. The Knoppix distribution was one of the first to distribute in a bootable CD form, making it possible to try out Linux without installing to a hard drive. VMware added another option to the mix with the release of their free VMware Player. With that introduction came the flood of new Linux-based appliances targeted at the VMware environment.
Building your own custom Linux-based appliance can be tedious. First you have to install the base operating system and then add or delete the packages you want in the final version. Next you must perform a few basic configuration tasks to make sure your system has the right network settings and such. Then you have to actually build and test the VMware image which is not an impossible task but tedious nonetheless.
Novell's SUSE Studio brings a slick automation process to the world of Linux appliances. All that's needed on your part is a few mouse clicks and fifteen to twenty minutes of your time. Once the process is complete you'll have a fully bootable image to download in one of several formats, including a VMware image.
The SUSE Studio website uses a very clean wizard and dialog-based approach to lead you through the build process. Options for each step are presented in logical groupings with short descriptions to help you make your selections. The Novell / SUSE team has put a lot of thought and design effort into the SUSE Studio site, resulting in an extremely easy to use Linux-appliance building experience.
Novell has another tool called the openSUSE Build Service (OBS) that SUSE Studio leverages for a good bit of its functionality. OBS provides a simple web-based and command line interface to a tool for building software packages targeted at specific Linux distributions. With this tool in hand you can easily automate the configuration and building of virtually any open source tool targeted at your distribution. While OBS was originally built with openSUSE as the primary target platform, it does offer support for all the major Linux distributions.
The first choice you must make when creating a new appliance is the base environment. Current OS choices include openSUSE 11.1, SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 and 11. From there you have a number of other options starting with the minimalistic "Just enough OS" (JeOS) to a full GNOME or KDE-based desktop. JeOS is a great way to build a true appliance for things like a standalone Web server. You can also choose between 32- and 64-bit architecture.
A default software configuration will be created depending on the OS choices you made, including a good general selection of applications. You can customize the default settings to add or delete applications to meet your specific needs. There's also a nice search tool to look for specific applications that aren't included in the base set. One really nice touch is the status section showing information about the size of your image in terms of final / compressed size and the selections currently in place. A "messages" section gives helpful tips on other items you might want to include such as VMware tools.