I am tired of manually configuring instances of Ubuntu for testing web applications and for setting up workstations. I'm even more frustrated by the issues caused by inconsistent configurations.
Is there a method (hopefully not too time consuming to learn and setup) that allows for automation of the setup and configuration of an Ubuntu server or workstation from an ISO. This is primarily for virtual machine instances, but it would be helpful to also create instances on hardware.
I am specifically looking for a method to automate the installation of libraries (apt-get), configure services (such as Apache and MySQL), add 3rd party software (download, extract and build), and add libraries to scripting languages (for example, Ruby Gems or CPAN packages for Perl).