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I understand that Xen can boot instances using an NFS mount as the root filesystem. I want something similar, but don't know how to accomplish it.

I would like all of my Xen guests to see a read-only block device and mount it as something other than root. I know how to accomplish this by simply specifying a block device available to the dom0 in each of the guest config files. This is trivial if I can have one "shared" device per host system, but I want just one shared device on the network.

I don't want to just use NFS in each of the guests, because I don't want them on the same network as my NFS server. I'd rather simply expose a device.

Any ideas?

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I don't suppose this for kernel modules or portage trees, is it? That's what I've seen this mechanism used for...

So, sure enough it's easy to have all of your guests have a filesystem image file attached to them as a read-only block device. It's also very straightforward to have that mounted somewhere in the guest (/etc/fstab and all that Jazz). Ownerships you'll presumably take care of in the block device anyway (assuming you're using a filesystem type that stores that metadata -- but if you're using, say, VFAT, ownership is only a mount option away anyway).

The trick is handling updates. Once you've got your "block device" mounted in any guest, nothing can be allowed to update it. It just won't work, because nobody knows that someone else is updating the contents, so everything falls apart. Instead, you need to create a copy of the file with the filesystem image, make whatever changes are needed, and then trigger some sort of update action to make the guests unmount the old "filesystem", then the dom0 can detach the old file and attach the new one, before the guest remounts the filesystem.

In the cases I've used this, we actually had some code in the domU config files (since they're just Python anyway) to find the newest of these block devices and attach that, then the usual boot-time mounts did the right thing. So, for us, the "update process" was "reboot the guest". Whether that works for you, though, is a question I can't answer because I don't know what you're trying to use this for.

Alternately, just have a second NFS server that is only used for supplying these files to your domUs. It's probably easier than all this block device frufru (we had some pretty specific requirements that made it the least-worst option, but I don't expect they apply in your case -- in fact, I know they don't apply in your case, because you've already got an NFS server).

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+1 to second NFS server. Simplest solution wins. –  Daniel Lawson Sep 24 '09 at 8:12

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