Ansible provisioning for Vagrant running VMware

Introduction

This is the beginning of a series of posts about using Vagrant with WMware virtualization and Ansible provisioning. That’s three technologies in one sentence. Combining technologies is always challenging, especially if you have little to no experience with some of them. This means that things will go wrong many times during my research and it will be far from a smooth experience. Although I would have loved to describe my adventure in chronological order, this would be annoying, as you would most certainly lose track of how things are supposed to work.

So instead of mixing how things went wrong with how things should have worked the first time, I will present you with posts describing my project as if everything went right the first time. For those interested in my personal struggle, the amount of effort involved and especially those encountering errors themselves, I will post about what went wrong separately.

The idea and the technologies

Let me start with a brief explanation of each technology and my project.

Vagrant

Vagrant is a technology that allows you to script the installation and configuration of a virtual machine. Because it’s scripted, it’s repeatable, distributable and it can be kept under version control. The major benefits are experienced in development, where you can keep multiple development environments on a single host machine (your development laptop or whatever you use). You can share these environments with your team and use version control to keep them in sync between you and your team mates. Of course, you will build your vagrant setup so that it resembles your production environment as close as possible. A machine is built from a base box, which is installed and configured using a provisioner. This can be repeated over and over again, but once provisioned there is no need to do it all again: Vagrant will notice if you made any changes to your provisioning script. Vagrant is most widely used with VirtualBox, which is a free (as in beer) virtualization tool. Base boxes can be obtained as downloads from the vagrant website and other sources you might decide to trust.

VMware

VMware is a virtualization brand, like VirtualBox.  Virtualization allows you to run a computer (the guest) inside another computer (the host). Virtualization allows you to have as many machines on your host machine as you have room for in terms of disk space. You run them when you need them and shut them down or suspend them when you’re done. You may run multiple virtual machines at the same time, as long as physical memory is available. While virtualization by itself allows you to have multiple different development environments on the same machine, it is not so easily shared and distributed as when combined with Vagrant. With Vagrant, you only need to share the scripts, not the machines. Also, you cannot keep virtual machines under version control, as they are mostly binary representations of disk states.

VMware is a drop-in replacement for VirtualBox and it’s not free. On windows and linux, you use WMware Workstation, while on the Mac, you use VMware Fusion. Vagrant uses a plugin, vagrant-vmware-fusion, to work with VMware on Mac OSX. The vagrant-vmware-fusion plugin is also not free.

Ansible

The most commonly know provisioners for Vagrant are shell, Chef and Puppet. Shell means just basic shell commands that you would type yourself if you are doing manual installation and configuration. The other two are sophisticated provisioning systems with quite a learning curve. Ansible is a provisioning tool like the latter two, but it is simple and powerful at the same time.

My project

There is a lot of buzz around Vagrant. The first time I saw someone use it was during MidwestPHP in March 2013, where Chris Tankersly used it in his presentation. Like everyone else mentioning Vagrant he talked about it rather casually, saying that ‘vagrant up’ gives you a complete development environment with almost no effort. Whenever I hear someone talk about a new technology in such a way, I get suspicious. In my experience, good things rarely come with ‘almost no effort’. I was quite convinced, that if at that moment I would type ‘vagrant up’ in some terminal window on my machine, it would give me absolutely nothing. Every tool needs the right context to work: More about that later in this series.

Why VMWare?

On my Mac, with OSX Mavericks installed, I use VMware Fusion for virtualization. Because I come from a Windows history, I keep a Windows 7 VM, so that I can still run applications that I purchased for Windows. At the time when I started using virtualization I was still working on Windows and used VMware Workstation. When I moved to OSX, VMware Fusion was the promoted choice and I didn’t know of the existence of VirtualBox in the first place. In addition, when I started using Vagrant about half a year ago, I wasn’t completely satisfied with how VirtualBox worked. This was mostly due to unfamiliarity with it’s UI and some usability issues I was experiencing with it, like not being able to cancel a dialog. For my daily work however, I do work with VirtualBox, because my team uses it and I want to be able to share their Vagrant configuration and base box. Also, I did not have the time to become familiar with using the vagrant-vmware-fusion plugin when the project started at a fast pace. In spite of the fact that by now, VirtualBox is doing a good job in virtualizing my two different development environments, I still want Vagrant to work with VMware fusion. I bought all the licenses, I like the UI and the overall stability of VMware, so now I want to work with it.

With Ansible, we get to the most interesting part of this series. With Ansible, I have no experience at all. It is a configuration management system that you can use to spin up machines in the cloud, or spin up your own local virtualized development environment. As such, you can use it with Vagrant. Ansible allows me to skip learning supposedly more complicated systems like Chef and Puppet, while at the same getting to understand a sophisticated tool. I fell in love with Ansible during a presentation by Jeremy Coates at PHP Benelux 2014. His enthusiasm was as obvious as contagious.

So, because Vagrant is a cool technology that everybody uses for good reasons and because I like VMware and because I am interested in learning Ansible, I decided I wanted to use them all three together. While there is excellent documentation available on each of these technologies, it’s not easy to find a step by step guide on how to use them together, so I decided to fill that gap with a series of posts. Keep an eye on this blog over the next month to read them all.

To start with using Vagrant and VMware together, read part 1 of this series: Using Vagrant with WMware Fusion: vagrant-vmware-fusion

Author: Bart McLeod

Zend Framework MVC specialist. Also interested in PHP, Zend Framework in general, Three.js and VRML.

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