Most major distributions now provide “cloud-enabled” images designed for use in cloud environments like OpenStack and AWS. These images are usually differentiated by (a) being relatively small, and (b) running cloud-init at boot to perform initial system configuration tasks using metadata provided by the cloud environment.

Because of their small size and support for automatic configuration (including such useful tasks as provisioning ssh keys), these images are attractive for use outside of a cloud environment. Unfortunately, when people first try to boot them they are met with frustration as first the image takes forever to boot as it tries to contact a non-existent metadata service, and then when it finally does boot they are unable to log in because the images typically only support key-based login.

Fortunately, there are ways to work around these issues. In addition to working with various network-accessible metadata services, cloud-init is also able to read configuration information from an attached [virtual] CD-ROM device. This is known as a “configuration drive”, and it is relatively easy to create.

For this purpose, the simplest solution is use cloud-init’s “no cloud” data source. For this, we need to create an ISO filesystem creating two files, meta-data and (optionally) user-data.

The meta-data file

The meta-data file is effectively a YAML version of the data typically available in the EC2 metadata service, and will look something like this:

instance-id: my-instance-id
local-hostname: my-host-name

The instance-id key is required. You can also include SSH public keys in this file, like this:

instance-id: my-instance-id
local-hostname: my-host-name
  - ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1...

You will see examples that place ssh keys in the user-data file instead, but I believe this is the wrong solution, since it forces you to use a “cloud-config” format user-data file. Putting ssh keys into the meta-data provides you more flexibility with your user-data content.

The user-data file

The user-data can be any of the various formats supported by cloud-init. For example, it could simply be a shell script:


yum -y install some-critical-package

Or it could be a cloud-config YAML document:


  - path: /etc/profile.d/
    content: |
      alias gc="git commit"
      alias gcv="git commit --no-verify"
  - setenforce 1

Putting it all together

Once you have created your meta-data and user-data files, you can create the configuration drive like this:

genisoimage -o config.iso -V cidata -r -J meta-data user-data

To boot an instance using this configuration drive, you could do something like this:

virt-install -n example -r 512 -w network=default \
  --disk vol=default/fedora-21-cloud.qcow2 --import \
  --disk path=config.iso,device=cdrom

(This assumes, obviously, that you have an image named fedora-21-cloud.qcow2 available in libvirt’s default storage pool.)

A little automation

I have written a create-config-drive script that will automate this process. With this script available, the above process is simply:

create-config-drive -k ~/.ssh/ -u user-data config.iso
adding pubkey from /home/lars/.ssh/
adding user data from userdata
generating configuration image at config.iso