jtimberman's Code Blog

Chef, Ops, Ruby, Linux/Unix. Opinions are mine, not my employer's (CHEF).

Getting Started With Zones on OmniOS

I’ve become enamored with IllumOS recently. Years ago, I used Solaris (2.5.1 through 8) at IBM. Unfortunately (for me), I stopped using it before Solaris 10 brought all the cool toys to the yard – zones, zfs, dtrace, SMF. Thanks to OmniTI’s excellent IllumOS distribution, OmniOS, I’m getting acclimated with the awesomeness. I plan to write more about my experiences here.

First up, I spent today playing with zones. Zones are a kernel-level container technology similar to Linux containers/cgroups, or BSD jails. They’re fast and lightweight. At least two of the plans I have for them:

  1. Segregating the services on my home-server.
  2. Adding support to various tools in Chef’s ecosystem.

The following is basically a compilation of several different blog posts and documentation collections I’ve been poring over. Like most technical blog writers, I’m posting this so I can find it later :–).


I have a number of options for learning OmniOS. I have spare hardware, or VMware, or OmniTI’s Vagrant box. I’m doing all three of these, but the main use will be on physical hardware, as I’m planning to port the aforementioned server to OmniOS (#1, above).

The details of the hardware are not important, except that I have a hard disk device c3t1d0, and a physical NIC device nge1 that are devoted to zones. To adapt these instructions for your own installation, change those device names where appropriate.

You can find the name of the disk device to use in your system with the format command.

root@menthe:~# format
Searching for disks...done

       0. c3t0d0 <ATA-WDCWD1500AHFD-0-7QR5 cyl 18238 alt 2 hd 255 sec 63>
       1. c3t1d0 <ATA-SAMSUNG HD501LJ-0-12-465.76GB>
Specify disk (enter its number): ^D

Here I wanted to use the Samsung disk.

Use dladm to find the network devices:

root@menthe:~# dladm show-phys
LINK         MEDIA                STATE      SPEED  DUPLEX    DEVICE
nge0         Ethernet             up         1000   full      nge0
nge1         Ethernet             up         1000   full      nge1


The example zone here is named base. Replace base with any zone name you wish, e.g. webserver37 or noodlebarn. It’s also worth noting that I’m going to use DHCP, rather than static networking here. There are plenty of guides out there for static networking, and I had to hunt around for DHCP. Also worth noting is that this was all performed right after installing the OS.

First, create a zpool to use for zones. This is a 500G disk, so I have plenty of space.

zpool create zones c3t1d0

Next, create a VNIC on the interface which is devoted to zones (nge1). It can be named anything, but must end with a number.

dladm create-vnic -l nge1 vnicbase0

Rather than use the zonecfg REPL, I used the following configuration file, for repeatability.

create -b
set zonepath=/zones/base
set ip-type=exclusive
set autoboot=false
add net
set physical=vnicbase0

Use this config file to configure the zone with zonecfg.

zonecfg -z base -f base.conf

Now we’re ready to install the OS in the new zone. This may take awhile as all the packages need to be downloaded.

zoneadm -z base install

The default nsswitch.conf(4) does not use DNS for hosts. This is fairly standard for Solaris/IllumOS. Also, the resolv.conf(4) is not configured automatically, which is a departure from automagic Linux distributions (and a thing I agree with).

cp /etc/nsswitch.dns /etc/resolv.conf /zones/base/root/etc

OmniOS does not use sysidcfg, so the way to make the new zone boot up with an interface configured for DHCP is to write out the ipadm.conf configuration for ipadm. The following is base.ipadm.conf that I used, with the vnicbase0 VNIC created with dladm earlier.


Copy this file to the zone.

cp base.ipadm.conf /zones/base/root/etc/ipadm/ipadm.conf

Now, boot the zone.

zoneadm -z base boot

Now you can log into the newly created zone and verify that things are working, and do any further configuration required.

zlogin -e ! base

I use ! as the escape character because I’m logging into my global zone over SSH. This means you disconnect with !. instead of ~..

Once complete, the zone can be cloned.

Clone a Zone

I’m going to clone the base zone to clonebase. Again, rename this to whatever you like.

First, a zone must be halted before it can be cloned.

zoneadm -z base halt

Now, create a new VNIC for the zone.

dladm create-vnic -l nge1 clonebase

Read the base zone’s configuration, and replace base with clonebase.

zonecfg -z base export | sed 's/base/clonebase/g' | tee clonebase.conf

Then, create the new zone configuration, and clone the base zone.

zonecfg -z clonebase -f clonebase.conf
zoneadm -z clonebase clone base

Again, ensure that the network configuration to use DNS is available.

cp /etc/nsswitch.dns /etc/resolv.conf /zones/clonebase/root/etc

Create the ipadm.conf config for the new zone. I named it clonebase.ipadm.conf

sed 's/base/clonebase/g' base.ipadm.conf > clonebase.ipadm.conf

Now copy this to the zone.

cp clonebase.ipadm.conf /zones/clonebase/root/etc/ipadm/ipadm.conf

Finally, boot the new zone.

zoneadm -z clonebase boot

Login and verify the new zone.

zlogin -e ! clonebase

Cleaning Up

Use the following to clean up the zone when it’s not needed anymore.

zoneadm -z $zone halt
zoneadm -z $zone uninstall -F
zonecfg -z $zone delete -F

Sans Prose

This gist contains all the things I did above minus the prose.

What’s Next?

I have a few goals in mind for this system. First of all, I want to manage the zones with Chef, of course. Some of the functions of the zones may be:

  • IPS package repository
  • Omnibus build system for OmniOS
  • Adding OmniOS support to cookbooks

I also want to facilitate plugins and the ecosystem around Chef for IllumOS, including zone based knife, vagrant and test-kitchen plugins.

Finally, I plan to convert my Linux home-server to OmniOS. There are a couple things I’m running that will require Linux (namely Plex), but fortunately, OmniOS has KVM thanks to SmartOS.


The following links were helpful in composing this post, and of course for the reference material they contain.