On this page:
12.1 Objectives
12.2 Motivation
12.3 Prerequisites
12.4 Logging In
12.4.1 Using a Cloud  Lab Account
12.4.2 Using a GENI Account
12.5 Launching Chef Experiments
12.6 Exploring Your Experiment
12.6.1 Experiment Status
12.6.2 Profile Instructions
12.6.3 Topology View
12.6.4 List View
12.6.5 Manifest View
12.6.6 Actions
12.7 Brief Introduction to Chef
12.8 Logging in to the Chef Web Console
12.8.1 Web-based Shell
12.8.2 Chef Web Console
12.9 Configuring NFS
12.9.1 Exploring The Structure
12.10 Apache Web Server and Apache  Bench Benchmarking tool
12.10.1 Understanding the Internals
12.11 Final Remarks about Chef on Cloud  Lab
12.12 Terminating Your Experiment
12.13 Future Steps
2016-11-08 (b72d2a9)

12 CloudLab Chef Tutorial

This tutorial will walk you through the process of creating and using an instance of the Chef configuration management system on CloudLab.

Chef is both the name of a company and the name of a popular modern configuration management system written in Ruby and Erlang. A large variety of tutorials, articles, technical docs and training opportunities is available at the Chef official website. Also, refer to the Customer Stories page to see how Chef is used in production environments, including very large installations (e.g., at Facebook, Bloomberg, and Yahoo!).

12.1 Objectives

In the process of taking this tutorial, you will learn to:

12.2 Motivation

This tutorial will demonstrate how experiments can be managed on CloudLab, as well as show how experiment resources can be administered using Chef. By following the instructions provided below, you will learn how to take advantage of the powerful features of Chef for configuring multi-node software environments. The exercises included in this tutorial are built around simple but realistic configurations. In the process of recreating these configurations on nodes running default images, you will explore individual components of Chef and follow the configuration management workflow applicable to more complex configurations and experiments.

12.3 Prerequisites

This tutorial assumes that:

12.4 Logging In

The first step is to log in to CloudLab; CloudLab is available to all researchers and educators who work in cloud computing. If you have an account at one of its federated facilities, like Emulab or GENI, then you already have an account at CloudLab.

12.4.1 Using a CloudLab Account

If you have signed up for an account at the CloudLab website, simply open https://www.cloudlab.us/in your browser, click the “Log In” button, enter your username and password, and skip to the next part of the tutorial.


12.4.2 Using a GENI Account

If you have an account at the GENI portal, you will use the single-sign-on features of the CloudLab and GENI portal.

  1. Open the web interface
    To log in to CloudLab using a GENI account, start by visiting https://www.cloudlab.us/ in your browser and using the “Log In” button in the upper right.

  2. Click the "GENI User" button
    On the login page that appears, you will use the “GENI User” button. This will start the GENI authorization tool, which lets you connect your GENI account with CloudLab.

  3. Select the GENI portal
    You will be asked which facility your account is with. Select the GENI icon, which will take you to the GENI portal. There are several other facilities that are federated with CloudLab, which can be found in the drop-down list.

  4. Log into the GENI portal
    You will be taken to the GENI portal, and will need to select the institution that is your identity provider. Usually, this is the university you are affiliated with. If your university is not in the list, you may need to log in using the “GENI Project Office” identity provider. If you have ever logged in to the GENI portal before, your identity provider should be pre-selected; if you are not familiar with this login page, there is a good chance that you don’t have a GENI account and need to apply for one.

  5. Log into your institution
    This will bring you to your institution’s standard login page, which you likely use to access many on-campus services. (Yours will look different from this one.)

  6. Authorize CloudLab to use your GENI account

    What’s happening in this step is that your browser uses your GENI user certificate (which it obtained from the GENI portal) to cryptographically sign a “speaks-for” credential that authorizes the CloudLab portal to make GENI API calls on your behalf.

    Click the “Authorize” button: this will create a signed statement authorizing the CloudLab portal to speak on your behalf. This authorization is time-limited (see “Show Advanced” for the details), and all actions the CloudLab portal takes on your behalf are clearly traceable.

    If you’d like, you can click “Remember This Decision” to skip this step in the future (you will still be asked to log in to the GENI portal).

  7. Set up an SSH keypair in the GENI portal
    Though not strictly required, many parts of this tutorial will work better if you have an ssh public key associated with your GENI Portal account. To upload one, visit portal.geni.net and use the “SSH Keys” item on the menu that drops down under your name.
    If you are not familiar with ssh keys, you may skip this step. You may find GitHub’s ssh key page helpful in learning how to generate and use them.

    When you create a new experiment, CloudLab grabs the set of ssh keys you have set up at the time; any ssh keys that you add later are not added to experiments that are already running.


12.5 Launching Chef Experiments

Once you have logged in to CloudLab, you will “instantiate” a “profile” to create an experiment. (An experiment in CloudLab is similar to a “slice” in GENI.) Profiles are CloudLab’s way of packaging up configurations and experiments so that they can be shared with others. Each experiment is separate: the experiment that you create for this tutorial will be an instance of a profile provided by the facility, but running on resources that are dedicated to you, which you have complete control over. This profile uses local disk space on the nodes, so anything you store there will be lost when the experiment terminates.

The Chef cluster we are building in this tutorial is very small, but CloudLab has large clusters that can be used for larger-scale experiments.

For this tutorial, we will use a profile that launches a Chef cluster — a set of interconnected nodes running Chef components such as Chef server, workstation, clients. The CloudLab staff have built this profile by scripting installation procedures for these components. The developed scripts will run on the experiment nodes after they boot and customize them (create necessary user accounts, install packages, establish authentication between the nodes, etc.) to create a fully functional Chef cluster with a multi-node, production-like structure.

See this manual’s section on profiles for more information about how they work.

  1. Select a profile
    After logging in, you will be taken to the “Start an Experiment” page automatically if you do not have any current, running experiments. You can get back to this page at any time by selecting the “Start Experiment” link from the “Actions” menu. By default, this page suggests launching the OpenStack profile which is discribed in detail in the OpenStack tutorial.
    Go to the list of available profile by clicking “Change Profile”:
    Find the profile by typing ChefCluster in the search bar. Then, select the profile with the specified name in the list displayed below the search bar. A 2-node preview should now be shown along with high-level profile information. Click “Select Profile” at the bottom of the page:
    After you select the correct profile, click “Next”:

  2. Set parameters
    Profiles in CloudLab can have parameters that affect how they are configured; for example, this profile has parameters that allow you to set the number of client nodes, specify the repository with the infrastructure code we plan to use, obtain copies of the application-specific infrastructure code developed by the global community of Chef developers, etc.
    For this tutorial, we will leave all parameters at their defaults and just click “Next”.

  3. Choose experiment name
    You may optionally give your experiment a meaningful name, e.g., “chefdemo”. This is useful if you have many experiments running at once.

  4. Select a cluster
    CloudLab has multiple clusters available to it. Some profiles can run on any cluster, some can only run on specific ones due to specific hardware constraints. ChefCluster can only run on the x86-based clusters. This excludes the CloudLab Utah cluster which is built on ARMv8 nodes. Refer to the Hardware section for more information.
    Note: If you are at an in-person tutorial, the instructor will tell you which cluster to select. Otherwise, you may select any compatible and available cluster.

    The dropdown menu for the clusters shows you both the health (outer ring) and available resources (inner dot) of each cluster. The “Check Cluster Status” link opens a page (in a new tab) showing the current utilization of all CloudLab clusters.


  5. Click Finish!
    When you click the “Finish” button, CloudLab will start provisioning the resources that you requested on the cluster that you selected.

  6. CloudLab instantiates your profile
    CloudLab will take a few minutes to bring up your experiment, as many things happen at this stage, including selecting suitable hardware, loading disk images on local storage, booting bare-metal machines, re-configuring the network topology, etc. While this is happening, you will see the topology with yellow node icons:

    Provisioning is done using the GENI APIs; it is possible for advanced users to bypass the CloudLab portal and call these provisioning APIs from their own code. A good way to do this is to use the geni-lib library for Python.

    As soon as a set of resources have been assigned to you, you will see details about them if you switch to the "List View" tab (though you will not be able to log in until they have gone through the process of imaging and booting.) While you are waiting for your resources to become available, you may want to have a look at the CloudLab user manual, or use the “Sliver” button to watch the logs of the resources (“slivers”) being provisioned and booting.

  7. Your resources are ready!
    Shortly, the web interface will report the state as “Booted”.
    Important: A “Booted” status indicates that resources are provisioned and booted; this particular profile runs scripts to complete the Chef setup, and it will be a few more minutes before Chef becomes fully functional. You will be able to tell that the configuration process has finished when the status changes from “Booted” to “Ready”. Until then, you will likely see that the startup scripts (i.e. programs that run at the beginning of the experiment to set it up) run longer on head than on node-0 a lot more work is required to install the Chef server than the client. In the Topology View tab, mouse over the circle in the head’s icon, to confirm the current state of the node.

12.6 Exploring Your Experiment

While the startup scripts are still running, you will have a few minutes to look at various parts of the CloudLab experiment page and learn what resources you now have access to and what you can do with them.

12.6.1 Experiment Status

The panel at the top of the page shows the status of your experiment — you can see which profile it was launched with, when it will expire, etc. The buttons in this area let you make a copy of the profile (so that you can customize it), ask to hold on to the resources for longer, or release them immediately.


Note that the default lifetime for experiments on CloudLab is less than a day; after this time, the resources will be reclaimed and their disk contents will be lost. If you need to use them for longer, you can use the “Extend” button and provide a description of why they are needed. Longer extensions require higher levels of approval from CloudLab staff. You might also consider creating a profile of your own if you might need to run a customized environment multiple times or want to share it with others.

You can click on the title of the panel to expand or collapse it.

12.6.2 Profile Instructions

Profiles may contain written instructions for their use. Clicking on the title of the “Profile Instructions” panel will expand or collapse it. In this case, the instructions provide a link to the Chef server web console. (Don’t click on the link yet — it is likely that Chef is still being configured; for now, let’s keep exploring the CloudLab interface.)

Also, notice the list of private and public hostnames of the experiment nodes included in the instructions. You will use the public hostnames (shown in bold) in the exercise with the Apache web server and apache benchmark.


12.6.3 Topology View

We have already used the topology viewer to see the node status; let’s take a closer look at the topology of this experiment. This profile has two nodes connected by a 10 Gigabit LAN, which is represented by a gray box in the middle of the topology. The names given for each node are the names assigned as part of the profile; this way, every time you instantiate a profile, you can refer to the nodes using the same names, regardless of which physical hardware was assigned to them. The green boxes around each node indicate that they are up; click the “Refresh Status” button to initiate a fresh check.

You can also run several networking tests by clicking the “Run Linktest” button at the bottom of the page. The available tests include:
  • Level 1 — Connectivity and Latency

  • Level 2 — Plus Static Routing

  • Level 3 — Plus Loss

  • Level 4 — Plus Bandwidth

Higher levels will take longer to complete and require patience.


If an experiment has startup services, their statuses are indicated by small icons in the upper right corners of the node icons. You can mouse over this icon to see a description of the current status. In this profile, the startup services on the client node(s), such as node-0, typically complete quickly, but the scripts on head take much longer. The screenshot above shows the state of the experiment when all startup scripts complete.

It is important to note that every node in CloudLab has at least two network interfaces: one “control network” that carries public IP connectivity, and one “experiment network” that is isolated from the Internet and all other experiments. It is the experiment net that is shown in this topology view. You will use the control network to ssh into your nodes, interact with their web interfaces, etc. This separation gives you more freedom and control in the private experiment network, and sets up a clean environment for repeatable research.

12.6.4 List View

The list view tab shows similar information to the topology view, but in a different format. It shows the identities of the nodes you have been assigned, and the full ssh command lines to connect to them. In some browsers (those that support the ssh:// URL scheme), you can click on the SSH commands to automatically open a new session. On others, you may need to cut and paste this command into a terminal window. Note that only public-key authentication is supported, and you must have set up an ssh keypair on your account before starting the experiment in order for authentication to work.


12.6.5 Manifest View

The final default tab shows a manifest detailing the hardware that has been assigned to you. This is the “request” RSpec that is used to define the profile, annotated with details of the hardware that was chosen to instantiate your request. This information is available on the nodes themselves using the geni-get command, enabling you to do rich scripting that is fully aware of both the requested topology and assigned resources.

Most of the information displayed on the CloudLab status page comes directly from this manifest; it is parsed and laid out in-browser.


12.6.6 Actions

In both the topology and list views, you have access to several actions that you may take on individual nodes. In the topology view, click on the node to access this menu; in the list view, it is accessed through the icon in the “Actions” column. Available actions include rebooting (power cycling) a node, and re-loading it with a fresh copy of its disk image (destroying all data on the node). While nodes are in the process of rebooting or re-imaging, they will turn yellow in the topology view. When they have completed, they will become green again. The shell action is described in more detail below and will be used as the main method for issuing commands on the experiment nodes throughout this tutorial.


12.7 Brief Introduction to Chef

While the startup scripts are running, let’s take a quick look at the architecture of a typical Chef intallation. The diagram provided at the official Overview of Chef page demonstrates the relationships between individual Chef components. While there is a number of optional, advanced components that we don’t use in this tutorial, it is worth noting the following:

In the experiment we have launched, head runs all three: the server, the workstation, and the client (there is no conflict between these components), while node-0 runs only the client. If this profile is instantiated with the arbitrary number N of clients, there will be N “client-only” nodes named node-0,node-1,...,node-(N-1). Another profile parameter allows choosing the repository from which chef-repo is cloned; by default, it points to emulab/chef-repo. The startup scrips in this profile also obtain and install copies of public cookbooks hosted at the respository called Supermarket. Specifically, the exercises in this tutorial rely on the nfs and apache2 cookbooks — both should be installed on your experiment now in accordance with the default value of the corresponding profile parameter we have used.

12.8 Logging in to the Chef Web Console

As soon as the startup scripts complete, you will likely recieve an email confirming that Chef is installed and operational.

Dear User,


Chef server and workstataion should now be

installed on head.chefdemo.utahstud.emulab.net.


To explore the web management console, copy

this hostname and paste it into your browser.

Installation log can be found at /var/log/init-chef.log

on the server node.


To authenticate, use the unique credentials

saved in /root/.chefauth on the server node.


Below are several Chef commands which detail the launched experiment:


# chef -v

Chef Development Kit Version: 0.7.0

chef-client version: 12.4.1

berks version: 3.2.4

kitchen version: 1.4.2


# knife cookbook list

apache2               3.1.0

apt                   2.9.2

emulab-apachebench    1.0.0

emulab-nfs            0.1.0


nfs                   2.2.6


# knife node list




# knife role list






# knife status -r

1 minute  ago, head, [], ubuntu 14.04.

0 minutes ago, node-0, [], ubuntu 14.04.


Happy automation with Chef!

In some cases, you will not be able to see this email — email filters (e.g., if you are using a university email account) may classify it as spam. This will not be a problem since the email is supposed to provide useful but noncritical information. You can still access the Chef web console using the link included in the profile instructions and also obtain the credentials as described in the instructions.

When you receive this email or see in the topology viewer that the startup scripts completed, you can proceed to the following step.

12.8.1 Web-based Shell

CloudLab provides a browser-based shell for logging into your nodes, which is accessed through the action menu described above. While this shell is functional, it is most suited to light, quick tasks; if you are going to do serious work, on your nodes, we recommend using a standard terminal and ssh program.

This shell can be used even if you did not establish an ssh keypair with your account.

Three things of note:

Create a shell tab for head by choosing “Shell” in the Actions menu for head in either the topology or the list view. The new tab will be labeled “head”. It will allow typing shell commands and executing them on the node. All shell commands used throughout this tutorial should be issued using this shell tab.

While you are here, switch to the root user by typing:

sudo su -


Your prompt, the string which is printed on every line before the cursor, should change to root@head. All commands in the rest of the tutorial should be executed under root.

12.8.2 Chef Web Console

Type the following to print Chef credentials:

cat /root/.chefauth

You should see the unique login and password that have been generated by the startup scripts specifically for your instance of Chef:


Expand the “Profile Instructions” panel and click on the “Chef web console” link.

Warning: When your browser first points to this link, you will see a warning about using a self-signed SSL certificate. Using self-signed certificates is not a good option in production scenarios, but it is totally acceptable in this short-term experimentation environment. We will ignore this warning and proceed to using the Chef console. The sequence of steps for ignoring it depends on your browser. In Chrome, you will see a message saying "Your connection is not private". Click “Advanced” at the bottom of the page and choose “Proceed to <hostname> (unsafe)”. In Firefox, the process is slightly different: click “Advanced”, choose “Add Exception”, and click “Confirm Security Exception”.

When the login page is finally displayed, use the credentials you have printed in the shell:


If you see a console like the one above, with both head and node-0 listed on the “Nodes” tab, you have a working Chef cluster! You can now proceed to managing your nodes using Chef recipes, cookbooks, and roles.

In the rest of the tutorial, we demonstrate how you can use several pre-defined cookbooks and roles. Development of cookbooks and roles is a subject of another tutorial (many such tutorials can be found online). Our goal in the following sections is to walk you through the process of using existing cookbooks and roles — the process which is the same for simple and more complex configurations. You will learn how to modify run lists and apply cookbooks and roles to your nodes, run them, check their status, and explore individual components of cookbooks and roles.

12.9 Configuring NFS

Now that you have a working instance of Chef where both head and node-0 can be controlled using Chef, let’s start modifying the software stacks on these nodes by installing NFS and exporting a directory from head to node-0.

  1. Modify the run list on head
    Click on the row for head in the node list (so the entire row is highlighted in orange), and then click "Edit" in the Run List panel in the bottom right corner of the page:

  2. Apply nfs role:
    In the popup window, find the role called nfs in the Available Roles list on the left, drag and drop it into the "Current Run List" field on the right. When this is done, click "Save Run List".

  3. Repeat the last two steps for node-0:
    At this point, nfs role is assigned to both nodes, but nothing has executed yet.

  4. Check the status from the shell
    Before proceeding to applying these updates, let’s check the role assignment from the shell by typing:

    knife status -r

    The run lists for your nodes should be printed inside square brackets:
    The output of this command also conveniently shows when Chef applied changes to your nodes last (first column) and what operating systems run on the nodes (last column).

  5. Trigger the updates

    Run the assigned role on head by typing:


    As a part of the startup procedure, passwordless ssh connections are enabled between the nodes. Therefore, you can use ssh to run commands remotely, on the nodes other than head, from the same shell. Execute the same command on node-0 by typing:

    ssh node-0 chef-client

    When nodes execute the “chef-client” command, they contact the server and request the cookbooks, recipes, and roles have been assigned to them in their run lists. The server responds with those artifacts, and the nodes execute them in the specified order.

  6. Verify that NFS is working
    After updating both nodes, you should have a working NFS configuration in which the /exp-share directory is exported from head and mounted on node-0.

    The name of the NFS directory is one of the attributes that is set in the nfs role. To explore other attributes and see how this role is implemented, take a look at the /chef-repo/roles/nfs.rb file on head

    The simplest way to test that this configuration is functioning properly is to create a file on one node and check that this file becomes available on the other node. Follow these commands to test it (the lines that start with the # sign are comments):

    # List files in the NFS directory /exp-share on head; should be empty

    ls /exp-share/


    # List the same directory remotely on node-0; also empty

    ssh node-0 ls /exp-share/


    # Create an empty file in this derectory locally

    touch /exp-share/NFS-is-configured-by-Chef


    # Find the same file on node-0

    ssh node-0 ls /exp-share/

    If you can see the created file on node-0, your NFS is working as expected. Now you can easily move files between your nodes using the /exp-share directory.

Summary: You have just installed and configured NFS by assigning a Chef role and running it on your nodes. You can create much more complex software environments by repeating these simple steps and installing more software components on your nodes. Additionally, installing NFS on a set of nodes is not a subject of a research experiment but rather an infrastructure prerequisite for many distributed systems. You can automate installation and configuration procedures in those systems using a system like Chef and save a lot of time when you need to periodically recreate them or create multiple instances of those systems.

12.9.1 Exploring The Structure

It is worth looking at how the role you have just used is implemented. Stored at /chef-repo/roles/nfs.rb on head, it should include the following code:


# This role depends on the emulab-nfs cookbook;

# emulab-nfs depends on the nfs cookbook

# available at: https://supermarket.chef.io/cookbooks/nfs

# Make sure it is installed; If it is not, try: knife cookbook site install nfs


name "nfs"

description "Role applied to all NFS nodes - server and client"


  "nfs" => {

    "server" => "head",

    "dir" => "/exp-share",

    "export" => {

      "network" => "",

      "writeable" => true




run_list [ "emulab-nfs" ]

You can see a number of domain-specific Ruby attributes in this file. name and description are self-describing attributes. The override_attribute attribute allows you to control high-level configuration parameters, including (but not limited to) the name of the node running the NFS server, the directory being exported and mounted, the network in which this directory is shared, and the “write” permission in this directory (granted or not). The run_list attribute includes a single cookbook called emulab-nfs.

You are probably wondering now about how the same cookbook can perform different actions on different nodes. Indeed, the emulab-nfs cookbook has just installed NFS server on head and NFS client on node-0. You can take a look at the implementation of the default.rb, the default recipe in the emulab-nfs cookbook which gets called when the cookbook is executed. You should find the following code at /chef-repo/cookbooks/emulab-nfs/recipes/default.rb:


# Cookbook Name:: emulab-nfs

# Recipe:: default



if node["hostname"] == node["nfs"]["server"]

  include_recipe "emulab-nfs::export"


  include_recipe "emulab-nfs::mount"


The if statement above allows comparing the hostname of the node on which the cookbook is running with one of the attributes specified in the role. Based on this comparison, the recipe takes the appropriate actions by calling the code from two other recipes in this cookbook. Optionally, you can explore /chef-repo/cookbooks/emulab-nfs/recipes/export.rb and /chef-repo/cookbooks/emulab-nfs/recipes/mount.rb to see how these recipes are implemented.

Obviously, this is not the only possible structure for this configuration. You can alternatively create two roles, such as nfs-server and nfs-client, that will call the corresponding recipes without the need for the described comparison. Since a single model cannot fit perfectly all scenarios, Chef provides the developer with enough flexibility to organize the code into structures that match specific environment and application needs.

12.10 Apache Web Server and ApacheBench Benchmarking tool

In this exercise, we are going to switch gears and experiment with different software — apache2, the Apache HTTP web server, and the ab benchmarking tool. You will explore more Chef capabilities and perform administrative tasks, primarily from the command line.

We recommend you to continue using the shell tab for head (again, make sure that your commands are executed as root). Run the commands described below in that shell.

  1. Add a role to the head’s run list
    Issue the command in bold (the rest is the expected output):

    knife node run_list add head "role[apache2]"





  2. Add two roles to the node-0’s run list
    Run the two knife commands listed below (also on head) in order to assign two roles to node-0:

    knife node run_list add node-0 "role[apache2]"






    knife node run_list add node-0 "role[apachebench]"







    Notice that we did not exclude the nfs role from the run lists. Configuration updates in Chef are idempotent, which means that an update can be applied to a node multiple times, and every time the update will yield identical configuration (regardless of the node’s previous state) Thus, this time, when you run “chef-client” again, Chef will do the right thing: the state of each individual component will be inspected, and all NFS-related tasks will be silently skipped because NFS is already installed.

  3. Trigger updates on all nodes
    In the previous section, we updated one node at a time. Try the “batch” update - run a single command that will trigger configuration procedures on all client nodes:

    knife ssh "name:*" chef-client

    apt155.apt.emulab.net resolving cookbooks for run list:

      ["emulab-nfs", "apache2", "apache2::mod_autoindex", "emulab-apachebench"]

    apt154.apt.emulab.net resolving cookbooks for run list:

      ["emulab-nfs", "apache2", "apache2::mod_autoindex"]

    apt155.apt.emulab.net Synchronizing Cookbooks:


    apt155.apt.emulab.net Chef Client finished, 5/123 resources updated in 04 seconds

    You should see interleaved output from the “chef-client” command running on both nodes at the same time.
    The last command uses a node search based on the “name:*” criteria. As a result, every node will execute “chef-client”. In cases where it is necessary, you can use more specific search strings, such as, for instance, “name:head” and “name:node-*”.

  4. Check that the webservers are running
    One of the attributes in the apache2 role configures the web server such that it runs on the port 8080. Let’s check that the web servers are running via checking the status of that port:

    knife ssh "name:*" "netstat -ntpl | grep 8080"

    pc765.emulab.net tcp6 0 0 :::8080 :::* LISTEN 9415/apache2

    pc768.emulab.net tcp6 0 0 :::8080 :::* LISTEN 30248/apache2

    Note that this command sends an arbitrary command (unrelated to Chef) to a group of nodes. With this functionality, the knife command-line utility can be viewed as an orchestration tool for managing groups of nodes that is capable of replacing pdsh, the Parallel Distributed Shell utility, that is often used on computing clusters.
    The output that is similar to the one above indicates that both apache2 web servers are running. The command that you have just issued uses netstat, a command-line tool that displays network connections, routing tables, interface statistics, etc. Using knife, you have run netstat in combination with a Linux pipe and a grep command for filtering output and displaying the information only on the port 8080.

  5. Check benchmarking results on node-0

    Many different actions have taken place on node-0, including:
    • apache2 has been installed and configured

    • ab, a benchmarking tool from the apache2-utils package, has been installed and executed

    • benchmarking results have been saved, and plots have been created using the gnuplot utility

    • the plots have been made available using the installed web server

    To see how the last three tasks are performed using Chef, you can take a look at the default.rb recipe inside the emulab-apachebench cookbook. In the in-person tutorial, let’s proceed to the following steps and leave the discussion of this specific recipe and abstractions used in Chef recipes in general to the end of the tutorial.

    Obtain the node-0’s public hostname (refer to the list included in the profile instructions), and construct the following URL:

    http://<node-0's public hostname>:8080

    With the right hostname, copy and paste this URL into your browser to access the web server running on node-0 and serving the benchmarking graphs. You should see a directory listing like this:

    You can explore the benchmarking graphs by clicking at the listed links. So far, ab has run against the local host (i.e. node-0), therefore the results may not be so interesting. Do not close the window with your browser since one of the following steps will ask you to go back to it to see more results.

  6. Modify a role
    Just like the nfs role described in the previous section, apachebench has a number of attributes that define its behavior. We will use the Chef web console to update the value for one of its attributes.
    In the console, click on the Policy tab at the top of the page, choose “Roles” in the panel on the left, and select “apachebench” in the displayed list of roles. Select the Attributes tab in the middle of the page. At the bottom of the page, you should now see a panel called “Override Attributes”. Click the “Edit” button inside that panel:
    In the popup window, change the target_host attribute from null to the head’s public hostname (refer to the hostnames listed in the profile instructions). Don’t forget to use double quotes around the hostname. Also, let’s modify the list of ports against which we will run the benchmark. Change 80 to 8080 since nothing interesting is running on port 80, while the apache2 server you have just installed is listening on the port 8080. Leave the port 443 in the list — this is the port on which the Chef web console is running. Here is an example of the recommended changes:
    When these changes are complete, click "Save Attributes".
    Alternative: It turns out that you don’t have to use the Chef web console for modifying this role. Take a look at the two steps described below to see how we can modify this role from the shell or skip to running the benchmark.

    This is what you need to make the described changes without using the web console:
    1. Edit the file /chef-repo/roles/apachebench.rb on head using a text editor of your choice (e.g., vi)

    2. After making the suggested changes, “push” the updated role to the server by typing: knife role from file /chef-repo/roles/apachebench.rb

  7. Run the benchmark against head
    The updated version of the role is available on the server now. You can run it on node-0 using the following command:

    knife ssh "role:apachebench" chef-client

    This command, unlike the knife commands you issued in the previous steps, uses a search based on the assigned roles. In other words, it will find the nodes to which the apachebench role has been assigned by now — in our case, only node-0 and execute “chef-client” on them.

  8. Check benchmarking results again
    Go back to your browser window and update the page to see the directory listing with new benchmarking results.
    The first two (the most recent) graphs represent the results of benchmarking of the web services running on head performed from node-0. Among many interesting facts that are revealed by these graphs, you will see that the response time is much higher on the port 443 than on the port 8080.

Summary: You have just performed an experiment with apache2 and ab in a very automated manner. The Chef role you have used performed many tasks, including setting up the infrastructure, running a benchmark, saving and processing results, as well as making them easily accessible. The following section will shed some light on how these tasks were accomplished and also how they can be customized.

12.10.1 Understanding the Internals

Below we describe some of the key points about the pieces of infrastructure code you have just used.

The apache2 role is stored at roles/apache2.rb as part of the emulab/chef-repo. Note that the run list specified in this role includes a cookbook apache2 (the recipe called default.rb inside the cookbook is used) and also a recipe mod_autoindex from the same cookbook. This cookbook is one of the cookbooks that have been obtained from Chef Supermarket. All administrative work for installing and configuring the web server is performed by the recipes in this cookbook, while the role demonstrates an example of how that cookbook can be “wrapped” into a specification that satisfy specific application needs.

The apachebench role is stored at roles/apachebench.rb It specifies values for several attributes and adds a custom cookbook emulab-apachebench to the run list. We use the “emulab” prefix in the names of the cookbooks that have been developed by the CloudLab staff to emphasize that they are developed for Emulab and derived testbeds such as CloudLab. This also allows distinguishing them from the Supermarket cookbooks, which are installed in the same directory on head.

Inside the default.rb recipe in emulab-apachebench you can find many key words, including package, log, file, execute, template, etc. They are called Chef resources. These elements, which allow defining fine-grained configuration tasks and actions, are available for many common administrative needs. You can refer to the list of supported Chef resources and see examples of how they can be used.

Another item that is worth mentioning is the “ignore_failure true” attribute used in some of the resources. It allows the recipe to continue execution even when something does not go as expected (shell command fail, necessary files do not exist, etc.). Also, when relying on specific files in your recipes, you can augment resources with additional checks like “only_if{::File.exists?(<file name>)}” and “not_if{::File.exists?(<file name>)}” to make your infrastructure code more reliable and repeatable (this refers to the notion of idempotent code mentioned earlier).

12.11 Final Remarks about Chef on CloudLab

In this tutorial, you had a chance to explore the Chef configuration management system and used some of its powerful features for configuration management in a multi-node experiment on CloudLab. Even though the instructions walked you through the process of configurating only two nodes, you can use the demonstrated code artifacts, such as roles, cookbooks, recipes, and resources, and apply them to infrastructure in larger experiments. With the knife commands like the ones shown above, you can “orchestrate” diverse and complex applications and environments.

When establishing such orchestration in your experiments, you can take advantage of the relevant pieces of intrastructure code, e.g., available through Chef Supermarket. In cases when you have to develop your own custom code, you may adopt the structure and the abstractions supported by Chef and aim to develop infrastructure code that is modular, flexible, and easy to use.

The ChefCluster profile is available to all users on CloudLab. If you are interested in learning more about Chef and developing custom infrastructure code for your experiments, this profile will spare you from the need to set up necessary components every time and allow you to run a fully functional Chef installation for your specific needs.

12.12 Terminating Your Experiment

Resources that you hold in CloudLab are real, physical machines and are therefore limited and in high demand. When you are done, you should release them for use by other experimenters. Do this via the “Terminate” button on the CloudLab experiment status page.


Note: When you terminate an experiment, all data on the nodes is lost, so make sure to copy off any data you may need before terminating.

If you were doing a real experiment, you might need to hold onto the nodes for longer than the default expiration time. You would request more time by using the “Extend” button the on the status page. You would need to provide a written justification for holding onto your resources for a longer period of time.

12.13 Future Steps

Now that you’ve got a feel for how Chef can help manage experiment resources, there are several things you might try next: