It has been a real privilege to be able to work on NeCTAR Research Cloud over the last year and half. It has given me much experience on how Melbourne Node’s hardware and OpenStack work together. With this knowledge, I’ve put together some tips on spinning up a NeCTAR VM, or “What should I do when I launch a NeCTAR VM?”

Spinning up a VM


Which flavor your choose depends on how much resources you need. There are 3 things in mind - CPUs, Disk and RAM. Spin up as small a flavor as possible - this ensures you don’t burn through your quota, and also leaves capacity for other users to spin up their VMs. If it is possible, try spinning up multiple smaller instances rather than one big one. A big instance consumes a big chunk of the compute host it resides on, making it difficult to pack multiple instances onto each host.

For example, some of our older compute hosts have 32 CPUS. With 1 CPU reserved for the OS, we can allocate either:

  • 1 * 16 VCPUs instance, or
  • 3 * 8 VCPUs instances, or
  • 7 * 4 VCPUs instances.

It is clear that the number of 16 VCPUs instances that can be launched will never exceed the number of hosts, and thus it is far harder to find a space to launch a big instance than a small one.

m1 vs m2 flavors

The default flavors currently are the m2 flavors. They differ from m1 flavors as they do not have ephemeral storage for the smaller sizes. They are also much more reasonably sized (VPU to RAM to Disk ratios). I would strongly recommend using m2 flavors, it makes things much easier for you and us. I also do not use the ephemeral storage, but put my data in Volumes (more on that later).


NeCTAR official images includes CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu. My favorite image will probably have to be Ubuntu, in part because NeCTAR RC runs on Ubuntu! As such, I would think that you’ll have better support using Ubuntu than others, due to NeCTAR Operators’ experience and familiarity.

Availability Zone

NeCTAR has multiple Availability Zones (AZ) all over Australia. When choosing your AZ, remember that it has to be in the same AZ as your volume storage, if you want to attach volumes to your instances. Where your volumes can be provision will depend on your allocation(s), unless you are using a pt-* (personal tenancy) project.

Spin it up

For a normal test VM, I will usually spin up an Ubuntu m2.small VM. Smaller flavors might not work for Ubuntu, and the bigger flavors are just a waste of resources for normal use (web service, scripting, etc).


While the instance is spinning up, I will normally create a Volume for any data files this VM will use. The advantages of using Volumes over root or ephemeral storage are:

  • Ephemeral storage are not backed up. Snapshots of your instance only saves the root disk, and not the ephemeral.
  • Snapshots of instances are slow. While snapshotting, the instance needs to be paused, snapshotted, and resumed. Some disruption might be encountered if your applications are sensitive.
  • Snapshot of Volumes are (almost) instaneous. A Volume snapshot is a backend operation - this means that a command is sent to the storage backend to do a copy-on-write snapshot. There is no disruption while snapshotting Volumes.
  • It is far easier to move or clone a Volume. If your VM breaks, you can easily detach your Volumes and reattach them to a newly rebuild VM.
  • Volumes can be extended, but not root or ephemeral disks.

Attach and format your volume

Create and attach your volume to your instance. You now need to format it. As root

root@tools:~# mkfs.ext4 /dev/vdb
mke2fs 1.42.12 (29-Aug-2014)
Creating filesystem with 262144 4k blocks and 65536 inodes
Filesystem UUID: a424b665-554f-4451-b8de-fa38dc31c790
Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
    32768, 98304, 163840, 229376

Allocating group tables: done                            
Writing inode tables: done                            
Creating journal (8192 blocks): done
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done

Take note of the UUID a424b665-554f-4451-b8de-fa38dc31c790, you need this for creating your fstab entry.

Create a mountpoint for your volume

mkdir /mnt/apache

Edit /etc/fstab and add the following

UUID=a424b665-554f-4451-b8de-fa38dc31c790 /mnt/apache   ext4  rw,nofail 0 0

We use UUID instead of the convention device file /dev/vdb, because device mapping might change between reboots if you have multiple devices and you remove one of them. The nofail option allows your VM to continue booting if you detach the Volume.

I also find that it’s a good idea to create a different volume for each service (apache, mysql), so that you can move volumes to new VMs to scale them up, etc.

That’s all for now, I’ll be adding more information when things come up, so feel free to check back!