rPath's rBuilder 5 Streamlines Linux Virtual Machine Management

The 5.0 version of rBuilder boasts several major new features. eWEEK Labs' tests of the platform, through Version 5.2.1, shows that rBuilder makes it easier to churn out virtual machine images for immediate deployment, and that the Web-based management interface that rBuilder pairs with the appliances it creates is handy. However, Labs did run into some configuration issues, as well as some issues with the new Flash-based Web front end.

With its rBuilder 5.2.1, rPath aims to streamline the deployment and maintenance of application workloads by providing IT organizations with the tools to roll their applications into Linux-based software appliances that are ready to deploy on popular server virtualization platforms, cloud computing services or bare-metal systems.

Rather than manage the operating system, application and virtual container layers in separate processes, rBuilder enables organizations to fold these operations into a single system that pairs applications with "just enough" operating system components to meet their needs; that packages the application-plus-OS bundles into the formats required by various hosting platforms; and that keeps these appliances up-to-date with security and bug fix patches.

Check out eWEEK Labs' gallery of rBuilder 5.2.1 here.

rBuilder Version 5.0, which was released in April, introduced several major new features, including additional Linux distribution options; a new, Flash-based interface; and a new management console through which administrators can directly manipulate appliances on various virtualization environments.

In my tests of rBuilder, which began with a pre-5.0 release of the product and ran through the current 5.2.1 version, I was impressed by the ease with which I could churn out virtual machine images for immediate deployment on the Amazon EC2 and VMware ESX environments that I tapped for testing. I also appreciated the handy Web-based management interface that rBuilder pairs with the appliances it creates.

However, I found the process of getting my chosen applications configured properly much more complicated than the product's point-and-click graphical interface might suggest.

For my tests, I worked primarily with the Mediawiki application that powers Wikipedia--an application that I know can be implemented very well with rPath's tools because the company offers a freely available Mediawiki appliance for download from its site. The rPath-built Mediawiki appliance boasts an initial setup process that's folded into the appliance's Web management interface, and a slick backup option that covers both uploaded files and the Mediawiki database.

Building a Mediawiki appliance on my own was a much less streamlined affair. For example, while rBuilder managed to detect automatically and provide most of the OS dependencies that my test applications required, the product didn't catch everything on its own, and I couldn't tell if rBuilder had missed any required components without building and launching my appliances first. To get everything configured properly, I ended up having to cycle through the define, build and launch process many times, and spend time learning about rPath's conary recipe language to tweak my package definitions.

With that said, rBuilder is well worth evaluating, and rPath makes evaluations fairly easy to conduct. rBuilder is available in hosted and on-premises versions, and both flavors are freely accessible.

The on-premises version of rBuilder is free for use with up to 20 running virtual instances. The hosted version of rBuilder, called rBuilder Online, is completely free, but all appliances built and stored on rBuilder Online are publicly accessible.