Making Debian stable/jessie images for OpenStack with bootstrap-vz and cloud-init

I’m investigating the creation of VM images for different virtualisation solutions.

Among the target platforms is a destop as a service platform based on an OpenStack public cloud.

We’ve been working with bootstrap-vz for creating VMs for Vagrant+VirtualBox so I wanted to test its use for OpenStack.

There are already pre-made images available, including official Debian ones, but I like to be able to re-create things instead of depending on some external magic (which also means to be able to optimize, customize and avoid potential MitM, of course).

It appears that bootstrap-vz can be used with cloud-init provided that some bits of config are specified.

In particular the cloud_init plugin of bootstrap-vz requires a metadata_source set to “NoCloud, ConfigDrive, OpenStack, Ec2“. Note we explicitely spell it ‘OpenStack‘ and not ‘Openstack‘ as was mistakenly done in the default Debian cloud images (see

The following snippet of manifest provides the necessary bits :

name: debian-{system.release}-{system.architecture}-{%Y}{%m}{%d}
  name: kvm
  - virtio_pci
  - virtio_blk
  workspace: /target
  # create or reuse a tarball of packages
  tarball: true
  release: jessie
  architecture: amd64
  bootloader: grub
  charmap: UTF-8
  locale: en_US
  timezone: UTC
  backing: raw
    #type: gpt
    type: msdos
      filesystem: ext4
      size: 4GiB
      size: 512MiB
  # change if another mirror is closer
    password: whatever
    username: debian
    # Note we explicitely spell it 'OpenStack' and not 'Openstack' as done in the default Debian cloud images (see
    metadata_sources: NoCloud, ConfigDrive, OpenStack, Ec2
  # admin_user:
  #   username: Administrator
  #   password: Whatever
    # reduce the size by around 250 Mb
    zerofree: true

I’ve tested this with the bootstrap-vz version in stretch/testing (0.9.10+20170110git-1) for creating jessie/stable image, which were booted on the OVH OpenStack public cloud. YMMV.

Hope this helps

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Using org-mode and org-reveal for teaching material

I’ve finally put together in a single example repo an example of the way I manage teaching material with org-mode.

It needs more docs and work, but should be usable. Docs and demo at and the Gitlab repo at for those curious.

It doesn’t intend to be a full-fleshed product (also the name is just a codename), but release early, release often, they said 😉

Of course, teaching requires much more stuff than slides and handbooks, but eh, that’s my contribution for the moment.

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Long time no see … been teaching Web architecture and apps

I’ve been away for long from my blog, quite busy teaching and coordinating the CSC4101 course on Web architectures and applications for the engineering school.

The course is almost over and it’ll be time for documenting some of the things I’ve played with. Mainly the org-mode based system I’ve used to manage a single source file for multiple documents used for teaching (slides, handbook, etc.).

Expect a bit more life here in the coming days, hopefully.

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Deploying parallel Eclipse installations for teaching labs

I’ve worked on documenting and automating the deployment of Eclipse installations for several teaching labs of Telecom SudParis.

The recently introduced Eclipse Installer (Oomph) allows to install several parallel Eclipse installations containing diverse versions of Eclipse and bundles, so that each specific installation only contains a limited set of features, and that common plugins are pooled in a shared space.

This allows to deploy different Eclipse installations for different course labs, containing only the needed features, and minimizing the disk space needed for the whole.
Previously, we installed pretty much everything in a single place (yum install eclipse*), which lead to providing students with all possible languages support and features, on every machines, by default.
One of the main expected benefits of the new approach is to minimize Eclipse startup times, but this should also help avoid conflicting plugins.
If the experiment proves useful, we’ll then have one Eclipse installation for each needing computer science lab, all under different subdirs of /opt/eclipse/. For instance students registered in CSC4101 will start Eclipse by executing /opt/eclipse/CSC4101/eclipse/eclipse, giving them features for PHP and Symfony development (resp /opt/eclipse/CSC4102/eclipse/eclipse for CSC4102, for Java + Maven, etc.).

I’ve made available a document which explains the process, which was originally documented using org-mode’s babel feature which allows to write “litterate devops” documents containing executable instructions. I’ve used a Vagrant + Virtualbox setup to create the installation inside a Fedora VM, which mimics the target system for our lab machines.

The git repo of the corresponding project should be accessible for anyone interested.

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Handling video files produced for a MOOC on Windows with git and git-annex

This post is intended to document some elements of workflow that I’ve setup to manage videos produced for a MOOC, where different colleagues work collaboratively on a set of video sequences, in a remote way.

We are a team of several schools working on the same course, and we have an incremental process, so we need some collaboration over a quite long period of many remote authors, over a set of video sequences.

We’re probably going to review some of the videos and make changes, so we need to monitor changes, and submit versions to colleagues on remote sites so they can criticize and get later edits. We may have more that one site doing video production. Thus we need to share videos along the flow of production, editing and revision of the course contents, in a way that is manageable by power users (we’re all computer scientists, used to SVN or Git).

I’ve decided to start an experiment with Git and Git-Annex to try and manage the videos like we use to do for slides sources in LaTeX. Obviously the main issue is that videos are big files, demanding in storage space and bandwidth for transfers.

Continue reading

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Présentation du projet Debian par Nicolas Dandrimont lors de la Debian release party de Jessie

Nicolas (olasd) Dandrimont est venu présenter le projet Debian à Télécom SudParis lundi 18 mai 2015, pour la petite fête de sortie de la version majeure “Jessie” que nous avions organisé avec MiNET.

Les transparents de Nicolas sont disponibles sur son site.

Updated : Voici l’enregistrement de la conférence sur YouTube :

Merci aux membres de MiNET qui ont joyeusement participé à cette petite fête.

Voici quelques photos :

Vous pouvez aussi revisionner l’enregistrement de la conférence de Stefano il y a 4 ans.

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Avec MiNET, première Debian release party française de Jessie le 18 mai à Télécom SudParis

Vous étiez frustrés de ne pas pouvoir fêter Jessie en France dignement ?

On a pensé à vous, avec MiNET.

Le 18 mai entre 17h et 18h30, nous fêterons ça à Évry (Essonne) à Télécom SudParis, avec la participation de Nicolas Dandrimont en guest star, pour présenter le projet.

Attention, inscription gratuite par avance en contactant les organisateurs, compte-tenu des contraintes de sécurité pour l’accès au site (vigipirate).

Plus de détails sur :Évry

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A howto record a screencast on Linux and tablet

I’ve documented the process of how I’m trying to perform DIY screencast recording, for the needs of a MOOC.

I’m working on my Debian or Ubuntu desktop, using an external graphic tablet with integrated display for annotating slides.

The main software used for the process are xournal for annotating PDFs and vokoscreen for the screen and video recording.

Here is the documentation :

And here’s the companion video :

I hope this is useful to some.

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How to publish an HTML5+RDFa Web site from org-mode

I’m a big fan of org-mode (see previous posts), and I’ve started maintaining (sic) my professional webpage(s) with it.

But I’ve also recently tried and publish some more Semantic/Linked Data aware documents too (again, previous posts).

Ideally, I think my preferred workflow for publishing articles or documents of some importance, would be to author them in org-mode, and then publish them as HTML5 including RDFa meta-data and annotations. Instead, I’ve more frequently been doing conversions of org-mode to LaTeX, in order to submit a printable version, and later-on decided to convert the LaTeX to HTML5+RDFa…

But one of the issues is how to properly embed the RDF meta-data inside the org-mode documents, so that the syntax is both compact and expressive enough.

I doubt there’s a universal solution, given that RDF tends to be complex, and graphs may not project easilly along a mainly linear structure of an org-mode document, but anyway, there seems to be possible middle grounds that are practically good enough.

I’ve tried and implement a solution, which reuses the principles set by John Kitchin in Extending the org-mode link syntax with attributes, i.e. implementing an HTML exporter for a particular custom link type, which will convert the plist-like syntax to some RDFa constructs.

Here’s a description of the whole solution :

The nice thing about org-mode, and its litterate programming babel environment, is that it allows to embed the code of the links exporter inside the org document, avoiding to dissociate the converter from the document’s source, making it auto-complete.

Next step will probably be to author a paper (or convert back a “preprint” of mines) with org-mode, in order to provide Linked Research meta-data.

Stay tuned for more details, and in the meantime, I welcome any improvement to the org/babel/elisp setup.

Edit: I’ve recorded a webcast to provide a bit more details, available on YouTube :

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Appel pour une “Linked Research” (recherche reliée), traduit en français

J’ai traduit en français les transparents de l’appel pour une “Linked Research” (que j’ai traduit par “recherche reliée”) de Sarven Capadisli originellement en anglais

L’objectif est d’inciter (entre autre actions) à la publication d’articles académiques sous une forme exploitable aussi bien par les humains que par les machines, et permettant ainsi d’embarquer dans le document des méta-données additionnelles.

Plus de détails dans les transparents ici :

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Publishing my papers as Linked Research

I intend to make the extra effort of republishing my own research papers as Linked Research, i.e. in a form readable by humans (HTML5), but also embedding meta-data (as RDF) for machine processing.

I’ve started with Authoritative Linked Data descriptions of Debian source packages using ADMS.SW (a good candidate, as it deals with Linked Data ;).

You’ll notice the menu which helps select different style sheets for preparing clean printable versions, not far from the LaTeX output usually converted to PDF.

I hope this will pave the way to more Linked Research, and less opaque publications.

The only hassle at the moment is the conversion from LaTeX to HTML5 which I’m doing manually, in Emacs + nxml-mode.

Update: Check the preprint links in my publications page, for more papers.

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New short paper : “Designing a virtual laboratory for a relational database MOOC” with Vagrant, Debian, etc.

Here’s a short preview of our latest accepted paper (to appear at CSEDU 2015), about the construction of VMs for the Relational Database MOOC using Vagrant, Debian, PostgreSQL (previous post), etc. :

Designing a virtual laboratory for a relational database MOOC

Olivier Berger, J Paul Gibson, Claire Lecocq and Christian Bac

Keywords: Remote Learning, Virtualization, Open Education Resources, MOOC, Vagrant

Abstract: Technical advances in machine and system virtualization are creating opportunities for remote learning to provide significantly better support for active education approaches. Students now, in general, have personal computers that are powerful enough to support virtualization of operating systems and networks. As a conse- quence, it is now possible to provide remote learners with a common, standard, virtual laboratory and learning environment, independent of the different types of physical machines on which they work. This greatly enhances the opportunity for producing re-usable teaching materials that are actually re-used. However, configuring and installing such virtual laboratories is technically challenging for teachers and students. We report on our experience of building a virtual machine (VM) laboratory for a MOOC on relational databases. The architecture of our virtual machine is described in detail, and we evaluate the benefits of using the Vagrant tool for building and delivering the VM.


  • Introduction
    • A brief history of distance learning
    • Virtualization : the challenges
    • The design problem
  • The virtualization requirements
    • Scenario-based requirements
    • Related work on requirements
    • Scalability of existing approaches
  • The MOOC laboratory
    • Exercises and lab tools
    • From requirements to design
  • Making the VM as a Vagrant box
    • Portability issues
    • Delivery through Internet
    • Security
    • Availability of the box sources
  • Validation
    • Reliability Issues with VirtualBox
    • Student feedback and evaluation
  • Future work
    • Laboratory monitoring
    • More modular VMs
  • Conclusions


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Testing the RuneStone interactive Python courses server in docker

I’ve been working on setting up a Docker container environment allowing to test the RuneStone Interactive server.

RuneStone Interactive allows the publication of courses containing interactive Python examples, and while most of the content is static (the Python examples are run innside a Python interpreter implemented in JavaScript, hence locally in the JS VM of the Web browser), the tool also offers an environment allowing to monitor the progress of learners in a course, which is dynamic and is queried by the browser over AJAX APIs.

That’s the part which I wanted to be able to operate for test purposes. As it is a web2py application, it’s not exactly obvious to gather all dependencies and run locally. Well, in fact it is, but I want to understand the architecture of the tool to be able to understand the deployment constraints, so making a docker image will help in this purpose.

The result is the following :

Now, it’s easier to test the writing of a new course (yet another container above the latter one), and directly test for real.

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Configuring the start of multiple docker container with Vagrant in a portable manner

I’ve mentioned earlier the work that our students did on migrating part of the elements of the Database MOOC lab VM to docker.

While docker seems quite cool, let’s face it, participants to the MOOCs aren’t all using Linux where docker can be available directly. Hence the need to use boot2docker, for instance on Windows.

Then we’re back quite close to the architecture of the Vagrang VM, which relies too on a VirtualBox VM to run a Linux machine (boot2docker does exactly that with a minimal Linux which runs docker).

If VirtualBox is to be kept around, then why not stick to Vagrant also, as it offers a docker provider. This docker provider for Vagrant helps configure basic parameters of docker containers in a Vagrantfile, and basically uses the vagrant up command instead of using docker build + docker run. If on Linux, it only triggers docker, and if not, then it’ll start boot2docker (or any other Linux box) in between.

This somehow offers a unified invocation command, which renders a bit more portable the documentation.

Now, there are some tricks when using this docker provider, in particular for debugging what’s happening inside the VM.

One nice feature is that you can debug on Linux what is to be executed on Windows, by explicitely requiring the start of the intermediary boot2docker VM even if it’s not really needed.

By using a custom secondary Vagrantfile for that VM, it is possible to tune some parameters of that VM (like its graphic memory to allow to start it with a GUI allowing to connect — another alternative is to “ssh -p 2222 docker@localhost” once you know that its password is ‘tcuser’).

I’ve committed an example of such a setup in the moocbdvm project’s Git, which duplicates the docker provisioning files that our students had already published in the dedicated GitHub repo.

Here’s an interesting reference post about Vagrant + docker and multiple containers, btw.

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Student project contributions on using docker to build headless virtualised labs for MOOC participants

After having used Vagrant to create Virtual Machines (VMs) ready made for MOOC participants, I’ve been investigating the use of docker for a similar need.

In order to move on, I’ve applied a clever trick by proposing a project to students of ours (3rd year engineering school end-of-classes project of the ASR major).

The project was addressing several needs :

  • a functional need: being able to monitor what happens inside the VMs run on the participant’s side, so that MOOC labs aren’t performed in a black box;
  • a non functional need: investigate the potential benefits of docker, compared to Vagrant.

The students (François Monniot and Alexis Mousset) have worked very well, and we have a few apps in the result, that allow us to assemble a POC in order to complete our evaluation.

In following posts, I will describe some of these components and will present some ideas and maybe results on the technology’s potential. The impatient reader may directly browse their code on GitHub, starting from the dedicated site.

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