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The IBM Image Construction and Composition Tool

Building better virtual images

In a recent post, I wrote about the importance of well-designed, well-constructed virtual images. To be clear, I am not promoting elegant virtual image design for the sake of art. Rather, if we can improve the state of the art in virtual image design and construction, there is a chance to significantly reduce image sprawl typical to many organizations today. Reducing virtual image sprawl will go a long way in reducing the amount of time and resources organizations dedicate to managing their image inventory.

Of course, the first step in promoting for better image construction is to actually propose a set of design principles and guidelines, and I did just that in my first post. The fact is though, that while guidelines may be helpful, they do little good unless users have a means to act on them. In other words, users need tools that promote and enable the creation of well-constructed virtual images. The new IBM Image Construction and Composition Tool is just such a tool.

** Watch a demo of the IBM Image Construction and Composition Tool **

The primary purpose of the Image Construction and Composition Tool is to enable a modular approach to virtual image construction, while taking into account the typical division of responsibilities within an organization. The tool allows the right people within an organization to contribute their specialized knowledge as appropriate to the virtual image creation process. This means OS teams can handle the OS and software teams can handle the appropriate software. A separate image builder can then use both OS and software components to meet the needs of users within the organization. Best of all, the image builder does not need intimate knowledge of how to install or configure any of the components in the image. They simply need to know which OS and software components to use.


When using the Image Construction and Composition Tool, you start by defining the base operating system you wish to use for your images. You can do this by importing an existing virtual image with an OS already installed, providing an ISO for the OS, or pointing to a base OS image on the IBM Cloud. The bottom line is that you have necessary flexibility to start with your certified or ‘golden' operating system build. Once you have the base OS image defined in the Image Construction and Composition Tool, you can start defining custom software for use in the images you will compose.

In the tool, bundles represent the software you wish to install within a virtual image. The definition of a bundle contains two major parts: Installation and Configuration. The installation component of a bundle tells the Image Construction and Composition Tool how to install your software into the virtual image. You provide a script or set of scripts that install the necessary components into your image, and you direct the tool to call these scripts. These tasks run once during the initial creation of the virtual image, thus allowing you to capture large binaries, long-running installation tasks, or other necessary actions directly into your image.

The configuration section of a bundle defines actions that configure the software installed into the image. Like with the installation tasks, you provide a script or set of scripts for configuration tasks. Unlike installation tasks that run exactly once, configuration scripts become part of the image's activation framework and as such, run during each image deployment. Using the tool, you can define input parameters for configuration scripts and optionally expose them so that users can provide values for the parameters at image deploy-time. Configuration tasks are important in providing flexibility that allows users to leverage a single virtual image for a number of different deployment scenarios.


Once you have your base OS image and one or more bundles defined in the Image Construction and Composition Tool, you can compose a virtual image. To compose a virtual image, you extend the base OS image and add any number of bundles into the new image. A base OS image plus a set of bundles defines a unique image.

After you define the image you want to construct, you initiate a synchronize action in the Image Construction and Composition Tool. When you start the synchronize action, the tool first creates a virtual machine in either a VMware or IBM Cloud environment (based on how you configured the tool). Next, the installation tasks of each bundle you included in the virtual image run to install the required software. Finally, the tool copies the configuration scripts from each bundle into the virtual machine and adds them to the image's activation framework. This ensures the automatic invocation of all configuration scripts during subsequent image deployments.

Once the image is in the synchronized state, you can capture it. Capturing the image results in the creation of a virtual image based on the state of the synchronized virtual machine. The tool also automates the generation of metadata that becomes part of the virtual image package. When the capture of the virtual image completes, you can export it from the Image Construction and Composition Tool and deploy it using WebSphere CloudBurst, Tivoli Provisioning Manager, or the IBM Cloud.

I am excited for users to get their hands on the Image Construction and Composition Tool. I believe it represents the first big step in helping users to design and construct more sustainable virtual images. Did I mention it is completely free to download and use? Visit the Image Construction and Composition Tool website for more details and a download link. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

More Stories By Dustin Amrhein

Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.

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