ZoiT: Solaris Zones on iSCSI Targets (aka NAC: Network-Attached Containers)


Solaris Containers have a 'zonepath' ('home') which can be a directory on the root file system or on a non-root file system. Until Solaris 10 8/07 was released, a local file system was required for this directory. Containers that are on non-root file systems have used UFS, ZFS, or VxFS. All of those are local file systems - putting Containers on NAS has not been possible. With Solaris 10 8/07, that has changed: a Container can now be placed on remote storage via iSCSI.


Solaris Containers (aka Zones) are Sun's operating system level virtualization technology. They allow a Solaris system (more accurately, an 'instance' of Solaris) to have multiple, independent, isolated application environments. A program running in a Container cannot detect or interact with a process in another Container.

Each Container has its own root directory. Although viewed as the root directory from within that Container, that directory is also a non-root directory in the global zone. For example, a Container's root directory might be called /zones/roots/myzone/root in the global zone.

The configuration of a Container includes something called its "zonepath." This is the directory which contains a Container's root directory (e.g. /zones/roots/myzone/root) and other directories used by Solaris. Therefore, the zonepath of myzone in the example above would be /zones/roots/myzone.

The global zone administrator can choose any directory to be a Container's zonepath. That directory could just be a directory on the root partition of Solaris, though in that case some mechanism should be used to prevent that Container from filling up the root partition. Another alternative is to use a separate partition for that Container, or one shared among multiple Containers. In the latter case, a quota should be used for each Container.

Local file systems have been used for zonepaths. However, many people have strongly expressed a desire for the ability to put Containers on remote storage. One significant advantage to placing Containers on NAS is the simplification of Container migration - moving a Container from one system to another. When using a local file system, the contents of the Container must be transmitted from the original host to the new host. For small, sparse zones this can take as little as a few seconds. For large, whole-root zones, this can take several minutes - a whole-root zone is an entire copy of Solaris, taking up as much as 3-5 GB. If remote storage can be used to store a zone, the zone's downtime can be as little as a second or two, during which time a file system is unmounted on one system and mounted on another.

Here are some significant advantages to iSCSI over SANs:

  1. the ability to use commodity Ethernet switching gear, which tends to be less expensive than SAN switching equipment
  2. the ability to manage storage bandwidth via standard, mature, commonly used IP QoS features
  3. iSCSI networks can be combined with non-iSCSI IP networks to reduce the hardware investment and consolidate network management. If that is not appropriate, the two networks can be separate but use the same type of equipment, reducing costs and types of in-house infrastrucuture management expertise.

Unfortunately, a Container cannot 'live' on an NFS server, and it's not clear if or when that limitation will be removed.

iSCSI Basics

iSCSI is simply "SCSI communication over IP." In this case, SCSI commands and responses are sent between two iSCSI-capable devices, which can be general-purpose computers (Solaris, Windows, Linux, etc.) or specific-purpose storage devices (e.g. Sun StorageTek 5210 NAS, EMC Celerra NS40, etc.). There are two endpoints to iSCSI communications: the initiator (client) and the target (server). A target publicizes its existence. An initiator binds to a target.

The industry's design for iSCSI includes a large number of features, including security. Solaris implements many of those features. Details can be found:

In Solaris, the command iscsiadm(1M) configures an initiator, and the command iscsitadm(1M) configures a target.


This section demonstrates the installation of a Container onto a remote file system that uses iSCSI for its transport.

The target system is an LDom on a T2000, and looks like this:

System Configuration:  Sun Microsystems  sun4v
Memory size: 1024 Megabytes
SunOS ldg1 5.10 Generic_127111-07 sun4v sparc SUNW,Sun-Fire-T200
Solaris 10 8/07 s10s_u4wos_12b SPARC
The initiator system is another LDom on the same T2000 - although there is no requirement that LDoms are used, or that they be on the same computer if they are used.
System Configuration:  Sun Microsystems  sun4v
Memory size: 896 Megabytes
SunOS ldg4 5.11 snv_83 sun4v sparc SUNW,Sun-Fire-T200
Solaris Nevada snv_83a SPARC
The first configuration step is the creation of the storage underlying the iSCSI target. Although UFS could be used, let's improve the robustness of the Container's contents and put the target's storage under control of ZFS. I don't have extra disk devices to give to ZFS, so I'll make some and use them for a zpool - in real life you would use disk devices here:
Target# mkfile 150m /export/home/disk0
Target# mkfile 150m /export/home/disk1
Target# zpool create myscsi mirror /export/home/disk0 /export/home/disk1
Target# zpool status
  pool: myscsi
 state: ONLINE
 scrub: none requested

        NAME                  STATE     READ WRITE CKSUM
        myscsi                ONLINE       0     0     0
          /export/home/disk0  ONLINE       0     0     0
          /export/home/disk1  ONLINE       0     0     0
Now I can create a zvol - an emulation of a disk device:
Target# zfs list
myscsi   86K   258M  24.5K  /myscsi
Target# zfs create -V 200m myscsi/jvol0
Target# zfs list
myscsi         200M  57.9M  24.5K  /myscsi
myscsi/jvol0  22.5K   258M  22.5K  -
Creating an iSCSI target device from a zvol is easy:
Target# iscsitadm list target
Target# zfs set shareiscsi=on myscsi/jvol0
Target# iscsitadm list target
Target: myscsi/jvol0
    iSCSI Name: iqn.1986-03.com.sun:02:c8a82272-b354-c913-80f9-db9cb378a6f6
    Connections: 0
Target# iscsitadm list target -v
Target: myscsi/jvol0
    iSCSI Name: iqn.1986-03.com.sun:02:c8a82272-b354-c913-80f9-db9cb378a6f6
    Alias: myscsi/jvol0
    Connections: 0
    ACL list:
    TPGT list:
    LUN information:
        LUN: 0
            GUID: 0x0
            VID: SUN
            PID: SOLARIS
            Type: disk
            Size:  200M
            Backing store: /dev/zvol/rdsk/myscsi/jvol0
            Status: online

Configuring the iSCSI initiator takes a little more work. There are three methods to find targets. I will use a simple one. After telling Solaris to use that method, it only needs to know what the IP address of the target is.

Note that the example below uses "iscsiadm list ..." several times, without any output. The purpose is to show the difference in output before and after the command(s) between them.

First let's look at the disks available before configuring iSCSI on the initiator:

Initiator# ls /dev/dsk
c0d0s0  c0d0s2  c0d0s4  c0d0s6  c0d1s0  c0d1s2  c0d1s4  c0d1s6
c0d0s1  c0d0s3  c0d0s5  c0d0s7  c0d1s1  c0d1s3  c0d1s5  c0d1s7
We can view the currently enabled discovery methods, and enable the one we want to use:
Initiator# iscsiadm list discovery
        Static: disabled
        Send Targets: disabled
        iSNS: disabled
Initiator# iscsiadm list target
Initiator# iscsiadm modify discovery --sendtargets enable
Initiator# iscsiadm list discovery
        Static: disabled
        Send Targets: enabled
        iSNS: disabled
At this point we just need to tell Solaris which IP address we want to use as a target. It takes care of all the details, finding all disk targets on the target system. In this case, there is only one disk target.
Initiator# iscsiadm list target
Initiator# iscsiadm add discovery-address
Initiator# iscsiadm list target
Target: iqn.1986-03.com.sun:02:c8a82272-b354-c913-80f9-db9cb378a6f6
        Alias: myscsi/jvol0
        TPGT: 1
        ISID: 4000002a0000
        Connections: 1
Initiator# iscsiadm list target -v
Target: iqn.1986-03.com.sun:02:c8a82272-b354-c913-80f9-db9cb378a6f6
        Alias: myscsi/jvol0
        TPGT: 1
        ISID: 4000002a0000
        Connections: 1
                CID: 0
                  IP address (Local):
                  IP address (Peer):
                  Discovery Method: SendTargets
                  Login Parameters (Negotiated):
                        Data Sequence In Order: yes
                        Data PDU In Order: yes
                        Default Time To Retain: 20
                        Default Time To Wait: 2
                        Error Recovery Level: 0
                        First Burst Length: 65536
                        Immediate Data: yes
                        Initial Ready To Transfer (R2T): yes
                        Max Burst Length: 262144
                        Max Outstanding R2T: 1
                        Max Receive Data Segment Length: 8192
                        Max Connections: 1
                        Header Digest: NONE
                        Data Digest: NONE
The initiator automatically finds the iSCSI remote storage, but we need to turn this into a disk device. (Newer builds seem to not need this step, but it won't hurt. Looking in /devices/iscsi will help determine whether it's needed.)
Initiator# devfsadm -i iscsi
Initiator# ls /dev/dsk
c0d0s0    c0d0s3    c0d0s6    c0d1s1    c0d1s4    c0d1s7    c1t7d0s2  c1t7d0s5
c0d0s1    c0d0s4    c0d0s7    c0d1s2    c0d1s5    c1t7d0s0  c1t7d0s3  c1t7d0s6
c0d0s2    c0d0s5    c0d1s0    c0d1s3    c0d1s6    c1t7d0s1  c1t7d0s4  c1t7d0s7
Initiator# ls -l /dev/dsk/c1t7d0s0
lrwxrwxrwx   1 root     root         100 Mar 28 00:40 /dev/dsk/c1t7d0s0 ->

Now that the local device entry exists, we can do something useful with it. Installing a new file system requires the use of format(1M) to partition the "disk" but it is assumed that the reader knows how to do that. However, here is the first part of the format dialogue, to show that format lists the new disk device with its unique identifier - the same identifier listed in /devices/iscsi.
Initiator# format
Searching for disks...done

c1t7d0: configured with capacity of 199.98MB

       0. c0d0 
       1. c0d1 
       2. c1t7d0 
Specify disk (enter its number): 2
selecting c1t7d0
[disk formatted]
Disk not labeled.  Label it now? no

Let's jump to the end of the partitioning steps, after assigning all of the available disk space to partition 0:
partition> print
Current partition table (unnamed):
Total disk cylinders available: 16382 + 2 (reserved cylinders)

Part      Tag    Flag     Cylinders        Size            Blocks
  0       root    wm       0 - 16381      199.98MB    (16382/0/0) 409550
  1 unassigned    wu       0                0         (0/0/0)          0
  2     backup    wu       0 - 16381      199.98MB    (16382/0/0) 409550
  3 unassigned    wm       0                0         (0/0/0)          0
  4 unassigned    wm       0                0         (0/0/0)          0
  5 unassigned    wm       0                0         (0/0/0)          0
  6 unassigned    wm       0                0         (0/0/0)          0
  7 unassigned    wm       0                0         (0/0/0)          0

partition> label
Ready to label disk, continue? y

The new raw disk needs a file system.
Initiator# newfs /dev/rdsk/c1t7d0s0
newfs: construct a new file system /dev/rdsk/c1t7d0s0: (y/n)? y
/dev/rdsk/c1t7d0s0:     409550 sectors in 16382 cylinders of 5 tracks, 5 sectors
        200.0MB in 1024 cyl groups (16 c/g, 0.20MB/g, 128 i/g)
super-block backups (for fsck -F ufs -o b=#) at:
 32, 448, 864, 1280, 1696, 2112, 2528, 2944, 3232, 3648,
Initializing cylinder groups:
super-block backups for last 10 cylinder groups at:
 405728, 406144, 406432, 406848, 407264, 407680, 408096, 408512, 408928, 409344

Back on the target:
Target# zfs list
myscsi         200M  57.9M  24.5K  /myscsi
myscsi/jvol0  32.7M   225M  32.7M  -
Finally, the initiator has a new file system, on which we can install a zone.
Initiator# mkdir /zones/newroots
Initiator# mount /dev/dsk/c1t7d0s0 /zones/newroots
Initiator# zonecfg -z iscuzone
iscuzone: No such zone configured
Use 'create' to begin configuring a new zone.
zonecfg:iscuzone> create
zonecfg:iscuzone> set zonepath=/zones/newroots/iscuzone
zonecfg:iscuzone> add inherit-pkg-dir
zonecfg:iscuzone:inherit-pkg-dir> set dir=/opt
zonecfg:iscuzone:inherit-pkg-dir> end
zonecfg:iscuzone> exit
Initiator# zoneadm -z iscuzone install
Preparing to install zone .
Creating list of files to copy from the global zone.
Copying <2762> files to the zone.
Initializing zone product registry.
Determining zone package initialization order.
Preparing to initialize <1162> packages on the zone.
Initialized <1162> packages on zone.
Zone  is initialized.
Installation of these packages generated warnings: 
The file  contains a log of the zone installation.

There it is: a Container on an iSCSI target on a ZFS zvol.

Zone Lifecycle, and Tech Support

There is more to management of Containers than creating them. When a Solaris instance is upgraded, all of its native Containers are upgraded as well. Some upgrade methods work better with certain system configurations than others. This is true for UFS, ZFS, other local file system types, and iSCSI targets that use any of them for underlying storage.

You can use Solaris Live Upgrade to patch or upgrade a system with Containers. If the Containers are on a traditional file system which uses UFS (e.g. /, /export/home) LU will automatically do the right thing. Further, if you create a UFS file system on an iSCSI target and install one or more Containers on it, the ABE will also need file space for its copy of those Containers. To mimic the layout of the original BE you could use another UFS file system on another iSCSI target. The lucreate command would look something like this:

# lucreate -m /:/dev/dsk/c0t0d0s0:ufs   -m /zones:/dev/dsk/c1t7d0s0:ufs -n newBE


If you want to put your Solaris Containers on NAS storage, Solaris 10 8/07 will help you get there, using iSCSI.


On the subject of online backup and storage ...

Online backup is becoming common these days. It is estimated that 70-75% of all PC's will be connected to online backup services with in the next decade.

Thousands of online backup companies exist, from one guy operating in his apartment to fortune 500 companies.

Choosing the best online backup company will be very confusing and difficult. One website I find very helpful in making a decision to pick an online backup company is:


Have a look here, too:

This site lists more than 400 online backup companies in its directory and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis.

Posted by Jenny on April 09, 2008 at 02:46 PM EDT #

Post a Comment:
Comments are closed for this entry.

Jeff Victor writes this blog to help you understand Oracle's Solaris and virtualization technologies.

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.


« July 2016