Education and the Cloud

September 7, 2016

Using Guacamole for a browser-only HTML5 Remote Desktop capability that will work with both Ubuntu and Windows servers!

Cloud in a Box (CIAB) Remote Desktop

Connect using only a Web Browser  to both Linux and Windows Servers to access and use a Remote Desktop

Aug 2016 – Brian Mullan (bmullan.mail@gmail.com)

 ciab1

Background

CIAB Remote Desktop (CIAB – Cloud-In-A-Box) was originally envisioned around 2008 after I had the funded opportunity from my employer to spend nearly 18 months on a Fellowship with a non-profit here in North Carolina that provides the networking connectivity to all of the schools in North Carolina.

At the time, cloud computing was just beginning and Amazon’s AWS was practically the only game in town.

Having used AWS myself quite a bit by that time I tried to investigate how “cloud” could be used by K-12 schools as a possible low cost solution to the may problems almost every school faced including:

  • lack of funds often prevent hiring top tech support or buying new equipment
  • local inexperienced technical support which often-times consisted of a librarian, teacher or volunteers
  • a hodge-podge of mixed old/new computers (desktop, laptops)
  • security & viruses were a constant threat because of Windows  usage.

Besides traditional use of Desktop and Laptop computers schools today also include mixes of Chromebooks, Tablets as well.

The above circumstances and combination of problems often created a frustrating experience for teachers, students and parents.

So in 2008 I first started thinking about how to bring together a Cloud based Remote Desktop solution that while not solving every problem, would try to adhere to the 80/20 rule of trying to solve 80% of the problems.

CIAB Remote Desktop only requires a working HTML5 web browser!    This means that all of the above school computing resources (Desktop, Laptop, Chromebook, Tablet and even a Smart Phone) can be used.

The power of the local computer would no longer matter.

The amount of memory, disk drive space, operating system on the local computers was no longer relevant as the real User “desktops” are remote and the “server” they run on can be scaled in the “cloud” to as large as needed in size or number based on availability.

The school would only need decent Network connectivity in regards to speed & reliability.

For example, on AWS EC2 the largest single Virtual Machine “server” you can spin up today is an “instance” called “d2.8xlarge”:

Instance Type      # vCPU                    Memory (GiB)                   Storage (GB)                   Network Speed               Physical Processor
d2.8xlarge           36                       244GBytes                     24 x 2TByte                    10 Gigabit                 Intel Xeon E5-2676 v3

Today there are lots of great IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) Cloud providers including AWS, Digital Ocean and others.

If you were to install CIAB Remote Desktop on such an AWS server you would pay by the hour or month but as the above stats show you would be using a very powerful server to provide remote desktops to the students.

CIAB Remote Desktop Use-Case Benefits

Since any applications or databases used by the CIAB Remote Desktop users run on the remote server it doesn’t really matter much how old or slow your local computing device is!

  1. For an Admin… to upgrade/delete/add or configure an application only requires doing so in one place not on dozens or hundreds of local computers.3. Security. Regarding Security and/or viruses the remote desktop environments all are running on Linux.
  2. Security for School orient Remote Desktops is managed in perhaps just a few Cloud based servers versus dozens or hundreds of premises based servers spread all over every School District in every County in a State.     Viruses… I’m not sure that there are any that affect Linux.  Also, CIAB Remote Desktop uses HTTPS (SSL) so the Browser connection to the remote desktop is fully encrypted between the user and the Remote server providing the Desktop Environment
  3. For a school, students can access their CIAB Remote Desktop while at School or Home just using a web Browser.   They and the Teachers could access and do homework or grading at home or at school just using only a Web Browser!

 

ciab2

 

              Your remote desktop is always available to you from home or even while traveling !

              Beyond schools, CIAB Remote Desktop could be useful for many people or businesses.

              Besides the above benefits, if installed on one of your home computers you could access your Home Desktop from anywhere!

 

 

 

 

Over the past couple years I’ve gradually integrated a combination of software into a solution for CIAB that seems to work very well.

I’ve utilized the great work of the Apache Guacamole project.   Guacamole is a clientless remote desktop gateway. It supports standard protocols like VNC, RDP, and SSH.     Its called clientless because no plugins or client software are required to be installed.    Thanks to HTML5, once Guacamole is installed on a server, all you need to access your remote desktop is the web browser you or the students use already.

I integrated several other Open Source software projects with Guacamole to enhance the overall remote desktop solution including:

NGINX –  a free, open-source, high-performance HTTP server and reverse proxy

MySQL – the most popular Open Source SQL database management system

Tomcat – is an open-source web server developed by the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

XRDP/X11RDP – these 2 components provide a fully functional Linux terminal server, capable of accepting RDP protocol connections from Linux based rdesktop & freerdp clients but also from Microsoft’s own Remote Desktop (re RDP protocol speaking) clients.    XRDP/X11RDP allow RDP Protocol speaking clients the ability to connect to a Linux Server Desktop environment and interact just as if they were logged into it directly and just like they are familiar doing with Windows Terminal Servers and their Windows Remote Desktops.

The combination of NGINX and Tomcat is implemented to support HTTPS web browsing so the end-to-end connection from the student’s web browser to the remote desktop is encrypted.

 

Installation should be Easy

My development of CIAB included creation of a set of Linux “bash” shell scripts that, for the most part, automatically install everything including the Ubuntu Mate Desktop Environment,  the Guacamole Web Proxy Server, Tomcat8, NGINX, MySQL, and XRDP/X11RDP software.

During execution of these scripts the installer/admin is only asked perhaps 7-8 times to input information and most of those are simply to enter Admin passwords for Guacamole, NGINX, MySQL or their own Linux/Ubuntu User Account.

I’ve created a fairly extensive README.PDF file which explains the installation process step by step and includes quite a few pictures of various entry forms/screens that the Installer will encounter.    PLEASE…. Take the time to thoroughly read & use the README.PDF file!

In that README.PDF guide I also talk about an example installation on Amazon’s AWS EC2 Cloud.     For that installation I also identify a recommended  AWS EC2 “server” identifier (called an AMI) to use if you want to experiment.

NOTE:   I have used these scripts to install this many times now on the AWS Cloud but also on Digital Ocean’s Cloud as well as on local Servers and even a local VM.

I’ve posted all of the scripts and associated files required by the scripts to install CIAB Remote Desktop on the GitHub repository site:    https://github.com/bmullan/CIAB-Guacamole-Remote-Desktop

NOTE:   you will need ALL of those files for the scripts to successfully install the CIAB Remote Desktop on your Cloud Server, local server or VM.

Also, note on the GitHub page I include a pointer to a YouTube Video I made that shows me running through the entire CIAB Remote Desktop installation process !

That video can be found here:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlzSKrIGQZ8&feature=youtu.be

Lastly,  all of the Scripts were designed to install the CIAB Remote Desktop onto an Ubuntu 16.04 Server.    If you want to install onto some other Linux distribution you will have to go through the various scripts and make appropriate changes for your Linux distro choice.

The Demonstration of the CIAB Remote Desktop only focuses on connecting to an Ubuntu MATE Desktop on the AWS Cloud.

REMEMBER…   the very same setup of Guacamole can be used to simultaneously configure Remote Desktop connections to Microsoft Windows Servers as well assuming those Windows Servers have been configured appropriately for RDP Remote Desktop connections/sessions.

If you find this useful, interesting and decide to try it out please let me know how it went.

Brian

 

 

 

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May 12, 2015

Proof-of-Concept – Using Mesh VPN to interconnect LXC containers on Multiple Hosts on Multiple Clouds

Filed under: LXC, mesh VPN, ubuntu, Uncategorized, VPN — Tags: , , , , , — bmullan @ 4:34 pm

Proof-of-Concept

Secure Mesh VPN Network Interconnect for

LXC containers in Multiple IaaS Clouds

by Brian Mullan (bmullan.mail@gmail.com)

April 2015

Preface

I’ll start off this blog post by saying LXC containers are great (see www.linuxcontainers.org) !

LXC provides pre-built OS containers for Centos 6, Debian (Jessie, Sid, Squeeze & Wheezy), Oracle linux v6.5, Plamo linux, and multiple releases of Ubuntu from Precise up to and including Wily.

Its important to understand that the Host of LXC containers can be one distro and the containers can actually be any of the other supported Distro’s.   The only requirement for a container OS is that it utilize the same Linux Kernel as the Host OS.

This post though is about LXC  so lets begin.

The rest of this post is about my proof-of-concept testing of using a full mesh VPN to provide LXC container connectivity between any remote host whether on an IaaS Cloud like AWS, Digital Ocean or Rackspace or your own servers.

This document should be considered a Work-in-Progress Draft as I have been receiving a lot of good input
from others & will continue to edit for additional information, improvements and/or corrections.

Problem Statement

On any of the existing IaaS Cloud providers like AWS, Digital Ocean etc you can easily create virtual machine “instances” of running Linux servers.

Note that some IaaS clouds (Azure, AWS as examples) let you also create Windows virtual machines also.   But again tthis is about Linux & LXC not Windows.

Although you can create and run a Linux server in those Clouds you cannot “nest” other linux servers inside of those Cloud server “instances” … by “nesting” I am referring to using KVM or VirtualBox etc inside of an AWS Ubuntu server instance to create other virtual machines (vm inside a vm).   There may be some IaaS providers that permit nested VMs but I am not aware of any.  AWS for instance does not allow this.

The reason is that those clouds do not permit nested hardware virtualization.

NOTE:  On your home linux pc/server you can nest KVM hw virtualized instances.

LXC containers are:

  • much more light-weight than using full HW virtualization like KVM, vmware, VirtualBox etc.   This means LXC is faster and use less “host” server resources (memory, cpu etc).    Canonical (ubuntu, lxc, juju etc) just published some performance test results of LXD (LXD utilizes LXC !) versus KVM instances.   LXD/LXC in terms of both scalability & performance far surpasses KVM.    On a server where you may be limited to running ~20 HW virtualized VMs you may be able to run 80-100+ LXC containers.
    • LXC containers can be “nested” within a HW virtualized Linux on AWS, Digital Ocean etc
  • the LXC containers also all share the same kernel as the host machine so they are able to take advantage of the “host” security, networking, file system management etc.
  • extremely fast to start up & shut-down… almost instantaneous.
  • flexible because you can use say an Ubuntu host and have LXC containers that are other linux distro’s such as Debian or Centos.

A benefit of LXC is that you can use it to create create full container based servers in IaaS Clouds like AWS, Digital Ocean etc and you can also “nest” LXC containers (containers inside a container) on those cloud “instances”.

LXC has some characteristics which are “default”.   These can be modified/changed but I will not be going to cover that in this document.

LXC containers are by default created/started/running behind a NAT’d bridge interface called “lxcbr0” which is created when you install LXC on a server.

lxcbr0 is by default given a 10.0.3.x network/subnet

NOTE: you can change this if you want/need to 

Each LXC container you create on the “host” will be assigned an IP address in that 10.0.3.x subnet (examples:  10.0.3.123, 10.0.3.18 etc).

NOTE: Your Cloud “instance” (re VM) will be assigned an IP address at the time you create the cloud “instance” by whoever the Cloud IaaS provider is.   Actually there are usually 2 ip addresses assigned, one private to the cloud and one “public” so the Cloud instance can be reached from the Internet.

The LXC containers you create & run on any Cloud instance (the “instance” will from now on be referred to as the LXC “host”) can by default reach anything on the Internet which the “host” can reach.   Again, that is configurable.

By default, all LXC containers running on any one “host” can also reach each other.

But what if you wanted LXC containers running on a host on say AWS to interact with LXC containers running on a host on Digital Ocean’s cloud?    No you can’t… not without some network configuration magic the LXC containers running on one host cannot talk to containers running on another host because all will be running behind their own hosts lxcbr0 NAT’d interface.

Also, LXC containers running on AWS cannot reach LXC containers running on another host also on AWS (ditto for other Clouds).

So the problem becomes… what if you wanted to do this though?

What if you wanted your LXC containers on a host somewhere (cloud or elsewhere) to be able to reach & interact with LXC containers running on any other host anywhere (assuming firewalls etc don’t prevent it).

Also, how could you make this secure so not just anyone could do this?

A Solution Approach I Utilized

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are commonly used in the normal networking world to securely interconnect remote sites & servers.  Think of a VPN as a “tunnel”.

VPNs encrypt the data links utilized for this interconnect to keep the VPN and any data traversing it  “private”.   So a VPN is an encrypted “tunnel”.

Most common VPN are peer-to-peer (P2P).   P2P VPN usually require configuration of each server that you want to connect to.   If you have 100 servers or sites then that means configuring each individual site for 99 different connections (1 for each “peer” site/server).

That solution if used beyond a few servers can be both complicated & messy to maintain.

The solution to this is to use what is called a Mesh VPN.  A “mesh” VPN means that every host configured as part of the VPN can connect to every other host connected to that VPN without necessarily being configured specifically  to do so.

 

mesh vpn with lxc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Open Source there are quite a few Mesh VPN choices and some offer more or less features and are more or less complicated to setup.   Some mesh vpn solutions are more complicated to configure than others.

Some Mesh VPN utilize a concept of a “super-node” which is used to keep a stateful database of all “member” servers/hosts that are part of the VPN.

Other Mesh VPN have been designed so as to not require a “super-node” at all!    This reduces overhead traffic to/from the “super-node” and any subsequent delays that traffic can cause.

In this blog post I am describing how to utilize one such Open Source Mesh VPN named PeerVPN (http://www.peervpn.net/) which is the work of Tobias Volk.

Key PeerVPN Features include:

  • Ethernet tunneling support using TAP devices.
  • IPv6 support.
  • Full mesh network topology.
  • Automatically builds tunnels through firewalls and NATs without any further setup (for example, port forwarding).
  • Shared key encryption and authentication support.
  • Open Source (GPLv3)

PeerVPN uses UDP exclusively and PeerVPN sends UDP packets that are larger than the MTU.
Tobias Volk, the author of PeerVPN, has indicated that PeerVPN fragments/reassembles packets itself to enable this MTU capability.

PeerVPN is both simple to setup and it does create a full mesh VPN and it does not require a “super-node”.

You can define multiple separate VPN’s on each host(s)!   To define additional VPN networks just create additional copies of your peervpn.conf using a new unique name for each.

  • edit each new configuration file (call the new config file anything you want)
  • change the networkname variable to be a unique name of the additional VPN
  • change the port variable to be unique for each new VPN
  • generate a different PSK encryption/authentication key for each additonal  VPN and add that PSK key to the appropriate VPN’s  .conf file after the PSK variable in that file.

NOTE:   All servers that you want to be part of the same VPN must use the same config file values (exceptions:  “interface” & “ifconfig4/ifconfig6” values)

The minimum PeerVPN configuration file requires only 9-11 items to be configured depending on whether you are using IPv4 and IPv6 or not:

port 7000                                                 # your specified Port number to be used by any individual/distinct PeerVPN (other VPN’s require a different Port #)
networkname VPNnet1                          # your name for each unique VPN network deployed (other VPN’s require a different “networkname”)
psk MyCryptoSeedPassword                    # PSK is an encryption/authentication “password” upto 512 characters (other VPN PSKs should be unique). For PeerVPN, the PSK that you enter in the config is just a seed password used to generate the “real” crypto keys. The “real” crypto keys are always AES keys with 256 bit length, which are generated individually for each VPN link.
enabletunneling <yes|no>                    # Default is YES.  Enables tunneling interface (refer to config documentation link below)
enableipv4 <yes|no>                              # Default is YES
enableipv6 <yes|no>                              # Default is YES
interface peervpn0                                 # name you want to give the local VPN Tunnel End Point (TEP) on a “host” (name it whatever you like)
ifconfig4 10.8.0.1/24                             # IP address of “this” hosts TEP. Next Host TEP may be 10.8.0.2/24 etc.
ifconfig6 <configure>                              # this is the node’s IPv6 address that should be assigned to the tunneled interface (i.e the encrypted tunnel).
initpeers 10.8.0.2 7000 10.8.0.3 7000  # For HA you should ID at least several Peer Node Public IPv4 addresses that “this” node should try to initially connect or reconnect to if connection is lost
initpeers 2001:DB8:1337::1  7000         # For HA you should ID at least several Peer Node Public IPv6 addresses that “this” node should try to initially connect or reconnect to if connection is lost
enablendpcache <yes|no>                    # Default is NO.  If using IPv6 set to YES. Enables caching of tunneled IPv6 NDP messages to improve performance by reducing the amount of NDP multicast messages that need to be sent between peers

For a basic PeerVPN configuration file that’s it!    Pretty simple to implement I think compared to other mesh VPN solutions I have seen!

To start peervpn use the following command:

usage:  ./peervpn <path to peervpn config file>

IMPORTANT NOTE:   For complete PeerVPN configuration options and descriptions see:   https://github.com/peervpn/peervpn/blob/master/peervpn.conf

The 10,000 ft view of the overall process to setup and use PeerVPN are:

  • Create ubuntu server instance (re host) on each cloud
  • On each Cloud Instance/host open port 7000 which is used by PeerVPN.
  • Install peervpn on each cloud instance.   Copy the .zip file and unzip it in a subdirectory of your choosing.
  • Create a peervpn.conf configuration file.   Refer to:  http://www.peervpn.net/tutorial/
  • Generate a PSK encryption password “seed”.  I  used “psktool”…  and set the “psk” variable in your peervpn.conf file to that key
    • note::  use the same PSK on all VPN “member” hosts within the same VPN
  • Follow the instructions on the above PeerVPN link in regards to adding more server/hosts to the VPN.    You can add as many as you can support from a traffic perspective.

Start a new instance of the peervpn and point to the additional .conf configuration file

examples:

  • ./peervpn ./vpn-network-A.conf
  • ./peervpn ./vpn-network-B.conf
  • etc

If you do this, each VPN will be separate & isolated from every other VPN not of the same “networkname”.

How to Install & Use PSKTOOL to generate your PSK encryption password

An important part of any VPN is the encryption of the data traversing the VPN tunnel. This is especially true for data crossing the Internet. To insure the security of the data you send through your VPN tunnel PeerVPN’s configuration file (peervpn.conf) allows you to specify a PSK encryption password.   The PSK you enter into the peervpn.conf file is used as a “seed” to generate the actual 256bit AES keys used to encrypt the VPN link.

Pre-Shared Keys (PSK) can be used to provide both authentication & encryption. Pre-Shared Keys is the most common authentication method used today.

I used psktool for my experiment and it is included in the gnutls package(s).

On Ubuntu the following will install what is required for you to use psktool:

$ sudo apt-fast install gnutls-bin gnutls26-doc guile-gnutls -y

Usage : psktool [options]
-u, – -username username
specify username (username not important for our use-case here with peervpn but tool requires one)
-p, – -passwd FILE specify a password file.
-s, – -keysize SIZE specify the key size in bytes! NOTE: the max keysize is 64 bytes (ie 512 bits)
-v, – -version prints the program’s version number
-h, – -help shows this help text

then… to generate a 512 bit PSK for “any” username and save it to some file (example = ./mypsk):

example: $ psktool -u bmullan -p ./mypsk -s 64

Edit the mypsk file and copy everything after the name you used (the name will be the only readable text in that file) and add that copied PSK password key into your peervpn.conf file after the variable “PSK”

How to use the PeerVPN “mesh” VPN with LXC

The big question is…  how does this help interconnect LXC containers running on possibly many remote and independent server/hosts

All it takes is a small networking change…

If on each host you configured & started PeerVPN properly, then on each host if you execute “ifconfig” you will see one or more VPN Tunnel End Point (TEP) “interfaces” created by PeerVPN.

NOTE:  The TEP will be named the same “name” as you entered in the PeerVPN configuration for the variable called “interface” … refer to the above PeerVPN tutorial.

To connect LXC containers running on any PeerVPN configured host you attach the “peervpn0” interface to the lxcbr0 bridge that lxc uses on that host.

NOTE:   Depending on your peervpn.conf file configuration you are the one that defines the PeerVPN TEP interface IP address.   In the PeerVPN Tutorial example the peervpn0 interface is given a 10.8.x.x address

When you installed LXC on a host (sudo apt-get install lxc) a default LXC bridge will be created and given a 10.0.3.x IP address.   Also, any lxc containers created using the lxc-create command on that host will by default get a 10.0.3.x IP address.

While logged into each of your servers you should now be able to ping the 10.8.0.x IP address of the other PeerVPN member servers.

Our next step is to connect our TEP to the LXCBR0 bridge to enable containers attached to that bridge to pass data over the VPN tunnel.

Since the PeerVPN TEP interface (“peervpn0” in the Tutorial example) is just like any other Linux ethernet interface we can use the “ip link” command to connect the peervpn0 interface to the LXC lxcbr0 bridge.

$ sudo ip link set dev peervpn0 master lxcbr0

NOTE:   After executing this command on EACH Host… you will find that you can no longer PING the 10.8.0.x IP addresses of the other PeerVPN member servers!

This is expected and is OK because if you still have the terminal up where you executed the command to start the PeerVPN (ie  sudo peervpn … you should still see your “peers connected” !

Next create an LXC container on each “host”

example:

$ sudo lxc-create -t download -n my-container —  -d ubuntu -r trusty -a amd64

Note:  this will create a new LXC container named “my-container” using Ubuntu and the Trusty release (re v14.04) and also make it a 64Bit OS in that container.

Next… start the container your created on each host and then get access into the LXC container “my-container”

$ sudo lxc-start -n my-container -d

$ sudo lxc-attach -n my-container

If you look closely at the Terminal window you are using you will see that the “prompt” has now changed to show that you are logged into the container “my-container” and that you are logged in as root.

Note:   root in a container is NOT the same as root in the “host”

On each host get the IP address of each host’s container that you created and write it down.

You can get those IP addresses using the following LXC command on both Host A and Host B

$ sudo lxc-ls -f

Or if you are logged into the Container on each host just do:

$ ifconfig

NOTE:   (your container IP addresses will be different but for our example here let’s say

  • eth0 of Host A’s container has IP address 10.0.3.136
  • eth0 of Host B’s container has IP address 10.0.3.15

 

peervpn lxc diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While logged into the Container on Host A, try to ping the Container IP address on Host B

Using our example IP addresses from above (again your own Container IP addresses will be different:

$ ping 10.0.3.15

This should now work and Containers on Host A can reach Containers on Host B via the PeerVPN Tunnel you created.

Important Note

For our proof-of-concept trial here you need to understand that we have left LXC on each host node to utilize the default LXC configuration.   So each host will have its own LXC lxcbr0 bridge … and … the lxcbr0 bridge on each host will all have the same 10.0.3.x subnet & and ip address from that 10.0.3.x subnet defined for lxcbr0.

Furthermore, the LXC containers created and running on the individual “hosts” will all also have been assigned a 10.0.3.x ip address by the local lxcbr0 dnsmasq.

Even though LXC “by default” creates & assigns “unique” IP addresses to each LXC container created inside a particular “host”…    LXC running on separate “hosts” is NOT by default aware of IP addresses used by LXC on any other host.

For our “proof-of-concept” here, that means there is the potential for a “duplicate” 10.0.3.x IP address to be assigned to a container on one or more “hosts”.

For a small proof-of-concept this is probably unlikely to occur and so for this blog write-up we will ignore that fact.   But for a production environment you will want to look into using a centralized IPAM (ip address management) solution which will probably involve other linux tools such as DNSMASQ, DHCP, DNS.    However, that is beyond the purpose of this proof-of-concept article/blog post.

Finally Step — repeat this process for each cloud instance/host if you’d like to test beyond just a couple servers.  However, remember there is a “remote” possibility of some LXC container getting a duplicate IP address in your own proof-of-concept trial.   it is remote but it is possible.

NOTE:   you can configure LXC on each host to use a different bridge you create (say br0) and then on 1 host create & add a DNSMASQ and attach it to the br0 bridge.   After doing so, all LXC containers on any host anywhere that is part of the same PeerVPN tunnel will get their IP assigned by a single dnsmasq and you will not have to worry about IP duplication.

Now each lxc container on each cloud instance should be able to ping the 10.8.x.x address of any other lxc container on any other PeerVPN host you have setup anywhere as well as ping any other LXC container on any of those Hosts.

Also, for any Production use it might be advantageous to utilize Non-Privileged LXC containers.    All of this blog post has just talked about “privileged” LXC containers.

Use & Implementation of IPv6 as a Production Solution

The introduction & increasing use of IPv6 instead of IPv4 will greatly simplify this overall PeerVPN solution in regards to IPAM because IPv6 was designed to allow local IPv6 address assignments which are guaranteed to be unique even between separate and remote host compute nodes/containers.   Google “ipv6” and read up to become more familiar with it as the “internet of things” or IOT as its popularly called will require the vast number of available IPV6 addresses in order to connect the future world’s billions of inter-connected internet devices (phones, tv’s, cars, tablets, laptops etc).

ARIN announced in June 2015 that it has exhausted ALL IPv4 addresses !

So no more new IPv4 is available.   For this reason, its important to start learning, testing, deploying IPv6 where you can.   In the U.S. almost all ISP’s (Cable, ATT, Mobile etc) now support IPv6 !

NOTE:  The main advantage of IPv6 over IPv4 is its larger address space. The length of an IPv6 address is 128 bits, compared with 32 bits in IPv4. The address space therefore has 2128 or approximately 7038340000000000000♠3.4×1038 addresses

General IPv6 Configuration for LXC

Searching the web I found a good write-up describing the configuration of IPv6 for LXC container use.

Although this article does not address anything about VPNs I think it provides a great background to understand the critical steps & considerations to configure IPv6 for LXC and the LXC Host machine.

Refer to:     LXC Host featuring IPv6 connectivity

Unique Local IPv6 Generator

There is a great online tool to help you generate a unique “local” IPv6 address to utilize with your mesh network or simply to use IPv6 with LXC or Linux configurations.   See:     http://unique-local-ipv6.com/

Suggested Readings

To really start understanding LXC be sure to read through the terrific 10 part Series on LXC by one of the Principle LXC Developers Stephane Graber.   Refer to:  https://www.stgraber.org/2013/12/20/lxc-1-0-blog-post-series/

To gain a good understanding of IPv6 configuration in Linux one web site that is fairly comprehensive in its description of the terms, configuration options, and usage refer to:     IPv6 – Set UP An IPv6 LAN with Linux

Also just for a good reference I have found the iproute2 cheat sheet web page extremely valuable.

Last Words…   As I am not any kind of expert in IPv6, LXC or Linux feel free to suggest improvements, changes and/or configuration examples to this  approach in any of the related areas !

Have fun…!

January 1, 2015

Using Rundeck on Ubuntu to automate server deployments into LXC (local or remote) containers

Filed under: Cloud Management, LXC, ubuntu, Virtualization Tools — Tags: , , , , — bmullan @ 11:59 am

Continuing my last posts regarding LXC (linux containers) I realize that managing them from the command line might be a bit tedious when there can be hundreds or thousands of containers between your local PC/laptop and any “remote” (ie cloud) servers & LXC containers you utilize/manage.

I just recently found out about Rundeck while searching for orchestration/mgmt tools.

My use-case was that I was looking for something that could help in managing LXC (linux containers) whether remote or local.

Note:  many people confuse LXC and other container technologies like Docker, LMCTFY, etc.   They are all different solutions that underneath utilize Linux Namespaces.   Here is a good multi-part series describing Linux Namespaces.

LXC (https://linuxcontainers.org/) is an incredible technology.

With the release of 1.x this past year it now supports nested containers, unprivileged containers and much more.

Anyway, I decided to see if I could get Rundeck to work in an LXC container and also be able to create workflows/jobs etc to work with LXC containers.

LXC has a rich set of CLI commands:

  • lxc-create
  • lxc-start
  • lxc-attach
  • lxc-stop
  • lxc-clone
  • lxc-destroy
  • etc

There is also an API that supports Python, Go, Ruby etc.

Stephane Graber (one of the LXC core developers) has a great 10 part Blog series that tells you all about LXC.

For me,  I just wanted to get Rundeck to issue the above lxc-xxxxx commands.

Turns out it only took a couple configuration changes so I thought I’d share my notes here.

Note: all of this was done on Ubuntu 14.04

Steps I took to install Rundeck in an LXC container.

create a new container on the Host.   I called mine “rundeck”

$ sudo lxc-create -t download -n rundeck

start the container which will run detached from the terminal you started it on.

$ sudo lxc-start -n rundeck

attach (re get a console into the container)

$ sudo lxc-attach -n rundeck

Note: at this point your console prompt should change to show you are logged in as Root in the Container whose hostname is “rundeck”.

At this point you can do whatever you would do with any ubuntu server but here were my steps

root@rundeck#  apt-get update && apt-get upgrade -y
root@rundeck# apt-get install wget nano default-jre

then I used wget to download the latest Rundeck .deb file:

root@rundeck# wget http://dl.bintray.com/rundeck/rundeck-deb/rundeck-2.4.0-1-GA.deb

Note:  check on their website for the rundeck version number as it may change often

install the rundeck .deb it

root@rundeck# gdebi ./rundeck-2.4.0-1-GA.deb

When the Rundeck installation is done I needed to do a couple of things.

LXC containers in Ubuntu by default are started in their own 10.0.3.x network.   By default applications in the container have internet access and as I’d mentioned before are like being logged into any other ubuntu server in regards to what you can do.

Because its possible that each time you stop/restart an LXC container it may get a different 10.0.3.x address I wanted to create a solution to where the Rundeck webapp would acquire the “current” IP address of the container Rundeck is running inside of, each time that container starts & rundeck starts.

My script looks like this and I saved it into the containers /usr/bin directory after setting it as executable (chmod +x sethost.sh) …  I called mine “sethost.sh” or whatever you called it.


#!/bin/bash
#
# sethost.sh
# purpose:
#            get ip address while running inside a container
#            Stream Edit (SED) and set the /etc/rundeck/rundesk-config.
properties file so that it substitutes
#            “localhost” with that IP
#
#            $ sudo service rundeskd start
#
# assumptions:   container is using its own eth0 for network connection and its primary address
#
# This script is called from /etc/rc.local during system boot but after network IP is set and rundeckd is started
#
# first set rundeck-config.properties back to original
cp /etc/rundeck/rundeck-config.properties-save /etc/rundeck/rundeck-config.properties

# get eth0 IP address (we assume that’s what the container is using

my_ip=$(ifconfig eth0 | grep “inet addr” | awk -F: ‘{print $2}’ | awk ‘{print $1}’)

# swap the term “localhost” with the real IP of the container in the file rundeck-config.properties
FILE=/etc/rundeck/rundeck-config.properties
sed -i -e “s|localhost|$my_ip|” $FILE
# restart the rundeckd service with the new & now actual IP address
sudo /etc/init.d/rundeckd restart

exit

Run this script by adding it into the rc.local file  inside of the lxc container in which you installed rundeck (my container is called rundeck)

in /etc/rc.local just add the following line at the end of whats already there

/usr/bin/sethost.sh

Next, as you may note above I am simply searching rundeck-config.properties for the word “localhost” and substituting the current IP address of the eth0 of the LXC container Rundeck is running in as again “by default” an LXC container will use that IP address and I am assuming defaults here.

Secondly, to keep this simple, before I ever restart the system for the first time I copied the rundeck-config.properties to rundeck-config.properties-save so I had a virgin copy of the original file with “localhost” still in it.

The first step of the sethost.sh script is to restore the original file, then do the SED substitution that way I could always find/substitute the actual IP of the container.

root@rundeck# cp /etc/rundeck/rundeck-config.properites  /etc/rundeck/rundeck-config.properties-save

My next step was to enable use of SUDO in job command so I could have Rundeck work with Privileged LXC containers

Remember to create/start/stop etc those you have to have SUDO privileges on the Host.

I searched the Rundeck forum and found others were grappling with this problem too.

For me my solution (whether its best or not) worked.

I used visudo to edit the SUDOERS file and set the user “rundeck” so “rundeck” user does NOT require a password to execute a sudo command.

Note:  Again, you are doing this WHILE LOGGED INTO the “rundeck” container – NOT – the Host !

This will enable the rundeck web app to execute commands that require “sudo” in them.

in the rundeck container…

$ sudo visudo

Add the following at the end of the sudoers file

rundeck ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL

Ctrl-X to leave, save your changes, and you’re done!

Now while logged INTO the rundeck container reboot it.

root@rundeck# shutdown -r now

Note that this will log you out of the container and return you to the original terminal prompt on your Host OS.

If you want to log back into the container “rundeck” you should be able to almost immediately log back in using the lxc-attach command again

$ sudo lxc-attach -n rundeck

But at this point you should be able to log into Rundeck which is running in the separate and isolated LXC container we also called rundeck by pointing your browser to the IP address of the container.

You can find out the containers IP address using the following LXC command while in a terminal on the Host OS:

$ sudo lxc-ls -f

NAME     STATE    IPV4                            IPV6  GROUPS  AUTOSTART 
———————————————————————————————————
base_cn  STOPPED  –                                  –          –                 NO        
rundeck  RUNNING  10.0.3.136, 10.0.4.1    –          –                 NO        
wings    STOPPED  –                                    –          –                 NO  

so in the above case I point my browser to:     http://10.0.3.136:4440

and log into Rundeck as normal (admin/admin  -or- user/user)

However, now when I create a “job” for the localhost… that job executes inside of the LXC container “rundeck” and NOT on the Host OS …!

If you read the linuxcontainers.org website you will also have noticed a new capability/extension to LXC that is now available called LXD (lex-dee).

LXD is introducing a whole new exciting  capability to LXC that includes the ability to easily create/run/manage LXC containers anywhere on any LXC capable host (LXC is part of the linux kernel) whether that host is remote (re Cloud) or local.

This means that even on your laptop you can have dozens or many dozens (depending on memory, applications, etc) of containers all isolated as much/little as you want from each other, from the Host or from the internet.

So now you can use Rundeck to manage/orchestrate all your local PC LXC containers BUT… you should also be able to use LXC & LXD to do the same with remote (re Cloud) servers/LXC containers.

As I am no expert in Rundeck, LXC or Linux feel free to suggest improvements, changes etc where you think this post requires it as I am sure I probably have made some incorrect assumptions w/Rundeck and/or LXC here.

thanks.

Brian

November 20, 2013

Configure x2go remote desktop capability into LXC Containers

Filed under: LXC, Remote Desktop, ubuntu, x2go — Tags: , , , — bmullan @ 8:32 am

I’ve long used x2go for remote desktop access to Linux machines.   So far I’ve found x2go to be by far the fastest/best remote desktop application for Linux whereby a Linux, Windows or Mac user can access that Linux desktop “server”.

The following will show you how to create an LXC container and configure it to implement the x2go (see www.x2go.org) remote desktop “server” so you can access the LXC container’s desktop using any of x2go native client (windows, linux, mac) or even the x2go web browser plugin (ubuntu only at this time).

Note 1:

  • the following assumes an Ubuntu Host OS.   LXC is implemented in the Linux Kernel and should be available on ANY Distro but use may differ in some ways not documented here.

First lets create a test LXC container

$ sudo lxc-create -t ubuntu -n test

Note 2:    -t specifies “what” linux LXC “template” to use in creation of the LXC container.   In ubuntu templates exist for:

  • lxc-alpine
  • lxc-busybox
  • lxc-fedora
  • lxc-sshd
  • lxc-altlinux
  • lxc-cirros
  • lxc-opensuse
  • lxc-ubuntu
  • lxc-archlinux
  • lxc-debian
  • lxc-oracle
  • lxc-ubuntu-cloud

So although I use Ubuntu I could create an LXC container running OpenSuse, Debian, Arch Linux etc….  very cool capability.

The ONLY caveate is that all container OS’s will have to run the Host OS’s “kernel”.    This normally is not a problem for most use-cases though.

Next we have to “start” the LXC container we called “test”

$ sudo lxc-start -n test

As part of executing the above command you will be presented with a login prompt for the LXC container.   The default LoginID = ubuntu and the password = ubuntu

So login to the LXC container called “test”

Next I started adding some of the applications I would be using to do the test.

First I make sure the test container is updated

test:~$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade -y

Next I install either an XFCE or LXDE desktop… Note, I use one of these because no remote desktop software I am aware of supports the 3D graphics of etiher Unity or Gnome3… including x2go. But x2go does support xfce, lxde, mate and a couple others.

So lets install xfce desktop in the container.

test:~$ sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop -y

In order to install x2go PPA in the container I have to get “add-apt-repository” (its not by default)

test:~$ sudo apt-get install sofware-properties-common -y

Now I can add the x2go PPA:

test:~$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:x2go/stable

Next, install the x2goserver to which I will connect from my Host by using the x2goclient I will install there later.

test:~$ sudo apt-get install x2goserver x2goserver-xsession -y

x2goclient uses SSH to login to an x2goserver.

There are various advanced x2go configs you can do for login but to keep it simple I am going to just be using login/password combo.

However, to be able to do that the default Ubuntu /etc/ssh/sshd_config file needs 2 changes to allow logging in with login/password.

Use whatever editor you use to edit (I use nano – which you would have to also install with apt-get into the container)

test:~$ sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Change the following from NO to YES to enable challenge-response passwords

ChallengeResponseAuthentication no

Uncomment out (re remove the #) the following to enable Password Authentication

#PasswordAuthentication yes 

Save your 2 changes and exit your editor.

Now, restart SSH so the changes take effect

 test:~$ sudo service ssh restart

At this point the x2goserver is all setup in the LXC container so you can access it with your x2goclient on your Host OS or wherever they might be assuming they can connect to your LXC container’s IP address.

You can shutdown (or reboot) the LXC container while logged into it just as you would in any Ubuntu by:

test:~$ sudo shutdown -r now  -or- $ sudo shutdown -h now

What is nice about LXC is that once you have shutdown the LXC container you can “clone” that entire container very quickly by issuing the following command on your Host OS

hostOS:~$  sudo lxc-clone -o test -n new_container

Each new LXC container will get a new IP address (default will be in the 10.x.x.x address range).

After you “start” your new cloned LXC container:

hostOS:~$  sudo lxc-start -n new_container

To access the NEW LXC container you can find out the new LXC container’s IP address using the following command after the LXC container has been started:

hostOS:~$ sudo lxc-ls –fancy

 You can then use that IP address in creating a new x2go “session profile”.

Again, remember that each container “could” be configured with a different Desktop Environment so one user could have xfce another lxde another Mate etc.

Hope this is useful and fun for you to experiment with.

Brian

How to Enable Sound in LXC (Linux Containers)

Filed under: LXC, pulseaudio, ubuntu, x2go — Tags: , , , — bmullan @ 7:26 am

An Approach to Enable Sound in an LXC container

Background:

LXC Containers are usually used for “server” type applications where utilizing sound is not required.

My personal “use-case” is that I want to use LXC containers to provide a remote-desktop “server” to remote users.    In my use-case I use both the awesome x2go remote desktop application refer to: http://www.x2go.org and also my own spin of the great Guacamole HTML5 remote desktop proxy gateway.

I will not go into anything x2go or Guacamole related here regarding how to setup it up for use with LXC.

The following is how I enabled Sound in my LXC containers on my Ubuntu 15.10 amd64 host/server.

Before you do anything with a container you need to make 1 change to whatever “Host/Server” you want to play sound from LXC containers.   Whether that Host/Server is local or remote or the same Host/Server that the LXC containers are running on.

$ echo “load-module module-native-protocol-tcp auth-ip-acl=127.0.0.1;10.0.3.0/24” |  sudo tee -a /etc/pulse/system.pa  

$ echo “load-module module-zeroconf-publish”  | sudo tee -a /etc/pulse/system.pa 

The above will add the following 2 lines to the end of your Host’s /etc/pulse/system.pa  file:

load-module module-native-protocol-tcp auth-ip-acl=127.0.0.1;10.0.3.0/24

load-module module-zeroconf-publish

The 1st statement says to allow sound from “remote” systems whose IP addresses are part of 10.0.3.x … in essence from any LXC container running on that Host/Server.

Once you have done the above you will need to either reboot the Host or just “kill” the Pulseaudio Daemon running on the Host, which will auto-restart itself picking up the 2 new system.pa commands you created!

to restart pulseaudio

ps -ax | grep pulseaudio

then use the kill -9 command & the PID of the above pulseaudio output.   As an example lets assume pulseaudio is running on PID 2189

$ sudo kill -9 2189

You can check that pulseaudio daemon restarted by doing the “ps -ax | grep pulseaudio” command again.

 

Step 1 – Create a Test container

Create a test container (the following creates a “privileged” LXC container but Un-privileged works as well:

$ sudo lxc-create -t download -n test

Start the test container:

$ sudo lxc-start -n test

 

Step 2 – Add PulseAudio and an audio player (mpg321) into the Test container

$ sudo apt-get install  pulseaudio  mpg321  -y

Create your new Ubuntu UserID

$ sudo adduser YourID

 

Step 3 – Configure your LXC Test Container’s PulseAudio to redirect any Sound over the Network

PulseAudio is really a very powerful audio/sound management application and there are many ways to utilize it.

One such way allows you to configure a “remote system”… in this case “remote” being the Test LXC container which is on a different IP Network than your Host OS so that it plays any sound/audio on the Host/Server (or a truly remote Host/Server:

NOTE 1:

  1. The “target” PulseAudio Host PC that will “play” the sound … (if on a home network) is usually a 192.168.x.x IP network.
  2. An LXC container on your Host PC is usually on a 10.x.x.x IP Network
  3. The LXC “Host PC” and any LXC Containers are usually bridged together via the lxcbr0 (lxcbr”zero”) bridge so they can communicate and so your LXC container can communicate with the Internet.

Make sure you are logged into your Test LXC container using “YourID” and “YourPassword”.    If you just created yourID in the container and are still logged in as ubuntu/root the SU to yourID   ( $ su yourID).

Next is the important step regarding PulseAudio configuration in your LXC Test Container.   The following command adds a new environment variable when you login to the Container in the future.

$  echo “export PULSE_SERVER=10.0.3.1” | tee -a ~/.bashrc

The above will add the following line to the end of your .bashrc file

export PULSE_SERVER=10.0.3.1

In the above 10.0.3.1 is the IP of the HOST OS on the lxcbr0 bridge that LXC by default installs for you when you install LXC.

Note:  if the actual Host/Server you want to play the sound on is a truly remote Host/Server (re not the Host of the LXC container) the use the IP address of that remote Host/Server in the above

NOTE 2:

  1. PulseAudio by default usesport 4713.  Both on your Target Host OS and in any LXC container you might create unless otherwise configured differently.
  2. If you have any problems using sound in a future container make sure that Port 4713 is open in any firewalls if you plan to send sound to your local workstation  over a network or the Internet itself.

 

Step 4 – Finally Check to see if Sound works from your LXC Test Container

To test that sound works in your container use SCP to copy some mp3 file from your Host to the LXC container (assume the mp3 is called test.mp3).

$  scp /path-to-mp3/test.mp3  yourID@container_ip:/home/yourID

Next log back into your container as yourID.  You can ssh into it or lxc-attach to it.  In either case make sure you are logged in as yourID not root or ubuntu user.

Now you can  use the application “mpg123” to see if sound worked.

If you did everything correctly and if you have your speaker On and Volume turned up on your Host PC you should hear the .mp3 file playing when you execute the following:

$ mpg123 ~/test.mp3

SUMMARY

The PulseAudio configuration I described here for the “test” LXC container allows PulseAudio to redirect sound to ANY other Linux system running PulseAudio on the network -or- the Internet.

IMPORTANT NOTE

This PulseAudio setup does allow concurrent simultaneous use of Sound by BOTH the Host and the Container.    For a single user case this may not be what you want but if you want the audio to play on some remote Linux machine, a Raspberry Pi out on your Deck etc. this is really useful

However, remember “my use-case” was for remote desktop access to LXC container based Ubuntu desktop systems. In “my use-case” … each container will eventually be configured so that any container will redirect PulseAudio TO the remote desktop “user” PC wherever that is on the “internet”.

Remember that the PulseAudio port 4713 can not be blocked by any firewalls

NOTE 4:

This configuration of course was simply to test that Sound would work.

I do think LXC could become a great User Desktop virtualization approach as it works great now with x2go (in my case) but there are other remote desktop access applications that others may utilize also.

Finally, the www.pulseaudio.org has a lot of other detailed information regarding advanced PulseAudio configuration and use. I’m still learning myself.

Hope this helps others trying to do similar things.

September 17, 2012

HowTo – Integrate Windows Apps into the Ubuntu Linux Desktop using Windows RemoteApp

HowTo – Ubuntu and Windows RemoteApp Use Guide

By: Brian Mullan  (bmullan.mail@gmail.com)

August 2013

Note:  update from the WinConn app developer…  good news !

I had sent Alex Stanev, the developer of WinConn an email some time ago asking about the possibility of getting WinConn updated for the release of Ubuntu 16.04LTS in April 2016.   Alex has done the upgrade/update and you can read the email below to find out where/how to install the new WinConn so it will work with the newer Ubuntu versions.

                                          = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Hi,
I’ve moved winconn to github:
https://github.com/RealEnder/winconn

With this version, I’ve moved to new xfreerdp commandline options and fixed dependencies.

Generally, you can build it with:

git clone https://github.com/RealEnder/winconn

then:

cd winconn
dpkg-buildpackage

If you have dependencies needed (it should cry for them), you’ll have the .deb packages built successfully and installable. This works with 15.10, but should work with other versions also.

The problem here is with current freerdp (2.0.0-dev) they have RemoteAPP regressions – partial window shown, window froze and etc.

Please let me know If you have stable RemoteAPP functionality with concrete freerdp version. There are bugs submitted against freerdp, I’ll keep checking their status.
Any dev  help with winconn is welcome.

Cheers!

Alex

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Note:  updated April 2015 – RemoteAppTool now supports  Windows 7 Enterprise -or- Ultimate, Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows XP SP3, Windows Server 2008 and newer!

Preface:

A “How-To Guide” about going beyond WINE’s capabilities to enable a clean integrated Linux Desktop with all of the “necessary” Windows applications you still require or can’t live without.

Note:   Because I use Ubuntu, in this guide I reference Ubuntu as my linux system.   However, using the same approach in any Linux Distro should work the same !   

What is the Problem we are trying to Solve

I like many Ubuntu users are still saddled at times with the need to run that one or two critical Windows-only software that just cannot be made to run correctly in WINE.

Of course we all know we can use virtualization like KVM or VirtualBox to install a Windows operating system and then install the needed Windows application(s) there.

But that only presents us with another set of problems:

  1. You are running the Windows OS as a VM and thus see the whole Windows Desktop presented to you which in my mind at least clutters up my desktop… just for access to your needed Windows applications.
  2. Without resorting to installing/configuring something like CIFS/NFS/SAMBA there is no convenient way to share/exchange data/files created in the Windows Application with your Ubuntu applications or vice-versa.

This article is being written to describe what I think is a very nice working environment that addresses this problem and may introduce you to several technologies that you will find interesting in other ways.

My own problem Windows Application happened to be a great MindMapping tool called ConceptDraw  which is part of an integrated suite called ConceptDraw Office.

ConceptDraw Office is only available for Windows and Mac OS.

I’ve purchased and use the great CodeWeaver’s Crossover Ubuntu WINE environment.   CrossOver allows you to install many popular Windows applications and PC Games on your Ubuntu PC.

While Crossover let me easily install Microsoft Office into my Ubuntu system there are some applications that it still cannot help run fully/correctly in Ubuntu.

For me, one of those was ConceptDraw Office.    Using CodeWeaver’s CrossOver application I could successfully install ConceptDraw Office and 2 of the 3 applications in the Suite worked flawlessly (Project Manager and the Visio-like Designer).

However, the ConceptDraw MindMap application installs okay and all the menu’s were correct BUT… the mindmap drawing surface just would not correctly render the mindmap images correctly no matter what I tried so the…  Mindmap application was unusable and useless to me.

As I really like using that Mindmap tool for brainstorming new projects like integration of applications into cloud environments (AWS or OpenStack),  I wanted to have the Mindmap available to me on Ubuntu without resorting to booting Windows or being forced see the entire Windows desktop in a VM or separate PC… just to use the one application.

So I came up with a very usable solution which I’d like to share.

This guide explains what I did and how it was done so others might benefit from it as well.

Where to Start

This approach does not eliminate the need for a VM but it will make your Ubuntu desktop and working environment much more nicely integrated with the Windows Applications you need.

In my solution that I will present I will be using several technologies:

  • KVM (VirtualBox is certainly an alternative)
  • FreeRDP (opensource Ubuntu tool that supports Windows RemoteApp and RemoteFX)
  • Windows 7 Enterprise -or- Ultimate, Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows XP SP3, Windows Server 2008 and newer.
  • Microsoft’s RemoteApp capability

It is a assumed you have a working Ubuntu desktop environment and KVM installed.

Using your (licensed) CD or .ISO file copy of one of the above required versions of Windows, create a new KVM virtual machine and install Windows into it.

When you create the VM you should probably size it for:

  • minimum of 30-35GB disk space
  • initially for 2 CPU (if you can) which after installation you can reduce to 1 cpu.
  • I’d recommend giving that VM an initial 3074MB of RAM (again if you can)

All of the above is to simply to make the Windows installation go quicker.

Note:  some of the Windows specific steps below are assumed to be known by you already.   You will also either need to make your account Admin capable or have a separate Admin account you can access.

After you have Windows installed in the VM the fun part of this begins.

Steps to do in Windows  (screen shots are from Windows 7)

Create a User account for yourself in Windows

  1. Click on Start
  2. Right-Click on Computer
  3. Select & click on Properties

After clicking on Properties you will see the following menu on which you need to select/click-on “Remote settings” in the upper-left.

On the next screen that is presented click on the Tab labeled Remote.

Then select the option:

 “Allow connections from computers running any version of Remote Desktop (less secure)”

Click on the “Select Users” button and you will see this menu screen.

Next, click the Add button and in this menu enter your Windows 7 UserID.

Click Check Names.

Click OK to return to the previous menu and you should see your Windows UserID now listed as authorized for Remote Desktop.

Click OK to save this UseriD as a user allowed to use Remote Desktop.

Now we can start some of the interesting configuration for Windows.

Note:  The reason why it must be a Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise version is that both of those are “capable” of supporting Microsoft’s RemoteApp as a “RemoteApp Server” but unfortunately Microsoft  made the decision to not make that capability readily useable.

Some very smart Windows users/programmers figured out how to turn on the RemoteApp server capability in Windows.

They have also made it almost painless by creating a very nice GUI interface to “Publish” RemoteApps from Windows.

Enabling RemoteApp Publishing on Windows

You must make sure that you have Microsoft’s .NET installed on your Windows VM ….   if it is not already.

A google search for “Microsoft .NET” should give you multiple hits where you can download and install .NET into your Windows VM.

Do this now !

Next we need to download the GUI based tool that will not only enable RemoteApp publishing on the Windows VM but will also let you Publish … ANY…  Windows Application you install onto that Windows VM as a “RemoteApp”.

A person named Kim Knight built a GUI based application called RemoteAppTool that you can download from here:

http://www.kimknight.net/remoteapptool

Download and Install the RemoteAppTool into your Windows Virtual Machine (VM).

Note:  The RemoteAppTool requires .NET which is why we did that step first.

After installation of the RemoteAppTool you need to start installing your Windows Applications that you will want available on your Ubuntu system.

Do those Application Installations now !!

Publishing a Windows Application as a RemoteApp using RemoteAppTool

Now that you have installed all of the Windows Applications you want access to the next step is to “publish” them as RemoteApps.

Right-Click on the Windows Icon for Kim Knight’s RemoteAppTool program and select to start it as an Administrator.

Note:  this is why you need to be an Admin or able to log-in as an Admin on the Windows VM

After the RemoteAppTool starts you will see its GUI Menu.

Click on the “New” button

Enter any meaningful name for your RemoteApp

At the next screen (RemoteApp Properties Entry screen)   click on the 3 dots (…) to the right of the PATH entry which will bring up Windows Explorer.   Use Explorer to search your system for ANY application you want to associate with this RemoteApp “name”.

After you double-click on the .exe name of the Windows program you want to make a RemoteApp… all the rest of the fields in the RemoteAppTool menu should be filled in automatically.

When the form is complete REMEMBER to Click SAVE !

NOTE:  Once you click  SAVE your application is available from the Windows 7 VM as a Windows RemoteApp !

Now we need to go back your your Ubuntu desktop so leave your Windows 7 VM running but just minimize it off of your Ubuntu desktop.

Note:  As I’d mentioned earlier I have tested and used RemoteAppTool on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and 12.10, Ubuntu 13.04, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

Install the Applications enabling use of Windows RemoteApps from the Ubuntu desktop

FreeRDP is a free implementation of the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), released under the Apache license.   FreeRDP is primarily the work of  Marc-André Moreau  who on January 16, 2012 announced  the stable release of FreeRDP 1.0 for Ubuntu but FreeRDP may have have also released newer versions.

Note:  FreeRDP can also be used on Mac OS and Windows clients also to connect to Windows Servers !

FreeRDP v1.x can be downloaded here.

You will only need to do this if your Ubuntu Distro does not have it available or you want the latest version of FreeRDP.

FreeRDP’s Key Features:

  • RemoteFX
    • Both encoder and decoder
    • SSE2 and NEON optimization
    • NSCodec
    • RemoteApp
    • Multimedia Redirection
      • ffmpeg support
      • Network Level Authentication (NLA)
        • NTLMv2
        • Certificate validation
        • FIPS-compliant RDP security

Note:  the 2 key features (my opinion) are the support on Ubuntu for RemoteFX and RemoteApp.

If you are unaware of what RemoteFX or RemoteApp do in a Windows architecture see these referensce:

For RemoteApp:  

        http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc755055.aspx

For RemoteFX:    

        http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff817578%28v=ws.10%29.aspx

        http://blogs.technet.com/b/virtualization/archive/2010/03/17/explaining-microsoft-remotefx.aspx

So check NOW your distro’s Repository to see if FreeRDP is there and  it is at least v1.0 !

Note:   For this Guide to work the repository must have at least version 1.0 of FreeRDP.   

If the repository does not yet have at least v1.0 then you may have to download the source and build and install FreeRDP yourself.

NOTE:   In Ubuntu 14.04 (which I use) the FreeRDP in the Repository is v1.02 which works with this process!

Install FreeRDP now!

Now that you have FreeRDP installed you are ready to run one of the Windows RemoteApp programs you previously configured.

FreeRDP itself is a command line tool and obviously you “could” run one of your Windows RemoteApp’s using a command line such the examples on the FreeRDP Wiki:

      https://github.com/FreeRDP/FreeRDP/wiki/RemoteApp

As they those TV Ads we all love late at night  say —   “But wait … there’s more”.

There was recently released an open source GUI application that makes running RemoteApps via FreeRDP almost too simple.

This application is called WinConn.

WinConn simplifies creation, management and desktop integration of remote windows applications in Ubuntu.  WinConn uses RemoteApp technology, implemented by the FreeRDP Project to provide a seamless user experience with Windows Applications on your Ubuntu system.

Each RemoteApp application runs in its own “window” on your Ubuntu Desktop.

This means the RemoteApp application can be used like any other locally installed Ubuntu application, without bringing the full windows desktop to the user.

You can download WinConn from the website:     http://stanev.org/winconn/

NOTE:  WinConn’s Launchpad PPA has not been updated beyond Ubuntu 12.10 (re Quantal release)!  So to use the PPA on a newer version of Ubuntu (13.04, 13.10, 14.04 etc) you will have to edit your /etc/apt/sources.list file and manually add the following 2 lines of text entry:

      deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/realender/winconn/ubuntu <your ubuntu version here – example = trusty> main
      deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/realender/winconn/ubuntu <your ubuntu version here> main

Save the edit of the /etc/apt/sources.list file and then do:

      sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install winconn -y

WinConn simplifies use of FreeRDP without resorting to the Command Line Interface.   It makes it easy to not only run your RemoteApps but also to specify a local “shared” directory where your Windows application can push/pull documents or files to/from your Ubuntu environment and those Windows applications.

So Let’s see a Movie and All of this in Action

Although I “could have” done a short video from my own Ubuntu desktop I’m basically lazy.

So I’m just going to show you what this Guide is all about….  via an existing Video which had been produced by Alex Staney (WinConn)  and posted on Vimeo.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  

The following video is an Ubuntu 12.04 Desktop PC running WinConn to present RemoteApps published from a WINDOWS 2008 server.

What this guide has been all about is accomplishing the very same function but instead of a Windows 2008 server publishing the RemoteApps you want to use this Guide shows you how to use a Windows VM to do the very same thing with the same if not better performance  !!

I did this because its more likely that people have a Windows 7 or WinXP license than an Windows 2008 server license handy.

Watch the following Video from  Alex Stanev demoing the WinConn RemoteApp manager on an Ubuntu 12.04 desktop:

http://vimeo.com/44984895

Ways to make this even more Productive

Up until now we’ve only discussed how you can make any Windows Application a RemoteApp and then run those apps in their own “window” on your Ubuntu desktop without seeing the whole Windows desktop.

There is a way to make this even more productive for yourself and actually avoid having to setup each and every Windows Application as a RemoteApp.

How do you do that?    Well, a unique capability of this approach  of using RemoteApp is that if you were to setup the Windows Explorer program itself as a RemoteApp and publish it then when you run it (using FreeRDP or WinConn) you will see Windows Explorer appear in its own window on your Ubuntu Desktop.

One capability that Windows Explorer brings to the table is that in Windows itself it allows you to find an executable .EXE program, .BAT batch file or .COM file and just click on it to run that program.

So as I’d said earlier … I’m basically a lazy kind of guy so if I can keep from doing extra work by doing something smarter, all the better.

So lets setup Windows Explorer, publish it as a RemoteApp and then run it.

RemoteAppTool First Use Screen with No RemoteApps

First we log back into our Windows 7 VM and again start the RemoteAppTool application (as Administrator).

Next click on the Create New button and and enter the form’s fields to begin the process of specifying Windows Explorer (explorer.exe)… as a remote app.   We’ll explain why  we pick Explorer.exe later.

remoteapptool new entry screen

    After entering a name for our RemoteApp (note: this “name” can be anything that is meaningful to you)… click OK.

RemoteAppTool New App Properties Entry Screen

RemoteAppTool New App Properties Entry Screen

Now to the RIGHT of the “PATH” entry there are 3 dots (…) – Click on those 3 dots.

This will bring up explorer and allow you to search on your system for the program you want to make a RemoteApp.

In our case we want to actually make Explorer.exe itself a RemoteApp so you can Click on Computer, Click on C: drive, click on Windows, then scroll down until you see explorer.exe then double-click on it and it will be added to the RemoteAppTool screen entries for you.

-OR-   you should be able to actually enter exactly what I have in this picture as  all Windows systems use the same %windir%  variable to specify where the location where Windows system applications live (%windir% =  the c:\Windows directory) where explorer.exe is located.

When you are done completing this form…  again, remember to hit “Save”.

Now you have published Windows Explorer (explorer.exe) as a RemoteApp !!!   Its that simple with RemoteAppTool.

Let’s go back to the Ubuntu desktop.

Now let’s create some directory in your Linux system that you might use for any and all exchange of files to/from Ubuntu and Windows 7.    If not in your home directory or “Documents” directory make sure you have READ/WRITE privileges to wherever you create it.

Let’s use /opt and so we remember what this directory is for lets just call it “win-share”.   Since we are using /opt you will have to use “sudo” to give you the permissions to create the new directory and to change its permissions for access.

$ sudo mkdir /opt/win-share

$ sudo chmod 777 /opt/win-share

and then start WinConn up again.

This time lets configure just a single entry for the explorer.exe   RemoteApp we just published.

!! Remember to click the Save button !!

Now before you exit WinConn lets do one more thing.

Click on the little menu Icon

If you just hover your mouse over it on the WinConn menu you will see that it lets you create a Ubuntu Desktop Launcher.

Let’s do that now !

After you’ve done this you will see a new Launcher Icon on your Ubuntu Desktop which is labeled appropriately enough… Windows Explorer.

If you’ve followed all these steps so far all you have to do now is click on that Icon to bring the Windows 7 – Windows Explorer (explorer.exe) onto your Ubuntu desktop in its own window which you again can resize, minimize etc.

I am going to assume everyone has used Windows Explorer so after it appears on your Ubuntu Desktop use Explorer to search for some other Applications you’ve installed on Windows 7 and click on any of them just as if you were in Windows itself.

Voila…

You will see the application you clicked on also appear on your Ubuntu Desktop and because you previously configured /opt/win-share and made it accessible you can use any application now and save or open files in the /opt/win-share directory.

NOTE:   if your application does not appear the Windows Ultimate or Enterprise edition installation “may” need a extra entry put into the Windows Registry using the “regedit” tool.   You may also see an error if you use FreeRDP from the command line that says:      error: RAIL exec error: execResult=RAIL_EXEC_E_NOT_IN_ALLOWLIST NtError=0x15

To fix this problem do the following simple steps MAKING SURE to follow them all.

  1. On your Windows 7 virtual machine, run Regedit from the “command bar” on the lower left side of Windows.
  2. When Regedit pops up, start clicking down the following path HKLocalMachine\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT (re click HKLocalMachine, then click SOFTWARE, then Policies etc)
  3. once you are at Windows NT — check to see if  there is an KEY entry alrea dy named “Terminal Services” beneath it… if there is NOT then do steps 4 & 5.     If it already is there skip to step 6
  4. Right Click on Windows NT, select/click on NEW and then select KEY (note:  this will create a new “key” entry box underneath Windows NT 
  5. Change the name of that new KEY to “Terminal Services”
  6. Click on Terminal Services
  7. In the right hand window of Regedit “right click” add a DWORD 32 entry
  8. Under that, add a DWORD32 value named “fAllowUnlistedRemotePrograms” and set the value to 1

When you are done your Regedit screen should look like the following:

Regedit entry to fix problem with FreeRDP execution of RemoteApp ending in error15

Regedit entry to fix problem with FreeRDP execution of RemoteApp ending in error15

Now you are ready to try all of this out.     in WinConn double-click on the entry for Explorer and you should see your Windows Explorer pop up in a Linux Window all by itself (re without the rest of the Windows Desktop)

If you use Windows Explorer to find and launch the Microsoft Paint program (mspaint.exe) Explorer you will see something like this… with my great artwork

If you Click on the Paint program button that looks like a Floppy Disk you will see the “SAVE” AS menu appear.

Click on the “file sharing” directory we created earlier in /opt.

Note: Because we are using WinConn it will appear as a folder called something like:

            “winconn-on-”. 

In my case, the shared directory name is going to be labeled in the Windows Save AS menu in the left panel as:

“winconn on ubuntu-2tb”   … is called “ubuntu-2tb”

Why… because my Ubuntu system’s hostname is “ubuntu-2b”

Enter the File Name (My Cool Beans drawing) and Save as type (I chose JPEG) then click on the Save button.

Now go back to your Ubuntu desktop and click on Nautilus (in Ubuntu) or whatever file manager tool you use and go to the /opt/win-share directory and will now see:

Since we are on our Ubuntu system just click on the “My Cool Beans drawing.jpg” and open it with an appropriate application you will see:

This is…  Cool Beans … isn’t it !!!

Some Parting Thoughts

I hope some of you find this a useful approach to your own “required windows app” problem.

You now know how to:

  • run any Windows App as a Windows RemoteApp.
  • Share files between your Ubuntu and Windows VM

Now… WHY did we make Explorer.exe  itself a RemoteApp program??

Because Simplicity is our Friend

Go back and log into to your Windows 7  VM again.

Now create a directory in windows  (lets call it “WinApps”) then use Window’s own Explorer to find every application you want to use either copy the Application or create a “short-cut” for each and put them in our “WinApps” directory folder.

Now logout of Windows 7 and return to your Ubuntu system.   Click on your Windows Explorer Launcher that we created earlier using WinConn and then using Explorer change to our  new “WinApps” directory and you will see:

From now on to launch ANY of your Windows applications as a RemoteApp click on your Windows Explorer Launcher that we created earlier using WinConn.

Then in Windows 7, using Explorer,  change to our  new “MyWinApps” directory and click on ANY of those applications and it will appear on your Ubuntu desktop.

How simple can it be?   From now on at most you only have 3 steps to do.

Actually, once Windows Explorer has appeared on your Ubuntu Desktop there is only 1 step… clicking on the Application(s) you want.     You can launch multiple apps and    they will all appear in separate windows on your Ubuntu Desktop.

So to review….  On your Ubuntu desktop:

  1. Click on the Windows Explorer Icon to run explorer.exe as a RemoteApp.
  2. When Explorer appears change to your own  MyWinApps directory on your Windows Virtual Machine desktop
  3. Click on any application shortcut you’ve placed in the directory MyWinApps and it will be launched as a separate RemoteApp and appear in its own Ubuntu Desktop window !

Best of all, you only had to setup one RemoteApp while in Windows using the RemoteAppTool and now any Windows installed application is available to you from your Ubuntu Desktop !

Also, every Windows application will be able to open/save files to our Ubuntu systems /opt/win-share directory and so will any of your Ubuntu applications.

Note:  All of this approach  works because any Windows Application launched by Windows Explorer “inherits” the Windows Environment of Windows Explorer.    In our case any program started by our “RemoteApp” Windows Explorer… will “inherit” being a RemoteApp itself..!!

Every Windows application you launch  will appear on your Ubuntu Desktop in its own “window”.   

All because … Windows Explorer was setup as a RemoteApp … so any/all applications it launches will also be RemoteApp enabled.

Advanced Windows 7 Configuration Setup

Windows 7 has the ability to be extremely customizable by anyone with Administrator privileges.

To further customize our Windows 7 VM let’s go through some of these steps.

NOTE:   BEFORE…  we start this section of the Guide lets make a KVM Clone of our existing Windows 7 VM.

Login into the Windows VM and and do a SHUTDOWN.

When the Windows VM has terminated use the Ubuntu  KVM Virt-Manager to create a “clone” of your Windows 7 VM.   That clone will be a snapshot of the configurations we have done so far.

Note:  This clone will be our backup in case we make any mistakes in this advanced configuration section of the Guide and we don’t know how to reverse what we’ve done.

Next, restart your original Windows VM and login in again.

Once you are at the Windows Desktop  click the Start button in the lower left and in the pop-up enter the following Windows Global Policy Editor tool named:  gpedit.msc  then press Enter.

gpedit.msc is a very powerful tool as it will let you literally change any setting in Windows.

Note:   this is why we made a backup clone of all our previous work !!

A nice feature of gpedit.msc is that if you click on any configuration entry in the left side of its display you will see on the right-side an “edit” box which:

  • explains in plain language what the edit options are for that feature
  • provides a simple check-box type configuration entry to change that feature’s options
  • provides simple Previous/Next buttons to move either to the next feature to edit or the previous.

For this Guide the following is only to demonstrate HOW TO change Windows 7 feature settings using the Windows Global Policy Editor tool called “gpedit.msc”.

Just to illustrate how the gpedit.msc tool works I’ll show you how to find/change one Feature option related to RDP User Sessions.

Note:   this is not necessarily something you have to do but is a useful demo so you can see the displays that gpedit.msc will present to you.   

gpedit.msc is so useful to customize Windows that there are probably other Features/settings you will want to modify to customize your Windows application and RDP session use.

Lets demonstrate how to find/modify the Feature options for the number of  RDP connections a user can have.   This Feature setting is called:   Limit number of connections

To find this feature in order to change its settings:

1) In the Left-side Panel click on “Computer Configuration
2) Click on its sub-option “Administrative Templates
3) Click on the Administrative Templates sub-option for “All Settings
4) In the Right-side Panel you can scroll or page up/down until you see “Limit number of connections” then click on that entry to edit its feature settings.

When you click on “Limit number of connections”  you will be presented with the feature option editor that as we’ve mentioned earlier will explain in it’s “Help” box what each setting does so you understand what your changes will do.

In the case of  “Limit the number of connections” we want to change this to “unlimited” so enter 999999 into the RD Maximum Connections allowed field and then Click the Apply button.

Note:  After Clicking on Apply, the change becomes immediately active in Windows.

Click OK to return to the Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) so we can make more changes.

Note:  without buying Terminal Server licenses for multiple users (CALS) from Microsoft.. by default.. Windows will only allow 2 desktop connections!

Important Note:  When using FreeRDP the way we have set it up, the only RemoteApp is the Windows Explorer program.   This only requires one RDP connection but enables you to start many Windows Applications up concurrently that will appear on your Linux Desktop and look/act like any other Linux application.

But it will only use a single RDP connection for all applications launched from that Windows Explorer !!

There are so many Windows system configuration options available (literally hundreds) to edit in gpedit.msc that its almost impossible to go through all of the useful ones for your particular situation.

The Global Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) is so user friendly with it’s “help” display on each Feature entry that it is hard to mess up your Windows installation… but never say never … and you could do something that might cause you a problem.   Again, that’s why we created our snapshot KVM clone of our Windows VM.

Search through all of the editable Features presented in gpedit.msc and tune your Windows system however you like.   Some often configured items revolve around settings for:

Enabling/disabling non-admin users to Shutdown the Windows system

Setting a time limit for disconnected RDP sessions before terminating the User’s Session.

Specifying a program to be run each time an RDP connection session is created.

And many more….

So browse the Features settings and change what makes sense to you and your use of Windows .

Have fun….

You gotta love Open Source Software and Solutions it makes possible !

Brian Mullan

Raleigh, NC

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