I’ve been playing around with Vagrant (which just uses VirtualBox under the hood), with a view to making it easy for developers to bring up production-like systems on their local workstations. I fashioned a simple Vagrantfile cribbed from the examples on the web. I was specifically interested as to how fast it was to bring up VMs from scratch to understand how viable it was to incorporate this as part of a normal development workflow.

This system consists of 32-bit lucid boxes, each with default settings. All tests were done on my aging MacBook Pro, with 4GB of memory. All times captured using time. This test represents bringing up between one and four VMs from scratch, and applying a simple Chef recipe to install Apache (you can see the Vagrant file I used here). Note that simply suspending and restarting a VM is much faster – these times represent the worst case of firing these VMs up from scratch.

  • 1 VM – 2m15.543s
  • 2 VMs – 5m24.306s
  • 3 VMs – 10m53.824s
  • 4 VMs – 12m19.211s

I didn’t do enough sample points to predict any obvious trends, other than more VMs = longer startup time. This also discounts any startup time your application may have too. Nonetheless, bringing up a single VM from scratch appears to be fast enough to be usable, and even when dealing with more VMs to represent more complex topologies (useful for local DR testing for example) also seems viable.

I’m less sure as to how useful this is when provisioning environments to run functional tests – adding a couple of minutes to a build that you want to keep somewhere south of ten minutes in total is huge, but keeping a pool of vagrant clean VMs already provisioned could work around this issue (as could using better hardware). The idea of being able to bring up clean environments using the same production config and tear them down again afterwards as part of a CI build is compelling, but I need to give it more thought.

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