An Introduction to Packer

Recently I had an extended discussion about Packer with a fellow IT professional and recalled some material I had previously put together about Packer. Looking back at this material, I thought an expanded version of it might be worth writing up, with Windows Sysadmins in mind (since that’s my background).

What Problem Does It Solve?

I feel sometimes it’s best to start with what problem we are trying to solve, to help provide context for how a tool might be useful. A number of user stories can capture the problems Packer can solve.

As an Infrastructure Engineer, I want standardised templates for multiple platforms, so that template management is easier and consistent

This talks about a task that many infrastructure engineers and systems administrators have had to perform – regularly updating virtual machine templates on vCenter and other platforms. In some cases, this can be very onerous, so we want an easier way. In other cases, where the templates aren’t maintained, it can lead to increased deployment times (because the “Install Windows Updates” task during the SCCM task sequence takes longer and longer).

As a Security Engineer, I want our infrastructure across multiple platforms to adhere to the same security standards, so that my organisation’s data and reputation are protected

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Building Nutanix AHV Templates with Packer

Packer is a tool that many IT Infrastructure professions would be familiar with. Packer allows the creation of “machine images” (or base templates) in a way that’s consistent and highly repeatable. The result is machine images that can be used on a variety of platforms such as cloud providers like AWS or Azure or on-prem infrastructure like VMware, all configured to your organisation’s needs.

Nutanix has its own Virtual Machine format called AHV, which runs on Nutanix’s hypervisor Acropolis. Since this hypervisor is based off the KVM hypervisor, and Packer has support for KVM, Packer can be used to build templates for a Nutanix target platform. This post will detail the process I went through to create a Windows 2016 template for Nutanix.

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