Work has recently had me interacting more and more with Kubernetes and I finally decided it was time to have a test stack at home to play with. Unfortunately, getting OpenShift running locally is a gigantic pain in the rear and until very recently I didn’t have a VM host with enough memory to even support it. To get around that limitation I decided to explore Rancher and its custom distribution RancherOS. What follows is a bit of a riff on this post with a few odds and ends thrown in from my experience getting everything set up. My deploy platform is my Mac running VMWare Fusion and the plan is to get a working node up with a minimum of resources and fuss.

VM Requirements and Setup

As with most things we will start with a VM. We will need a minimum of 2 CPU cores, 4GB of RAM, and 20GB of hard disk space. We will also need to create a custom VMWare network to attach our VM to so that we can forward ports 22, 80, 443, and 6443 through to the host. If you already have things running on these ports, remapping is fine but you will need to consult the documentation for how to properly annotate this in your configuration.

Also worth noting is that for a VMWare NAT network, the gateway address lives at x.x.x.2 and the first host connects via DHCP at x.x.x.128. This is particularly important for your port forwards as it will request the internal IP to forward to and won’t work without it. The last bit of prep work we need to do is edit the /etc/hosts file on our host machine to add a mapping from to the hostname for our new cluster. For example: localhost localhost.localdomain rancher

Installing RancherOS

Since we’re not using one of the prebuilt platforms our first step is to grab the RancherOS ISO from GitHub and attach it to our VM. When we boot the VM the LiveCD will come up and pull down the various Docker container images that RancherOS needs to operate before automatically logging in as the rancher user. To be able to copy files from the host onto the VM we need to reset the rancher user’s password via the VM console with sudo passwd rancher. With that done we can now manage the VM via SSH and copy files to it with scp.

RancherOS uses cloud-init style configuration for its install so we will prepare the configuration file for our new VM in our project directory on the host machine as seen below.

        mtu: 1500
        dhcp: false
  - ssh-rsa AAA...

After installation, RancherOS also only allows SSH login via SSH keys so we will need to include a public key in our configuration that we have access to. We will also disable DHCP on the primary NIC so that we don’t have the potential for IP reassignment problems later on. You can read more about RancherOS network configuration here.

Now we will copy our cloud configuration over to the VM using scp. If port 22 is not forwarded straight through you’ll need to use the -P <host_port> flag to correctly target the mapped port on the host machine.

$ scp cloud-config.yml

Once the file is on the VM you can run the install with:

$ sudo ros install -c cloud-config.yml -d /dev/sda

The installation process is fairly quick and straightforward. Once it is finished, reboot the VM and remove the LiveCD from the virtual drive. When the VM is back up you are ready to start install K8s.

Installing K8s

Next we will be using the Rancher Kubernetes Engine (RKE) to set up K8s on our new VM. You can find installation instructions here. Now we need to create our cluster configuration, rancher-cluster.yml, in the project directory.

  - address:
    user: rancher
    role: [controlplane, worker, etcd]
    snapshot: true
    creation: 6h
    retention: 24h

This is a baseline configuration which will put all the various elements of a cluster onto our single host. This can also be created by running rke config and answering the provided prompts but for the most part the generated file is empty and can confuse which elements are most important to our setup. More information on how to configure a cluster can be found here.

Now we can install K8s with rke up --config ./rancher-cluster.yml. Simple! One thing that I did run into during my setup is that the rke-network-plugin-deploy-job may fail during the initial deploy. There is some bug information here and some people seem to think using the FQDN of the node instead of the IP fixes the problem. In my case, a second execution of the install command brought the cluster up successfully.

Installing Rancher

We now have a working K8s cluster but we could really use something to manage it and provide a nice web interface. Re-enter: Rancher! We will be installing the Rancher cluster management software using Helm, a tool for managing K8s applications. Install instructions for Helm can be found here. More detailed instructions on how to install Rancher with Helm can also be found here.

First, we need to add the Rancher Helm chart repository to Helm. There are several different channels available but we will be going with latest because we’d like to try out the newest stuff available.

$ helm repo add rancher-latest

Next we need to export the K8s configuration that RKE created for us into our shell so that we can access our new cluster with all of the various Kubernetes tools.

$ export KUBECONFIG=./kube_config_rancher-cluster.yml

Rancher requires that all of its components be run in a specially named K8s namespace, cattle-system. We will use kubectl to create the namespace before we continue our deploy.

$ kubectl create namespace cattle-system

Next up is preparing our SSL certificates for Rancher. We will cover two options here: using the self signed Rancher certificates and using certificates from an external CA.

Using Rancher Generated Certificates

If we’re going to use the internal Rancher certificate we need to install cert-manager to handle reissuing the certificates as they expire. Applying things directly from GitHub looks slightly suspect but this is apparently the recommended way of setting things up.

# Install the CustomResourceDefinition resources separately
$ kubectl apply -f

The cert-manager application also needs its own custom namespace so we will create and customize that as well.

# Create the namespace for cert-manager
$ kubectl create namespace cert-manager

# Label the cert-manager namespace to disable resource validation
$ kubectl label namespace cert-manager

Now we can add the Helm charts we will need to actually install the application automatically.

# Add the Jetstack Helm repository
$ helm repo add jetstack

# Update your local Helm chart repository cache
$ helm repo update

Finally we are ready to install cert-manager with Helm.

# Install the cert-manager Helm chart
$ helm install \
  cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager \
  --namespace cert-manager \
  --version v0.9.1

Once the deploy has completed we can install Rancher using Helm as well, taking most of the available default values.

$ helm install \
  rancher rancher-latest/rancher \
  --namespace cattle-system \

Using Your Own Certificates from FreeIPA

In my case, most of my home network uses FreeIPA for authentication and certificate issuing so I decided to go the “bring your own” route for my certificates. First I needed to generate a key and CSR for my new certificate. I went the interactive route but you could compose the -subj line yourself, see here for reference.

$ openssl req \
  -newkey rsa:4096 -nodes \
  -keyout tls.key \
  -out tls.csr

With the CSR I went into FreeIPA and got a certificate issued for the hostname and downloaded the certificate file to tls.crt in my project directory. Since my FreeIPA CA is not part of the global CA certificates bundle I also needed to download it through the web UI so I could add it to the configuration. Now we can install Rancher with Helm and some additional flag values to configure it for our custom certificates.

$ helm install rancher rancher-latest/rancher \
  --namespace cattle-system \
  --set \
  --set ingress.tls.source=secret \
  --set privateCA=true

Once the deploy has finished we can add our SSL certificates to Kubernetes as secrets so Rancher can use them. We need to be sure to add them to the correct namespace or Rancher won’t know where to find them. Additionally, the secret name is mandatory without further configuration if we want Rancher to pick up the certificates automatically. The host certificate and key are created as a pair in a tls secret type.

$ kubectl -n cattle-system create secret \
  tls tls-rancher-ingress \
  --cert=tls.crt \

The custom CA certificate, however, is created as a generic secret from the certificate PEM file.

$ kubectl -n cattle-system create secret \
  generic tls-ca \

Finishing the Install

We can watch the status of the Rancher deploy using the K8s tools.

$ kubectl -n cattle-system rollout status deploy/rancher

Once the deploy is finished we can log into the web interface at to finish the setup. One thing to note is, if you are using the Rancher built in certificates, Chrome will not let you connect to the instance over HTTPS due to how the certificate is issued. Thankfully, this is a Chrome only issue and you can get around it by just using Firefox. When you get to the web interface set the administrator password and confirm the cluster’s URL and you are good to go!

Configuring Local Storage Class

Now having a K8s cluster is all well and good but there isn’t a lot of experimenting you can do without the ability to store persistant data. To this end, we’re going to add local path storage to our Rancher “cluster”. This storage method has some downsides, namely in a multi-node cluster any pod that is backed by this storage class can’t be migrated off of the node that it originally spawned on. But, since we only have one node in this experiment, it saves us the bother of setting up NFS so we’re going to just do it! Installation is simple if again a bit suspect since we’re just applying raw YAML from GitHub.

$ kubectl apply -f

This creates a storage class called local-path on our cluster which will allow us to create Persistant Volume Claims automatically instead of needing to set persistant volumes up ahead of time.

Adding Helm Charts

Now to really start using our cluster with Helm we will need to pull in some more charts! A good source is the offical “stable” chart repository but you can also search the Helm Hub for even more charts from other developers. Here is how to add the stable repository to your local Helm.

$ helm repo add stable
$ helm repo update

Installing Drupal

Finally, let’s deploy an actual end user application to our cluster. [Drupal][drupal] is a good example because it highlights the advantages of Helm in pulling together multiple services (NGINX, php-fpm, MariaDB) to deploy a useful application. For our example we will also add the default Drupal hostname to our host /etc/hosts file so we can access it with our browser later. drupal drupal.local

To help keep our different applications seperate we will create a new K8s namespace for Drupal before deploying it with Helm.

$ kubectl create namespace drupal
$ helm install drupal stable/drupal \
  --namespace=drupal \
  --set global.storageClass=local-path,ingress.enabled=true

You can also see that we are passing in a storage class and enabling ingress for our chart. This tells the chart where to set up its persistant volume for MariaDB and to pass traffic in on port 80 to the application. We can watch the deploy as it runs and when it finishes go to http://drupal.local to view our brand new application!

$ kubectl -n drupal rollout status deploy/drupal


With that we have a functional Kubernetes cluster and a useful application deployed to it for testing. All in all not too terrible for standing up such a complex stack of software. Also, if that seemed like too much, there is a Vagrant quickstart available which will take care of most of the setup for you.