What is vpsAdminOS

vpsAdminOS is a lightweight operating system that serves as a hypervisor for unprivileged Linux system containers. System containers run the entire userspace part of a Linux system and should look and feel like a virtual machine. You can create a container with many distributions, such as CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu and of course NixOS. Running application containers like Docker is not one of our goals, because they can be run inside the system containers.

vpsAdminOS is intended to be used as a live distribution and to boot via network using PXE. For use-cases where booting over network is not practical, it can also be installed on disk.


vpsAdminOS is built on top of Nix, NixOS and nixpkgs. Nix is a package manager, NixOS is a distribution based on Nix and nixpkgs is the package collection. We chose to make our own spin of NixOS, because NixOS relies on systemd and we wanted to replace it with something simpler. The hypervisor's only job is to mount storage, connect to network and run containers. systemd's advanced features are not needed, vpsAdminOS uses runit. This approach was pioneered by not-os, which we reused.

vpsAdminOS relies heavily on ZFS on Linux. The hypervisor itself has no local state, but all containers and their configuration is stored on ZFS pools.

Containers in vpsAdminOS are managed by a system daemon called osctld -- short for OS control daemon. Users do not work with osctld directly, but through a command line interface called osctl. osctld uses LXC to start and monitor the containers. LXCFS is used in containers to override certain files in /proc based on cgroup values. Container processes are also restricted by AppArmor, since the Linux kernel is still not perfect in some regards.

Design goals

vpsAdminOS is made for administrators. The people who have to get up during the night and deal with unexpected problems. It's designed to be simple and easy to debug. The boot process is made of several shell scripts, the few runit services are short scripts as well. We've invested a lot of time into making the administrator's life simpler, see the page about container administration. For example, although we have osctld to manage LXC seamlessly under the hood, LXC utilities are still easily accessible, so that osctld is not in the way while debugging issues.

vpsAdminOS is being developed by vpsFree.cz, where we're currently using OpenVZ Legacy to run virtual servers for our members. vpsAdminOS is intended to fully replace OpenVZ by solutions available in upstream and our own utilities.

About the user guide

For the purposes of this user guide, you don't need to be familiar with Nix and NixOS, but it certainly helps. It's also good know the basics of ZFS -- e.g. what is a zpool, dataset, or a snapshot. To use vpsAdminOS in production, you definitely need to know how to use Nix with nixpkgs, NixOS and most likely NixOps as well. The learning curve is pretty steep, but we think it is well worth it.