Building a Kubernetes Cluster in VirtualBox with Ubuntu

Lately I’ve been trying out various ways to set up a Kubernetes cluster. So far the easiest has been just to go to Google Cloud’s container engine (GKE) and provision myself a new cluster. No fuss, no muss (except you have to remember to add a role binding so you can see the dashboard if you enable RBAC). I haven’t (yet) tried Azure. AWS works when you have full control but setting up a cluster within the constraints of enterprise checks and balances makes it difficult and you often can’t use the Cloud Provider stuff for auto-provisioning.

So next I tried using lxd on my Ubuntu tower (64GB RAM, 1TB disk, Ubuntu 17.04). This failed not once, not twice, but well over a dozen times. Once it failed so badly that I had to completely re-image my OS install. The best I ever managed with any variation of lxd+ conjure up was a cluster where half the pods were caught in a fail/crash loop.

Sick and tired of bad assumptions being made on my behalf, I fired up VirtualBox and created a new VM with 2 CPUs and 2GB RAM. (2 CPUs for the master is important!). Before I turned on the machine, I created a host-only network called vboxnet0 with an IP address of My VirtualBox networking abilities are a bit rusty so I followed some instructions I found here to set up the host-only network.

On this new machine (called kubemaster) I installed Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS. You can download the .iso directly from the source and just mount it in VirtualBox and go through the installation. I didn’t choose any fancy options and kept the defaults it asked me for during install.

On this machine I also disabled swap (you may not need to do this for your setup). To disable swap immediately you can use swapoff, but you’ll also need to edit your /etc/fstab file to remove or comment out any swap entries. This is required by kubeadm during its “pre-flight checks”.

Next I installed docker and cloned the VM — I did not do a link clone, I had issues with the system’s product uuid not changing (this is also required for Kube). I cloned the machine until I had 3 freshly configured Ubuntu boxes. The kubemaster box has 2 CPUs and 2GB RAM, the workers worker1 and worker2 have 1 GB RAM and 1 CPU. During some of my initial failures, kube-dns would crash in a loop, and I eventually saw that there was insufficient CPU resources available to schedule it.

For each of these machines, I then:

  • Set the hostname accordingly
  • Configured the IP address of the host-only network as a static IP
  • Rebooted and ensured I could ssh to any machine in the group from any machine.

To configure the hostname I modified /etc/hostname, and to set the IP address of the host-only adapter, I added the following to the bottom of the file /etc/network/interfaces :

Your interface name may be different, so check with ip addr or ifconfig -a to see what your interface names are. Compare the MAC address you see in the OS with the MAC assigned in your VirtualBox host-only network configuration to make sure you’ve got the right one. In my case, enp0s8 is my host-only network and enp0s3 is my regular adapter that can see my host machine’s network, and is configured for DHCP.

I configured my IP addresses and hostnames as follows:

  • master — kubemaster —
  • worker 1 — worker1–
  • worker 2 — worker2–

After these were all set, I took a snapshot of the master (because I’m accident prone and always prefer having a backup) and thenssh'd into kubemaster from my workstation. My real terminal has better copy/paste support than inside VirtualBox’s quirky console. Because Ubuntu doesn’t have an active root account, you’ll need to sudo most of your kubeadm commands. Follow the Kubernetes documentation for installing kubeadm on Ubuntu.

On the master, you need to run kubeadm init. Note that we absolutely have to specify the advertise address of the API server because we have multiple network adapters on the host and we need it to advertise on the host-only network IP. Also, you need to go look now at the apply commands for your CNI plugin of choice, as some of them require you to specify parameters to kubeadm, like the pod CIDR block:

I knew ahead of time that I was going to run Calico, so I knew that I needed to set the pod network CIDR. My lesson learned here was pick your network plugin before you run kubeadm init. Otherwise, you’ll have to do what I did and go back to a pre-kube snapshot and re-install.

Everything we’ve done up to this point means that my nodes are going to have IP addresses in the range–22, and the pods will be allocated IP addresses out of the CIDR Understanding the interplay between node IPs and pod IPs took me a while when first learning about Kubernetes.

After kubeadm finishes, it should tell you everything is good and then it’ll give you a command for kubeadm join with a token. DO NOT LOSE THIS COMMAND. I stored this in my user’s home directory on the master node as a text file. Since we’re not in production and we’re only building a lab system, this is okay.

Now ssh into worker1 and install kubeadm. Run the join command you were given as a sudo command. This command will be surprisingly fast. Within just a few seconds, you should be able to run kubectl get nodes on the master and see that you now have a master and a worker.

Repeat the process on worker 2. At this point, you should notice that kube-dns is in a Pending state and hasn’t been scheduled (check this with kubectl get pods --all-namespaces). This is because we have no network plugin. How can we successfully discover and communicate with nodes if we have no network plugin? This is because the node network for the cluster is completely independent from the pod network. The node network is already up and running via our kubeadm commands. I chose Calico for my network plugin:

After a few seconds (this will feel like an eternity if you don’t know if it’s going to work or not), you should start to see that kube-dns is being scheduled (it’ll be in ContainerScheduling state). A few more seconds and it’ll be running. Once it’s running, you should be able to see all your pods like this:

And you should have a nice set of VMs running in Virtualbox:

1 master and 2 workers running in VirtualBox

And that’s it! Now you’ve got a running cluster that you can use for lab experiments, learning, and even local development. Hopefully this post makes the experience smoother and less profanity-laced than my first few attempts!



In relentless pursuit of elegant simplicity. Tinkerer, writer of tech, fantasy, and sci-fi. Converting napkin drawings into code for @CapitalOne

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kevin Hoffman

In relentless pursuit of elegant simplicity. Tinkerer, writer of tech, fantasy, and sci-fi. Converting napkin drawings into code for @CapitalOne