Skip to content

How to create an HVM zone

SmartOS has two different virtual machine monitors: KVM and Bhyve, collectively referred to as HVM (Hardware Virtual Machine) instances. There are differences with the implementation, and each has its advantages, but for the most part, operators manage them in almost exactly the same way. In most cases, Bhyve is preferred.

Creating HVM VMs

Before creating a new VM, an image must be imported. VM images are ZFS zvol snapshots with a (typically) freely-distributable operating system such as a Linux variant pre-installed. Images are available through the imgadm tool. In most cases VM images may be used with either Bhyve or KVM.

You will then be able to create instances using vmadm.

To list all available VM images:

imgadm avail type=zvol

VM images will report the OS as "linux" or "bsd" and the TYPE as "zvol". For most distributions there will be both HVM (zvol) and LX (lx-dataset) images available.

"SmartOS" (zone-dataset) and LX (lx-dataset) images aren't appropriate for the process being described here. These images cannot be used to create HVM's.

To list all local images installed in on your SmartOS host:

imgadm list

To import an image, use the UUID of the image (from imgadm avail):

imgadm import UUID

The image is now downloaded and installed at zones/UUID.

vmadm is a tool for fast provisioning all instance types. It takes a json payload and clones an image into a working virtual machine.

To use vmadm create you must first start by creating your VM/zone definition file, for instance copying this in to /tmp/myvmspec (substituting the image_uuid, network information, and machine dimensions that are appropriate):

This example sets the brand to bhyve, to create a Bhyve zone. To use KVM, set the brand to kvm.

The first disk is always 10GB and comes from the image properties. Additional disks should be used if more space is needed. In this example, a 25GB disk is included. The second disk will usually be mounted at /data.

  "brand": "bhyve",
  "resolvers": [
  "ram": "512",
  "vcpus": "1",
  "nics": [
      "nic_tag": "admin",
      "ip": "",
      "netmask": "",
      "gateway": "",
      "model": "virtio",
      "primary": true
  "disks": [
      "image_uuid": "3162a91e-8b5d-11e2-a78f-9780813f9142",
      "boot": true,
      "model": "virtio"
      "model": "virtio",
      "size": 25600

First, ensure you've imported the image you've specified in the vmspec file. In the above example, you'd

imgadm import 3162a91e-8b5d-11e2-a78f-9780813f9142

then simply

vmadm create -f /tmp/myvmspec

and vmadm will respond with a status and your VM will be created and booted.

Once you have created the VM with vmadm create, you can see your VM's console.

vmadm console <UUID>

Passing cloud-init data to the VM

SmartOS provides the ability to inject cloud-init data into a zone/VM. This is useful for automating the menial tasks one would need to perform manually like setting up users, installing packages, or pulling down a git repo. Basically, anything you can stuff into cloud-init user-data is at your disposal.

Since SmartOS zone definitions are in JSON and cloud-init data is in yaml, it’s not immediately obvious how to supply this information. Maintaining proper yaml indentation, escape all double-quotes (“) and line-feeds.

Here’s an example cloud-init yaml file that creates a new user and imports their ssh key from


  - default
  - name: shaner
    ssh_import_id: shaner
    lock_passwd: false
    sudo: "ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL"
    shell: /bin/bash

Here's what it would look like in our zone definition.

"customer_metadata": {
    "cloud-init:user-data": "#cloud-config\n\nusers:\n  - default\n  - n
ame: shaner\n    ssh_import_id: shaner\n    lock_passwd: false\n    sudo
: \"ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL\"\n    shell: /bin/bash"

You can find more on cloud-init at

Passing SSH keys to the VM

If you don't want to deal with cloud-init, you can pass an SSH public key to validate your connection with. Adjust your config to contain a customer_metadata block:

"customer_metadata": {
    "root_authorized_keys": "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEA8aQRt2JAgq6jpQOT5nukO8gI0Vst+EmBtwBz6gnRjQ4Jw8pERLlMAsa7jxmr5yzRA7Ji8M/kxGLbMHJnINdw/TBP1mCBJ49TjDpobzztGO9icro3337oyvXo5unyPTXIv5pal4hfvl6oZrMW9ghjG3MbIFphAUztzqx8BdwCG31BHUWNBdefRgP7TykD+KyhKrBEa427kAi8VpHU0+M9VBd212mhh8Dcqurq1kC/jLtf6VZDO8tu+XalWAIJcMxN3F3002nFmMLj5qi9EwgRzicndJ3U4PtZrD43GocxlT9M5XKcIXO/rYG4zfrnzXbLKEfabctxPMezGK7iwaOY7w== wooyay@houpla"

Granting the VM access to an entire physical disk

In general, using zvols and not dedicated disks for instance is almost always preferred, however there are some circumstances where it may be useful to access an entire raw disk from a VM. This will pass through a physical disk to the HVM guest. In the "disks" section of your VM definition file, add an object like this:

  "boot": false,
  "nocreate": true,
  "model": "virtio",
  "media": "disk",
  "size": 5725225,
  "path": "/dev/dsk/c2t0d0"

Note: The "size" value is in megabytes.