My Golden Image build using HashiCorp Packer

After a Tweet last week by former colleague and fellow vExpert Jeroen Buren, my reaction on that and another question that we got  I decided to finally make some time and document how my Packer Golden Image build works. To be honest I don’t think that it’s anything spectacular and most of it has been borrowed from either Mark Brookfield or someone else but I forgot who, sorry for that! (if you recognize your work send me a note and I’ll update this piece) While my templates aren’t really complicated I am happy with them and they are exactly what I need in my lab. Things can definitely be done better but it’s enough for me.

I use 2 main files, 1 with the generic settings for the type of image and one that has the variables for the vCenter where it will be created. The last one looks like this:

{
    "vm_name":"W10-p2-{{isotime \"2006-01-02-15-04\"}}",
    "vcenter_server":"pod1vcr1.loft.lab",
    "username":"[email protected]",
    "password":"hahahahanope!",
    "datastore":"NVME1TB (1)",
    "datastore_iso":"ISO",
    "cluster": "Cluster_Pod2",
    "network": "dpg_loft_102",
    "winrm_username": "Administrator",
    "winrm_password": "VMware1!"
}

The VM name is W10-p2-dateandtime the isotime combined with that default time makes sure that I get the current date and time of running the script. For more information see this page: https://www.packer.io/guides/workflow-tips-and-tricks/isotime-template-function. I have separate datastores for ISO’s and where the VM will be created while that port group is on a dVswitch.

The 2nd file is slightly more complicated:

{
    "builders": [
    {
        "type": "vsphere-iso",
        "vcenter_server":      "{{user `vcenter_server`}}",
        "username":            "{{user `username`}}",
        "password":            "{{user `password`}}",
        "insecure_connection": "true",
 
        "vm_name": "{{user `vm_name`}}",
        "datastore": "{{user `datastore`}}",
    "Notes": "Windows 10 1909 Instant Clone Image build using Packer {{isotime \"2006-01-02-15-04\"}}",
        "create_snapshot": true,
        "cluster": "{{user `cluster`}}",
        "network": "{{user `network`}}",
        "boot_order": "disk,cdrom",
 
        "vm_version":       15,  
        "guest_os_type": "windows9_64Guest",
    "firmware":	"bios",
 
        "communicator": "winrm",
        "winrm_username": "{{user `winrm_username`}}",
        "winrm_password": "{{user `winrm_password`}}",
    "winrm_timeout": "5h",
 
        "CPUs":             2,
        "RAM":              6064,
        "RAM_reserve_all":  false,
    "video_ram": 128000,
    
    "remove_cdrom": true,
 
        "disk_controller_type":  "pvscsi",
        "disk_size":        51200,
        "disk_thin_provisioned": true,
    
    "configuration_parameters": {
      "svga.autodetect" : "FALSE",
      "svga.numDisplays" : "2"
    },
 
        "network_card": "vmxnet3",
 
        "iso_paths": [
        "[{{user `datastore_iso`}}] Windows_10_1909_enterprise.iso",
        "[{{user `datastore_iso`}}] VMware-Tools-windows-11.0.5-15389592.iso"
        ],
 
        "floppy_files": [
            "{{template_dir}}/setup/"
        ],
        "floppy_img_path": "[{{user `datastore_iso`}}] floppy/pvscsi-Windows8.flp"
    }
    ],
 
    "provisioners": [
    {
            "type": "windows-shell",
      "script": "{{template_dir}}/setup/onedrive.cmd"
        },
    {
      "type": "windows-update",
      "search_criteria": "IsInstalled=0",
      "filters": [
        "exclude:$_.Title -like '*Preview*'",
        "include:$true"
      ],
      "update_limit": 25
    },
    {
      "type": "windows-restart",
      "restart_timeout": "15m",
      "restart_check_command": "powershell -command \"& {Write-Output 'restarted.'}\""
    },
        {
            "type": "powershell",
            "inline": [
        "Set-TimeZone -Id 'W. Europe Standard Time'",
                "Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Where {($_.name -notlike \"Photos\") -and ($_.Name -notlike \"Calculator\") -and ($_.Name -notlike \"Store\")} | Remove-AppXPackage -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue",
                "Get-AppXProvisionedPackage -Online | Where {($_.DisplayName -notlike \"Photos\") -and ($_.DisplayName -notlike \"Calculator\") -and ($_.DisplayName -notlike \"Store\")} | Remove-AppXProvisionedPackage -Online -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue"     
            ]
        },
    {
      "type": "windows-restart",
      "restart_timeout": "15m",
      "restart_check_command": "powershell -command \"& {Write-Output 'restarted.'}\""
    },
        {
            "type": "powershell",
            "scripts": [
                "{{template_dir}}/setup/Horizon_Agent_IC.ps1"
                "{{template_dir}}/setup/appvolumes.ps1",
                "{{template_dir}}/setup/dem.ps1",
        "{{template_dir}}/setup/fslogix.ps1",
                ,
        "{{template_dir}}/setup/CU.ps1"
            ]
        },
    {
      "type": "windows-restart",
      "restart_timeout": "15m",
      "restart_check_command": "powershell -command \"& {Write-Output 'restarted.'}\""
    },
    {
            "type": "powershell",
            "scripts": [
        "{{template_dir}}/setup/osot.ps1"
            ]
        }
    ]
}

Some specifics: to mark my GI’s I always create a note with the type and build date again using the isotime.

"Notes": "Windows 10 1909 Instant Clone Image build using Packer {{isotime \"2006-01-02-15-04\"}}",

And as I am very lazy I also have it creating a snapshot for me

"create_snapshot": true,

These make sure I have more than the default ram for the build in graphics adapter

"RAM":              6064,
"RAM_reserve_all":  false,
"video_ram": 128000,


"configuration_parameters": {
  "svga.autodetect" : "FALSE",
  "svga.numDisplays" : "2"
},

Some versions of Packer had an issue with ejecting the cd-rom’s but that has been fixed now.

"remove_cdrom": true,

There are several optimizations that take place like the app volumes script at the beginning (onedrive.cmd) and the VMware OS Optimization Tool in the end (osot.ps1).

All the agents are shared from a webserver and this is one of the ps1 scripts that starts the installation, the horizon agent in this case.

$ErrorActionPreference = "Stop"
 
$webserver = "loftfls01.loft.lab"
$url = "http://" + $webserver
$installer = "VMware-Horizon-Agent-x86_64-8.0.0-16530789.exe"
$listConfig = "/s /v ""/qn VDM_VC_MANAGED_AGENT=1 ADDLOCAL=Core,ClientDriveRedirection,RTAV,TSMMR,VmwVaudio,USB,NGVC,PerfTracker,HelpDesk"""
 
# Verify connectivity
Test-Connection $webserver -Count 1
 
# Get Horizon Agent
Invoke-WebRequest -Uri ($url + "/" + $installer) -OutFile C:\$installer
 
# Unblock installer
Unblock-File C:\$installer -Confirm:$false -ErrorAction Stop
 
# Install Horizon Agent
Try 
{
   Start-Process C:\$installer -ArgumentList $listConfig -PassThru -Wait -ErrorAction Stop
}
Catch
{
   Write-Error "Failed to install the Horizon Agent"
   Write-Error $_.Exception
   Exit -1 
}
 
# Cleanup on aisle 4...
Remove-Item C:\$installer -Confirm:$false

and the osot.ps1 looks like this

$ErrorActionPreference = "Stop"
 
$webserver = "loftfls01.loft.lab"
$url = "http://" + $webserver
$osot = "VMwareOSOptimizationTool.exe"
$osotConfig = "VMwareOSOptimizationTool.exe.config"
 
# Verify connectivity
Test-Connection $webserver -Count 1
 
# Get Files
ForEach ($file in $osot,$osotConfig) {
   Invoke-WebRequest -Uri ($url + "/" + $file) -OutFile C:\$file
}
 
# Run OSOT
C:\VMwareOSOptimizationTool.exe -o -t "VMware Templates\Windows 10 and Server 2016 or later" -f all
 
# Sleep before cleanup
Start-Sleep -Seconds 180
 
# Cleanup on aisle 4...
ForEach ($file in $osot,$osotConfig) {
   Remove-Item C:\$file -Confirm:$false
}

I have even created a simple powershell script that starts the build with a couple extra options. -Timestamp-ui to show the timestamp while the -force isn’t needed anymore as each build has it’s own name but I keep it in there.

[CmdletBinding()]
param(
Parameter(Mandatory)]
[string]$environmentfile,
[Parameter(Mandatory)]
[string]$buildfile
)

c:\software\packer\packer.exe build -force -timestamp-ui -var-file $environmentfile $buildfile

So how does this look?

I understand that this is far from a full explanation of all the options in the json files but I think most things are rather generic with a few things that I have highlighted.

Total running time in my lab highly depends on what host I use (core speed) and what iso is used as I also install Windows Updates. The server 2019 ISO updated in sept 2020 takes 40 minutes while Windows 10 1909 without extra patches takes just over an hour.

Jon Howe also did a nice write-up with some more explanation: https://www.virtjunkie.com/vmware-template-packer/#Packer_Template_File_User_Variables