Using Boot Environments at Scale

Allan Jude <>

Abstract: Describe the design of the system of boot environments deployed at ScaleEngine to quickly, atomically, and safely update 100s of remote FreeBSD servers.


  • How the file system hierarchy is modified to allow the systems to be upgraded in-place
  • How we use ZFS to create and deploy the boot environments
  • Simplifying the creation of the BEs using poudriere image
  • Using zfsbootcfg to boot a new BE once
  • How we determine if the BE “works” and should be promoted to the default


  • We often have only SSH access to the machines, so we needed something that could self-recover just by power cycling the machine
  • No longer need to use freebsd-update, mergemaster, or etcupdate

Future Work:

  • Extending zfsbootcfg to detect repeated failures