Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Linux netboot

I spent today setting up a new server for one of our customers. The customer had ordered it and had it sent to us to install all their software onto. It had a couple of really annoying features, firstly it didn't come with a powercable and as the office is bereft of spare parts I had to get back in my car go home and get another cable. This was to go with the keyboard monitor and mouse I had already dragged down.
On returning I realised there was something even more worrying than the missing powercable, on the front of the unit there was a rectangle of plastic. Unfortunately rather than being the cover of the cd-rom drive I was expecting this was a blanking plate. Yes thats right I had a server with no Operating System and no cdrom.

Fortunately it is possible to install linux from a remote machine provided the target computer is a able to run a PXE (preboot execution environment) boot from your network card. So I spent the morning configuring my laptop to act as the host server and deliver the initial files via tftp.

I had planned to install Centos as its closer the the normal Red Hat advanced server we use. Unfortunately despite a lot of effort the PXE boot images didn't work. Next I tried Debian, which booted but then failed to see the network card, preventing me from continuing. Ubuntu was next like Debian this booted and the initial installed seem to be ok, then it just hung very annoying.
Finally in desperation I tried Fedora, which actually proved to be the easiest to get going only four files needed and it worked straight away. I was very shocked! Whilst I was playing about with different netboots my colleague went out and acquired a usb cd-rom. He arrived just as Fedora was installing I decided it would be quicker to installed from the cds I had already downloaded rather than pulling a distributions down from the net. So despite its superior netboot Fedora was forgotten and I put a fresh install of Centos on.

It proved to e a really slick process I was very impressed. I managed to pretty much get everything done in a few hours including installing our software. Next week I have the pleasure of delivering the server to the customer so I want to make sure its as finished as possible before I arrive onsite.
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