[Beowulf] small distro for PXE boot, autostarts sshd?

Tim Cutts tjrc at sanger.ac.uk
Fri Feb 27 03:32:24 PST 2009

On 27 Feb 2009, at 10:17 am, stephen mulcahy wrote:

> David Mathog wrote:
>> There are a million distros, and many "small" distros, but these  
>> seem to
>> be optimized for desktop use.  Surely there are a few out there  
>> that can
>> do the following:
>> 1.  pxe boot (easily)
>> 2.  autostart sshd, allowing root ssh login (there is no
>>  keyboard on the remote machine).
>> 3.  contains smartmontools, parted, fdisk, etc., but not any  
>> desktop pieces.
> Hi David,
> +1 on what others have said about FAI if you're using Debian or  
> Ubuntu (afaik, at least Ubuntu has some support now for using Red  
> Hat's kickstart style approach to automatic installation also but it  
> may not be as full featured as on RPM based distributions).

Both Debian and Ubuntu can do what is known as a "pre-seeding"  
install, which is very similar to kickstart.  You basically supply a  
URL on the commandline to download a file of pre-supplied answers to  
all the questions the debian installer is going to ask.  It works,  
I've used it in the past, but my main problems with it are:

1)  It's hard to debug when it goes wrong (having the ssh server in a  
FAI install is a godsend)

2)  FAI is more flexible, because you're basically running a full  
Debian install NFS root, which you can modify to do absolutely  
anything you want, including configuring more complex stuff that just  
twiddling a few debconf settings is not going to cover.

3)  It's quite a lot slower than FAI (I think this is because in FAI  
most of the base packages are installed simply by unpacking a tarball,  
whereas preseeding really does run the full install process)


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