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

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Fri Feb 27 05:29:17 PST 2009

On Thu, 26 Feb 2009, 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.

I don't think it is fair to say that the mainstream distros are
optimized for desktop use.  A package is a package.  The only question
is the selection of packages installed.  Kickstart in RH derived RHEL,
Fedora and Centos (at least) let one build-a-bear.  The Base package
group contains a "basic unix" core, perhaps not as thin as one can make
it but thin enough (as thinness is really measured in terms of libraries
and network services -- installing software that might never be used is
irrelevant, given modern disk sizes).  Then one can add whatever, GSL
libraries, MPI and/or PVM libraries and daemons.  The final result is
condensed to a kickstart file, and a system PXE boots, installs itself,
reboots (possibly doing a final yum update, although as of F10 yum is
used for the base install and automatically picks up the updated RPMs,
halleleujah).  I used to reinstall a cluster node as part of my standard
dog and pony show in my cluster room when visitors would take a tour --
if I started it and then began a spiel about what was happening, it
would finish just about as I finished my spiel (three or four minutes)
and reboot itself back to cluster node status as I wound up.

I'm guessing that Debian will do the same general thing with FAI.  I
don't know about SuSE but probably.  So end-use optimization is really a
matter of administrator choice.  A previous physics admin even wrote
some Nifty Scripts that can id a PXE-booting system by DHCP matchup (MAC
address) and customize their kickstart pathway ON THE FLY -- custom
building a kickstart image and putting it into an end use category (such
as desktop workstation or cluster node) with its own special e.g. root
passwds etc.


> I have been using boel and PLD for various maintenance tasks, but
> neither one of these meets all of the criteria. boel is great for
> running scripts, but here I want remote access to a command line.  PLD
> has all the tools, but at least on the target in question, it doesn't
> start the network properly.  (Also even if the network is manually
> started, which does work, there is a password on root, and I don't know
> what it is.)  boel has an sshd binary, but so far I have not been able
> to make it work automatically in a script.  If anybody has, please share
> those lines of code.
> Thanks,
> David Mathog
> mathog at caltech.edu
> Manager, Sequence Analysis Facility, Biology Division, Caltech
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Robert G. Brown                            Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Duke University Physics Dept, Box 90305
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Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
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