Tip of the Trade: SystemImager
August 13, 2007
All Linux systems support netbooting, network installations, unattended installations and thin clients. So as long your PCs support netbooting or you have boot media that supports networking, you can set up a central installation server to provision new systems. You can clone system images for fast restores or replications, fling up a big cluster in nothing flat, or create custom diskless clients or a custom hybrid thin client that uses both a local hard drive and a terminal server.
What complicates this is that each Linux distribution has its own tools for doing these things. Red Hat and its many offspring have the excellent Kickstart custom installation tool. Debian users can choose between FAI (Fully Automatic Installer) or using preseed files. An even better option, however, is SystemImager, which works on all Linux systems.
SystemImager requires a "golden client" and a central installation server. This means somewhere on some system you have installed and customized your Perfect Linux. Then, install SystemImager on your golden client and server, and transfer a copy of the client image to the server.
Next, set up the boot server on your installation server, fire up the SystemImage daemon, and any PC with access to your server can have a perfect replica of your golden client installed.
If you have set up netbooting and installation servers before, you'll appreciate how easy SystemImager makes it to put all the pieces together. It comes with a number of custom commands that do the heavy lifting for you.
The one tricky bit is booting the clients. If the network interface and system BIOS support netbooting, easy-peasey. If they don't, you'll need some other boot device. Visit the SystemImager site for detailed howtos and downloads.