ServersTip of the Trade: Cobbler

Tip of the Trade: Cobbler

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When Kickstart isn’t enough to get your network going, consider cobbling together a network installation solution with the universal boot server, Cobbler.

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Most Red Hat Linux administrators are familiar with Kickstart, Red Hat’s automated installer utility. Kickstart lets you easily replicate and roll out a customized installation.

Cobbler goes a few steps further. Red Hat calls it a universal boot server, although Cobbler really isn’t universal because it works only on Linuxes that support Kickstart. Currently, Cobbler works on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora Linux, CentOS and other RHEL clones.

Cobbler supports PXE booting and virtualized installations using Xen or KVM. If the idea of assembling all the usual pieces for a network boot server — PXE, TFTP, DHCP and installation trees — seems daunting, give Cobbler a try. You can be up and running in a few minutes: Install Cobbler, pull in your installation tree from DVD installation media or a public mirror, boot up a netboot-enabled client and start the installation.

This is a standard installation. You must then navigate through a batch of screens and answer questions. You can also set up completely hands-free customized installations using templates and Kickstart, manage DHCP, set up your own local mirror, and log activities over the whole network.

A companion tool for Cobbler is koan, kickstart-over-a-network. Use koan to install new virtualized guests and for re-installations. man koan tells how to make a bootable koan liveCD — this emulates a PXE environment with a cobbler server, and it can perform bare-metal restores or new installations without requiring a DHCP server.

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