Thursday, May 8, 2008

PXE and Network Booting.

This article will hopefully help at least one techie out there. Please drop me a line if it does.

I have been experimenting with PXE network booting of servers, desktops and laptops lately.
If you don't know what this is I will give the "in a nutshell" version of the explanation. PXE stands for Preboot Execution Envirionment. For those pcs and servers that have a network boot capable network card you can press a key (seems to be F12 more often than not) while the pc is in POST. If enabled in the systems bios the pc can boot an image stored on the network and not even need a CD/DVD drive to function.

This comes in handy if you are installing a new OS on a system and dont want to carry the CDs or DVDs around with you.

I have set up a Centos 5 server to act as my PXE/tftp server to server the images I would like to access from network bootable machines.

On Centos there are only a few rpm packages that need to be installed to get the server setup and working as the tftp server.

Once the packages are installed it is relatively easy to add your images.
For example on my server I have several images available. These include
Centos 5, Fedora 8, Knoppix, System Rescue, PartedMagic and a few others.

With my setup I am able to go to any pc or server in my network and boot one of the images of my tftp server.

The OS images come in handy if I need to reinstall the OS on a server that has for example had a drive fail. The system rescue and partedmagic images help in the example of a users pc that is failing and would not boot. I could boot the rescue image of the network and then mount the drive to attempt to salvage any useful data.

For those that experiment with VMWare Servers, you can also set up a kickstart script to automate the istall of new servers. Using VMWare server, Centos and a working kickstart file I can have a new server up, running and configured in about 10 minutes.

Obviously there are many benefits of setting up this type of server so I will not list them all.

At first I was a bit itimidated by the whole network /PXE booting setup as I thought it was going to be extremely complicated to set up. If you feel this way too let me be the first to say "Stop It"
I had my server up and running in about 2 hours with working and tested boot images.

Hope this helps someone.
Good Luck

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