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Date:      Thu, 04 Jul 2002 11:23:45 -0700
From:      Peter Wemm <>
To:        "Michael Scheidell" <>
Cc:        freebsd-hackers@FreeBSD.ORG
Subject:   Re: Best way to install on Dozens of boxes? 
Message-ID:  <>
In-Reply-To: <008a01c22355$17c16da0$0603a8c0@MIKELT> 

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"Michael Scheidell" wrote:
> If I want to install FBSD 4.5 on dozens of identical boxes, what is the best
> way?
> I don't want to take the disks out and dup/mirror them, not dozens of them.
> The hardware supports pxe and I had half a hope that I could set up a master
> system with bootpd, let each target system boot by itself and load its own
> image.
> This would be to a 'virgin' hd, with no slice or partitions yet.
> What about a master boot cd rom?
> What about setting up and alternate ftp source and 'release' image? one that
> we managed and controlled?

At yahoo, we do this by the thousand.  We netboot using PXE, and have about
a 30MB 'mfsroot' image that is preloaded by the netboot loader.  The system
boots up to a fairly full functional mini-freebsd.

Then, from NFS, we run a script ("clone" - we used to do this disk-to-disk)
that partitions and installs a set of cpio.gz images from the NFS server.
We just tell the clone script what hostname we want (it looks it up in DNS)
and what drive to install on (we have a lot of hardware variation) and any
tweaks to partition sizes.

We did write our own tool to do the partitioning and bootblock installs.
scripting fdisk/disklabel/etc is too painful - especially when some of our
installs need to preserve a server 'system partition' (ugh).

The netboot takes less than a minute, the install takes 2-3 minutes at the
most.  After the network install is done, power off (netbooted remember) and
turn off netboot and we're away.

We also find this environment invalueable for repairing damaged systems.
Simply netboot the machine in the rack (we have the netboot environment
available just about everywhere) and we have a fairly functional system
running from ramdisk that we can use to work on a corrupted OS.

We haven't used sysinstall at yahoo for years - except for a small number
of isolated incidents.  Our needs are probably different to yours though,
because we need to do this continually and the time investment to build
the system has well and truely paid off.  If you only have a small number
to do, a custom sysinstall is probably more suitable.  I believe Alfred's
PXE pages describe this.  You may like to burn a CD-RW or something for
it if that works for you.

Peter Wemm -;;
"All of this is for nothing if we don't go to the stars" - JMS/B5

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