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Old 11-07-2007, 10:51 AM   #1
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PXE + NFS install server hardware recommendations?


I'd welcome any thoughts or pointers on this.

I need to build a large number of machines (well, high tens) in a short space of time. We currently have an install server that uses pxe and nfs for staging. However, for business reasons we are building a second machine for off-site installs. Unfortunately, it has been decided that rather than locating a permanent server at these sites, we will use a single laptop for installations until we are in a better position to judge the long-term requirements at each site.

What would make a "good" NFS installation server? The first thing that comes to mind is Gb networking + a good switch to minimize bottlenecks. What about processing power? In all honesty I haven't built more than 2 machines at a time, and CPU didn't come into it. The laptops I have looked at have ~1.8GHz Core 2 Duo processors. Is there any reason why I should aim for a particular architecture for this kind of work? AMD? 64bit?

Hard disks. Most (all?) laptops these days have either a 5400 or 7200 RPM SATA disk, but should I be looking at the buffer size if its entire purpose is shunting out large amounts of identical data? These machine will be built concurrently, but not simultaneously so I would imagine that a 16MB buffer isn't going to make much difference.

For this kind of server, I would think that the more memory the better, basically to drop disk I/O to a minimum, but I'm assuming that the OS caches data requested via NFS in system memory. Is this valid?

I'm currently looking at Lenovo machines. I'm afraid I can't wait for Lenovo to start shipping them with linux. I'd prefer to put Red Hat or CentOS on it, however one of the guys here has been running Ubuntu 7.04 on his R60 without any difficulty, so that's my fallback.


S. Barrett

Last edited by sgb; 11-07-2007 at 11:50 AM.
Old 11-07-2007, 10:13 PM   #2
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Hello, based on experience working with several open-source and commercial deployment tools using PXE, TFTP, NFS and others, here are the main criterias you should consider in this order:

1) 1Gbps Networking + Good switch
2) Hard Drive (the faster the better)
3) Memory (+- 1Gb should be enough)
4 CPU should not be a factor.

If you do have a GigE network, then I'm pretty certain that the hard drive on the laptop will be your primary bottleneck, so make sure you get the machine with the fastest hard drive Lenovo can sell you.

Otherwise you should be fine. I've used Thinkpads often for imaging machines for classrooms,and obviously the more machines you deploy simultaneously the longer it will take, but in the end if it's all automated who cares if it takes more time ? :-)
Old 11-07-2007, 10:29 PM   #3
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I've done a half-ass Ubuntu PXE+http install on my systems for this cluster I have (NFS shouldn't be that much different). I, unfortunately, don't know how to do an "answer file" to fully automate it. I agree that using RedHat or CentOS would be a good choice since they have the kickstart automater. I'm sure there is a way for Ubuntu? I haven't found anything about it, though. There is the system imager which is a 3rd party open-source that can also deploy out images, assuming all the computers will be the same.

As for hardware, I deployed out Ubuntu 6.06.1 OS's to about 8 machines on a Pentium 3 w 512MB RAM on a 100Mpbs switch. Granted, it wasn't completely 100% utilized since I had to stop and use a KVM to switch to answer the questions, but once they got to the installing phase of copying files to their hard drives, there were no hiccups.

Try to at least convince your partner to use Ubuntu Server 6.06 because that is being supported until 2011. The new Ubuntu 7.04 and 7.10's are only being supported for about 2-years, then their support and updates are gone, I believe. Not very long term, if you ask me. If you guys need bleeding edge and don't mind reinstalling the base OS, then go for it!

Last edited by Micro420; 11-07-2007 at 10:31 PM.


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