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Rolling Out Unattended Debian Installations (Part 1)

Requirements and Overview

December 6, 2004

The next time you have a hankerin' to install a new batch of Debian machines, make it easy on yourself and use FAI (Fully Automatic Installation). FAI is a versatile, intelligent installer for performing mass unattended Debian installations. Use it to install clusters, server farms, classroom computer labs, or new LANs. An automatic installer has all kinds of possible uses:

  • Fast installation after replacing a hard drive
  • Fast setup for temporary installations, like trade shows, demonstrations, LAN parties, and such
  • Quick re-format and re-installation at the start of new classes in school, so that students do not inherit the messes their predecessors created.
  • Quick re-format and re-installation for new hires or temporary workers.

You will build a central installation server containing a Debian mirror. This can be any old PC with a large hard drive; you'll need around 10 gigabytes of storage space just for the Debian package files. (Don't even try this without a high-speed Internet connection.) A laptop makes a great portable FAI server. The installation clients will get their files from this server. The clients need only to be connected to the network, and booted either from floppy disk or network card. Files are transferred to the clients via your choice of HTTP, FTP, or NFS.

Installing and configuring FAI has two parts: the installation server configuration, and customizing the client installation scripts. Once this is done FAI does all the work, and all you need to do is not make it look too easy. Part 1 covers building the server; Part 2 will show how to set up the client configurations and run a client installation.