Automating Image Installation

10 09 2006

So, I have been working on this stuff for a long time. Actually, since the time I joined Solidcore, Delhi Office [23rd January 2006]. There were a lot many idea which I had during those initial days and I even worked on them. But, each did not stimulate the necessary client environment [example: multiple boots on a single machine] and those that did [examples: etherboot, UIU, unattended], were a wee bit too expensive or cumbersome to do or they did not fit in with what I finally wanted to get done. That is, until I came across this fundamental thing called PXE. That changed my prespective towards the booting from LAN and using logic and a bit of programming to rotate an image[s] one after the other and start a test on these. The problem which still remains is that how do I start the tests after the images have been loaded? This is where the Windows Startup folder came into play, along with a bit of Batch scripting, but it is not a reliable solution.
So, basicaly what I do is I start a system through PXE LAN boot and then give control ove rto the DOS Network boot floppy I have customized using Bart’s Network BootDisk and then using a counter check which image is to be installed through another text file which contains the names of all the images to be installed. The counter is incremented and ready for the next system and image. [Am using a bit of C programming to accomplish this, along with locking of the counter file till the time the program increments teh same]. The PXE reads the IP address as a Hexadecimal concoction and tries to load the system according to what is there in that concocted file or the “default” file. I am making use of this [using another small C program, developed with the help of one of the MCA trainees, Alok].
Once I have this soup running smoothly, I call the batch file in the windows startup folder and start the execution of whatever I wish to work on with that automatic imaged and booted system.
Drawbacks and shortcomings:
1. Startup not reliable.
2. Need to have too many shares which are writable and readable.
3. DHCP required along with TFTP.
4. PXE goes off and interferes with DHCP if on the same machine.
5. Need to find a way to shutdown a system when it has some tests already running on it with a notification and saving of the curren tstate of the system.

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