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Mounting /usr over the network


I'm working at a university, and they are pondering to use a single
linux distributon in the future. They're currently trying Red Hat, but 
have not decided yet. I suggested Debian, of course :)

The main consideration is that to save administration efforts and disk 
space, all non-essential packages should be on a AFS server. No
distribution does support this directly AFAIK.

There are different ways to achieve this. One could simply install the
packages on the server and export /usr, since many packages don't need
files in other directories. The problem is /etc; some packages need
files there, but /etc can't be mounted remotely, since there are host
specific things in there. (BTW, I think host specific/arch
specific/unspecific config files should all be in different places. I
think while switching to the new FHS standard, we should agree on a
location for them, since we won't use /opt for the packages, IIRC.)

One could also try to install the packages on every machine and trick
dpkg into not unpacking anything in /usr. But then one would have to
edit config files on all machines. Also, install scripts are a
problem. Some ask questions, which have to be answered on every
machine. Some might try to write something to /usr, etc.

Has anybody yet tried something like that, or can give me some hints?

It would be a really huge advance for Debian if it would support


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