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Managing a network of Debian machines?

I've been a user of RedHat for the last year and a half. RedHat in
general is a nice distribution, but the only reason I really use it is
for RPM, the package manager. One thing that RPM cannot really help
with is managing a whole network of workstations. Say I have ten Linux
machines with a package manager I want all ten to stay synchronized,
to have the same version of all packages. How do I do this?

In a traditional Unix installation one way to do this is to only
install the vendor's default Unix on each hard drive. Since commercial
Unices don't update frequently, this means that you have to sync each
machine every year or so. Then all the packages you *really* care
about (say, emacs or perl) get installed in an NFS mounted /usr/local.
NFS takes care of the synchronization, since there's only one copy.

But that doesn't work for RedHat, and I imagine doesn't work for
Debian. If I upgrade emacs, for instance, it's going to upgrade in
/usr/bin, a directory traditionally not NFS mounted. I would have to
run the package upgrade command on every machine.

One solution would be to automate the package updates, run a cron job
on all machines that keep them in sync with some master list of
package versions. This isn't very efficient, but would be acceptable.
Does someone have such a script for Debian?

The other solution, one I sort of like, is to NFS mount as much as
possible on all the machines but one. Clients NFS mount /usr (maybe
even the whole root disk) from a central server that is maintained by
hand. This duplicates the /usr/local NFS setup of typical machines,
but entails quite a big network cost.

What's the right solution? Assume disk is cheap, bandwidth is fairly
cheap, but sysadmin time is really expensive. If Debian could provide
some solution, it would be a big help to Linux administrators.

PS: the web archive of these mailing lists on www.debian.org isn't
working right. Messages aren't being split correctly.

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