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Re: debian in a lab


pkn@cs.utexas.edu (Kay Nettle) wrote:
>	We're planning on installing debian in a lab of about 50 machines 
>and were wondering if anyone had come up with a good way to install it over
>the net.  We want to spend as little time on each machine as possible.  

We have been running about a dozen Linux PC as desktop workstations for
several years in an IBM RS/6000 AIX environment.
Back in 1993, we simply installed Slackware on a master PC,
tar'red and zip'ed the disk, put this on one of our workstation, and then
NFS-mounted it from a bootdisk and untar'ed onto every new PC. The tar-files
are about 60 Megs for a basic system, and the installation takes around 20
minutes. A script fixes local things like hostnames, IP addresses, and
the XFree86 configuration. (I could add here that for desktop work a 32 MB
Pentium outperforms any AIX desktop system we have here).

Recently, with the arrival of some Pentiums, I started using Debian packages.
To avoid putting all packages on each disk, I usually install them (except
for basic system packages) in a directory 
/usr/local/packages/<package_name> which typically looks like this:

lx601:/usr/local/packages/pine# ls -l
total 5
drwxr-xr-x   2 root     root         1024 Mar 10 07:10 DEBIAN-pine_3.96L-0/
drwxr-xr-x   2 root     root         1024 Mar 10 07:10 etc/
drwxr-xr-x   2 root     root         1024 Mar 10 07:10 usr.bin/
drwxr-xr-x   2 root     root         1024 Mar 10 07:10 usr.doc.pine/
drwxr-xr-x   2 root     root         1024 Mar 10 07:10 usr.man.man1/

I use a script to move files into the correct directories.
In theory, I could then mount /usr/local/packages on
each client and have a script that automatically checks which packages
are installed and update the links locally. (In praxi, this is still done
manually.) I usually look at the preinst and postinst scripts and run
them by hand on the master machine. Anything they modify or create should
also be in the package directory.

The appeal of such an approach is that any Debian user on our net could
mount this directory and use any packages he wants without ever having to
install anything locally except a set of well-defined links. 
And without using up local storage or worrying about updates.
(If he needs different configurations, he can just replace a link in /etc 
by a real file.) Some people here are using similar schemes to provide
software for other platforms centrally. From an institutional point of view,
this is a way of providing software to people without having to be root
on their machines and thus without being responsible for their mistakes...

I found that this works extremely well with most packages. Is anyone thinking
of adding a concept like this to standard Debian as an option?

Christoph Best                            cbest@th.physik.uni-frankfurt.de 
Institute for Theoretical Physics
Johann Wolfgang Goethe University         60054 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
                  "Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale down the beach."

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