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Re: Help netbooting a diskless, headless system

Does your box have a serial port? Can it be configured to display the BIOS
screen on the serial port? Can Debian be installed using a serial port? That
is, connect a null-modem serial cable between the box to be installed and some
other computer and use minicom (Linux) or Hyperterm (Win).

Or put the hard drive into another regular computer, install there, then move
the drive back to the target box. And (1) enable a getty on /dev/ttyS0 and (2)
add 'console=ttys0,115200' to grub. The only oddity you should encounter here
is that the target box's NIC won't be eth0; this results from how udev works,
but it can be changed if desired.

Grub0 can be configured to poll both the VESA console and a serial port, then
use whichever gets the first keystroke (or time out and use the selected
default). I don't know how (or if) Grub2 handles this situation. So if the box
has no drive and no VESA console and you cannot redirect the BIOS to a serial
port, you'll be blind until grub starts.

Another possibility. Check if the system has a compact flash socket. If so,
you could effectively install a /boot to it with a custom initramfs that
contains enough command line tools (and libs) to run a fairly minimal 'live'
system in RAM; this might take a 100-300 MiB. As it boots, it can mount the
rest of what it needs over the net. My firewall has a smallish initramfs
(30MiB compressed CPIO, about 100MiB in RAM). It's a fairly fully usable
environment with a real init and a few real tools with busybox handling
others; I made it to ease debugging the install process. It works well on
standard computers and works well on headless systems like the Lanner 7530 and
7539 network appliances using a serial console.

You *can* do what you want, but it requires you to roll up your sleeves and
get up to your elbows in slimy bits. But then, Debian might have something for
this already. The hard part will be to redirect the install session to a 
serial port.

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