Top 5 Open Source Linux Server Provisioning Software

by on August 10, 2010 · 21 comments· LAST UPDATED August 10, 2010

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Server provisioning is nothing but load the Linux or UNIX like operating systems automatically with actual operating systems, device drivers, data, and make a server ready for network operation without any user input. Typically you select a server from a pool of available servers, load the operating systems (such as RHEL, Fedora, FreeBSD, Debian), and finally customize storage, network (IP, gateway, bounding etc), drivers, applications, users etc. Using the following tools you can perform automated unattended operating system installation, configuration, set virtual machines and much more. These software can be used to install a lot (say thousands) of Linux and UNIX systems at the same time.

Kickstart

From the official Redhat guide:

Many system administrators would prefer to use an automated installation method to install Red Hat / CentOS / Fedora Linux on their machines. To answer this need, Red Hat created the kickstart installation method. Using kickstart, a system administrator can create a single file containing the answers to all the questions that would normally be asked during a typical Red Hat Linux installation. Kickstart provides a way for users to automate a Red Hat Enterprise Linux installation.

Kickstart Configurator allows you to create or modify a kickstart file using a graphical user interface, so that you do not have to remember the correct syntax of the file.

Fig.01: RHEL - Kickstart Configurator

Fig.01: RHEL - Kickstart Configurator

Fully Automatic Installation (FAI)

FAI is a non-interactive system to install, customize and manage Linux systems and software configurations on computers as well as virtual machines and chroot environments, from small networks to large-scale infrastructures and clusters. It is a tool for fully automatic installation of Debian and other Linux Distributions such as Suse, Redhat, Solaris via network, custom install cd, or into a chroot environment. Some people also use it to install Windows.

FAI Features

  1. Installs and updates Debian, Ubuntu, SuSe, RHEL, CentOS, Fedora, Mandriva, Solaris, etc
  2. Centralized deployment and configuration management
  3. Integrated disaster recovery system
  4. Easy set up of software RAID and LVM
  5. Installs XEN domains, VirtualBox and Vserve
  6. Every stage can be customized via hooks
  7. Full remote control via ssh during installation

See the official project website and wiki for more information.

Cobbler

Cobbler is a Linux provisioning server that centralizes and simplifies control of services including DHCP, TFTP, and DNS for the purpose of performing network-based operating systems installs. It can be configured for PXE, reinstallations, and virtualized guests using Xen, KVM or VMware. Again it is mainly used by Redhat and friends, but you can configure a PXE server to boot various non-RPM boot images such as Knoppix and other flavors of Debian such as Ubuntu.

There is also a lightweight built-in configuration management system, as well as support for integrating with configuration management systems like Puppet. Cobbler has a command line interface, a web interface, and also several API access options.

Fig.02: Cobbler WebUI (image credit: Fedora project)

Fig.02: Cobbler WebUI (image credit: Fedora project)

See the official Cobbler project home page and wiki for more information.

Spacewalk

From the official website:

Spacewalk is an open source (GPLv2) Linux systems management solution. It is the upstream community project from which the Red Hat Network Satellite product is derived. Spacewalk manages software content updates for Red Hat derived distributions such as Fedora, CentOS, and Scientific Linux, within your firewall. You can stage software content through different environments, managing the deployment of updates to systems and allowing you to view at which update level any given system is at across your deployment. A clean central web interface allows viewing of systems and their software update status, and initiating update actions.

Features:

  1. Inventory your systems (hardware and software information)
  2. Install and update software on your systems
  3. Collect and distribute your custom software packages into manageable groups
  4. Provision (kickstart) your systems
  5. Manage and deploy configuration files to your systems
  6. Monitor your systems
  7. Provision and start/stop/configure virtual guests
  8. Distribute content across multiple geographical sites in an efficient manner.
Fig.03: Spacewalk Server Provisioning System

Fig.03: Spacewalk Server Provisioning System

See the official project website for more information.

OpenQRM

From the official website:

openQRM is the next generation, open-source Data-center management platform. Its fully pluggable architecture focuses on automatic, rapid- and appliance-based deployment, monitoring, high-availability, cloud computing and especially on supporting and conforming multiple virtualization technologies. openQRM is a single-management console for the complete IT-infra structure and provides a well defined API which can be used to integrate third-party tools as additional plugins.

Features

  1. Complete separation of "hardware" (physical servers and virtual machines) from "software" (server-images)
    Support for different virtualization technologies
  2. Fully automatic Nagios configuration (single click) to monitor all systems and services
  3. High-availability : "N to 1" fail-over
  4. Integrated storage management
  5. Distribution support - openQRM 4.x comes with a solid support for different linux distribution like Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS and openSuse. A single openQRM server can manage the provisioning of servers from those different linux distributions seamlessly.
Fig.04: OpenQRM Dashboard

Fig.04: OpenQRM Dashboard (image credit: OpenQRM project)

See the official project website for more information.

DIY: Provisioning Server

You can build your own server using PXE, TFTP server, and DHCP software. PXE allows you to boot up a system and have it automatically get an IP address via DHCP and start booting a kernel over the network. See the following articles for more information:

Conclusion

There are many proprietary software solutions available to automate the provisioning of servers, services and end-user devices from vendors such as BladeLogic, IBM, or HP. But open source software gives you more freedom to automate the installation of the Linux server. Some of the above software support UNIX and Windows operating systems too.

I'm wondering if you use Server Provisioning Software regularly. Drop your discussion below and share what works for you in the comments.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Gardner August 10, 2010 at 7:23 am

After spending a couple of months designing and deploying a provisioning system based on ‘DIY: Provisioning Server’ and ‘Kickstart’ methods, it was nice to see a few alternatives. I knew about Spacewalk, but not the others so it was an interesting read… even if it was a bit late for me :-)

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2 Dave August 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

Chef? Puppet?

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3 RIL August 10, 2010 at 8:44 am

It is config management tool and cannot be used for deploying a provisioning system.

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4 jaysunn August 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Spacewalk looks very interesting. I myself have just configured a PXE kickstart environment using a Windows DHCP server. Has anyone had a chance to use spacewalk and have some time to comment on it?

@vivek,

Nice article.

jaysunn

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5 dude August 11, 2010 at 7:18 am

Spacewalk is the best of all the mentioned software. I have used it in the form of Red Hat Satellite Server and it is a very good product.

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6 Chris Cowley August 11, 2010 at 11:01 am

I would also put forward the combination of Kickstart and Puppet. I use that with my collection of Centos systems (virtual and physical) and works a treat.

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7 korovamilk August 11, 2010 at 11:35 am

Cobbler is neat and very customizable.. I use it on a regular base to deploy our servers: just pick a profile (db, web server) and then input mac address, turn on the machine and you’ve done!

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8 crue August 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm

spacewalk uses cobbler which uses kickstart for provisioning so they are all really the same core technology, just the management fluff around them

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9 sven August 13, 2010 at 7:43 am

i want to roll out many debian servers. what would you suggest?
i’m playing with FAI right now but it don’t gets me the kick :)

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10 Vallard August 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm

xCAT is the one we use. We like it because it scales, supports windows, vmware, red hat flavors, suse, and partimage. The other thing that is cool about it is that it does remote hardware control like ipmi, hp blade, and IBM blade functions. Finally, you can create and deploy virtual machines (KVM and vmware), and you can install with kickstart or install ramroot or nfsroot.

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11 indijan September 30, 2010 at 9:32 pm

We’re using fog (fogproject.org) for installing disk images.

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12 Thomas Lange (Mrfai) October 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

The FAI project has moved its $HOME. It’s now

http://fai-project.org

The wiki can be found be at

http://wiki.fai-project.org

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13 Philippe Petrinko February 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Did anyone tried OPSI http://www.opsi.org/ ?
Very interesting to me.

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14 Philippe Petrinko February 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

And it seems there is at least another SW: http://unattended.sf.net/
Nice!

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15 Steve Kawolsky June 15, 2011 at 5:26 am

We use KwateeSDCM. It’s very straightforward, language agnostic and support deployment on all major operating systems

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16 Greq December 30, 2011 at 1:28 am

Clonezilla SE

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17 Salim February 13, 2012 at 10:09 am

i configured spacewalk 1.6 with oracle 11g DB . but i cannot kickstart el5 through spacewalk (repodata 404 error) i think spacewalk still running with full of bugs ..

:(

next am going to test OpenQRM it seems pretty good

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18 mc0e September 9, 2012 at 9:06 am

Vagrant is worth a mention. It fills a different but related niche to the listed provisioning software, being for provisioning local virtual servers. It integrates with puppet or chef for configuration of those servers.

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19 roeland February 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

autoyast is a fine tool to provision RHEL/CENTOS/FEDORA/SLES/OPENSUSE. Much more of use compared to kckstart.

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20 sayber May 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Nobody mention Foreman http://theforeman.org/

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21 Shamim Akhtar June 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm

HI korovamilk,

I want to use cobbler with puppet integration. Please let me know that can i install windows as well with this.

Please share with me any docs if you have

Thanks in Advance

Reply

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