Top 5 Open Source Linux Server Provisioning Software

Posted on in Categories Linux last updated August 10, 2010

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.


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 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.


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.


  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.


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.


  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:


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.

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. He has worked with global clients and in various industries, including IT, education, defense and space research, and the nonprofit sector. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

25 comment

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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?


    Nice article.


  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

    1. Hello,

      Common misconception; and its mentioned here a couple times. The article confuses the point a bit; but its 2010 area; so expected.

      There is a HUGE difference between OS provisioning, hardware provisioning and configuration management; everyone keeps trying to lump this into one.

      hardware provisioning (virtual or other):
      cloudstack, vlcoud, openstack, vagrant etc…

      OS provisioning

      Configuration management
      salt stack

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