[Beowulf] Parallel Development Tools

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Thu Oct 18 05:00:11 PDT 2007

On Thu, 18 Oct 2007, Tim Cutts wrote:

> The real killer advantages of FAI, for me, are the SSH server so I can
> monitor the install remotely, and the detailed logging.  Both of these
> are invaluable for diagnosing installation problems.

They certainly do sound useful, I agree.  I'm hoping that if and as
kickstart migrates to a two-step install, it gets a bit closer to this.
As I said, my major beef with kickstart (which I otherwise find
fabulously useful) is its lack of robustness.  If you're installing on
homogeneous systems on a reliable network and have tested it, it scales
extremely well, and there are various tools that can be used to e.g.
automatically build the kickstart file from templates, on the fly, per
host type or ip number or whatever so it is also quite flexible on the
regrettably expert-friendly side of things, but on highly INhomogeneous
hardware, slow and undependable networks, and the like -- if it dies,
all you can do is start over.  In fact the same is true of a
non-kickstart install.

Doing a minimal base install FIRST, making the system bootable at the
end, BEFORE doing lo the many packages and things that can go wrong is
clearly the right way to go to improve robustness.  And you bet,
installing ssh and enabling it in that base system would be so
unbelievably lovely, especially if that same base system has jove and
checkpointing of some sort on the script(s) that finish off the system,
so that if a particular package crashes the install one can just remove
it from the list and restart the package list install to pick up where
it left off and deal with the missing piece later.  Or blow off the
audio install if it turns out that the audio hardware the install
discovers isn't on the supported/recognized list so IT will require some
hand tweaking later.

Again, I'd really like to see various convergences, and convergence of
the base system is certainly one of them.  It would be absolutely
perfect if Linux distros adopted a uniform installation model that was,
in fact, identical right up to the completion of that base system
install with ssh and booting enabled, so that one could run one of
several scripts and "install_fedora" or "install_debian" or whatever on
top of the base.  So that one could use kickstart from start to finish,
or FAI from start to finish, or a mix of the two, independent of which
distro one was installing.  Of course this requires a binary and
configurational standard at LEAST through the base install (the kernel,
glibc, /etc layout, more base-class libraries).

We might get there.  There are Force of Good at work here, combatting
the Forces of Evil however slowly.  And one does (I admit) need to leave
a lot of freedom in the system so that the standards and need for
consistency don't become developmental chains.  But at the same time,
standards and stability are PRACTICALLY speaking very major requirements
for any sort of professional installation of Linux, and a sine qua non
for commercial developers.  Simplifying the base system and improving
stability and recovery on generally inhomogeneous desktops and laptops
(!) is also key to the adoption of linux on the desktop outside of
professionally managed networks.


> Typically, I restrict FAI class-specific stuff to what's needed to get a
> particular bit of hardware working.  Configuration to the ultimate
> purpose of the machine I leave to cfengine.
> Tim

Robert G. Brown
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
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