We have got a number of Dell SC1425 computers in the lab with dual-core Xeon processors in them. Among those computers that ended up on our rack there was just one with a DVD drive. The remaining ones had a network interface and a hard drive with no OS pre-installed. I was charged with setting up the operating system. Network interface PXE boot was the appropriate technology to use.
The idea was to boot a light-weight Linux distribution over the net and install it on the harddrive. The next step was to place the images of Fedora Core to the hard drive and bootstrap it from there. I tried Knoppix as the light-weight OS but the boot process on the client machine ended up with a ”very limited shell” message. I crawled Internet trying to find other PXE-enabled distributions but found virtually nothing. So I thought it was time to build a Linux distribution on my own.
I used Fedora Core’s kernel and followed advice on How to build root file system. First I used ISOLINUX to burn bootable CDs. After my trash bin was full of used CDs I got something that was booting and bringing up the network. The OS was booting completely to RAM without relying on the presense of a hard drive or a CDROM. I gave it the name “ELinux” which stands for “ECSL Linux”. It is not available for download yet because it prints out ugly error messages during boot process but I will try to get rid of them sooner or later and will release it then.
I used PXELINUX to boot a client computer. There we go! The remaining part was straightforward: I used fdisk to partition the hard drive and tftp to save Feodora’s images on it. Then I installed Fedora using “install from hard drive” option.
It turned out that Fedora had a PXELINUX initrd image so I did not need a bootstrap linux. The experience was useful however as it gave me understanding of Linux boot process. ELinux is one of the few, if not a unique Linux distribution that boots to the RAM over a network interface.
Mind map of Linux distributions. ELinux should go to the Minimalist Distribution category.