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System Installer
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Basic Design Concepts

System Installation Suite is image-based. An image is the template for an installed client, it contains the unconfigured operating system plus the applications and any data specific to that type of machine. These images are stored on a central server, or servers. From there another system is used to propogate the raw image data from the server to the client workstation or workstations. Once the data is present on the client, a configuration tool is called to setup the unique aspects of that particular workstation. Mostly this will involve things like network and hardware configuration, and boot loader installation.

In particular, since applications and resources are stored as part of the image, there might be an image for a central webserver or a generic node in a web farm, another one for DNS master or slave servers, and yet another for the nodes in a 1000 cpu Beowulf cluster. You would not need different images, however, for clients of the same architecture that are all intended to provide the same services but differ in ide or scsi/raid hard drive systems, network type (ethernet, token ring, gigabit, etc) or network card, or other hardware-specific differences.

System Installation Suite can then be divided into three phases, with a software project devoted to each phase:

System Installer
System Installer handles the creation of the images themselves, along with storing all the pertinent information for the rest of the system. In the near future, it must deal with such complexities as creating images of RedHat 7.1 and Suse 7.0 from a Debian 2.2 system, where RedHat will go on a Compaq Alpha, Suse on a PPC, with the Debian server running on an x86 architecture. It presents a common CLI for use by other applications and contains a client GUI application for simplified use. It can also invoke the second phase of the install and pass it the necessary information.

SystemImager prepares the client for receiving the image and then propagates the data from the image onto the client's local media. It is typically done over a network, but support is in the works for purely cd-based installs. It must deal with such complexities as bringing the client up onto the network, configuring local media for the image and transmitting the image from the server. And it must be able to boot and prepare a variety of architectures and scale to a large number of simultaneous installs. It also invokes the last phase of the install, and passes it the necessary information.

System Configurator
System Configurator modifies the newly transmitted image so that when the machine is rebooted it will come up onto the network as a useful working machine. It must deal with such complexities as configuring and installing the present hardware, preparing and installing the necessary boot loader, and configuring the network and other unique aspects of individual workstations. It has to provide an infrastructure that makes it easy to add support for multiple operating systems and multiple distributions along with multiple versions of said operating systems and distributions while doing so across as many architectures as it can.
For more information read the SIS Application Stack page. It explains some of the ways that other applications can fit into the SIS framework.
Last modified: Sun Mar 31 20:41:11 EST 2002
by Sean Dague