Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Some interesting tools

My last project dealt wih the use of 1U rack-mounted PCs. Once the software was ready for deployment I needed to find an easy way to get the operating system and applications loaded onto the systems and I was looking for an easy and fast way of doing it.

The units I am using are manufactured by Supermicro and they have no floppy or CD-ROM but are equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 2.0. While booting the system up from a USB CD-ROM was possible this was leaving me with the task of manually configuring each unit.

I've used in the past Symantec's Ghost software for harddisk clonning and I've found it quite useful. But to be able to use it in this case I would need to boot these computers out of a floppy disk or specially crafted CD-ROM that I don't have ready. On the other hand, a Ghost license will need to be purchased.

Browsing around I've found a couple of projects G4U (Ghost for Unix) and G4L (Ghost for Linux) that offer you a ready to burn ISO image. You boot up your system and you have network support (Ethernet) and some basic tools to recover (or to send) a harddisk image from (to) a server so you can clone disks quite easily through the network.

As in my project I needed to boot the system and get the OS and apps installed, I can boot up off the CD-ROM and get the disk contents from my FTP server. The whole operation takes around 4 minutes over Fast Ethernet (used disk size has a big impact on this time, as you can guess).

If you have some time to spare you can follow the thread on both tools websites where G4U 's author complains of G4L 's plagiarism.

If your code does not change very often and you disk image is not very big you might want to copy all together in a single CD-ROM or DVD-ROM so you don't need to use the network nor an FTP server. Although in this case you will notice that both drives provide lower throughput than a network link and therefore the clonning process can take longer.

I've recently got a 60GB USB 2.0 bus-powered TEAC harddisk and an LG 1GB USB 2.0 pen drive, I've been looking around for alternative ways of booting up computers. Booting off a USB seems quite interesting to me. I've found that St. Petersburg Linux does exactly this. But if you have more space on your USB drive you can even boot up Knoppix.

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