At $WORK, my group runs about two dozen servers that provide services for over 60,000 users. They’re a mix of Windows and Linux, with some old Solaris stuff thrown in there. The one thing they have in common is they’re all hand-built, hand-configured, and old. They’ve been around for a while. At the moment, we don’t even have an adequate backup system.

So, being the closest thing to a SysAdmin we have (my official title is still Student Systems Programmer), it’s my job to build a new installation, configuration and backup infrastructure. We’ve already standardized on CentOS as a University-wide distro, and have a local full mirror, so I don’t need to choose a distro. I do, however, have to plan the installation and backup architecture. The main requirements are:

  1. Lowest overall time for bare-metal recovery to a working system.
  2. Ease of use, as people other than myself will need to administer it (so they should be able to do so from a cheat sheet in the wiki).
  3. Repeatability - it should be easy and intuitive to make an almost-exact-copy of a machine.

I started a thread a few days ago on the SAGE mailing list, which you can find here.

At the moment, it looks like the general idea that I’m going with is to use Kickstart to install the systems, using a basic and minimal Kickstart file. Basic package selection (minimalist) with just what’s needed to configure the system with a hostname and network settings for the management VLAN. I’ll then have Kickstart install and configure a configuration management package - I’m leaning towards Puppet over Cfengine and am starting testing. The config management software will handle all of the customization for the system (everything different from the base generic Kickstart install) so it’s all kept under the control of config management from step 1.

The final part is a backup system, mainly for whatever eventually - whether out of human error or simple laziness - ends up out of the config management system’s control. Our previous SA had settled on Zmanda, the paid version of Amanda, which comes with specific plugins for MySQL and MSSQL. I’m also looking at Bacula, mainly because of its’ advanced features, scheduling (especially the new scheduling in Bacula 3) and scalability.

The beauty that I see in having Kickstart do something minimal and then letting Puppet handle the rest is that (especially since we’ve standardized on SunFire X4100’s with identical configurations) I can kickstart and rack up a few spare machines, and to get them up and running all I need to do is power them up (iLOM) and tell Puppet what to make them.

I’m currently starting testing of both Puppet itself and getting Kickstart to start the puppet install and daemon (instructions from David Lutterkort’s blog (Red Hat software engineer)). We’ll see how everything goes…


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