Kickstart vs FAI vs Cobbler vs Spacewalk vs OpenQRM

Server provisioning is nothing but load the Linux or UNIX like operating systems automatically with actual operating systems, device drivers, data, and make a server ready for network operation without any user input. Typically you select a server from a pool of available servers, load the operating systems (such as RHEL, Fedora, FreeBSD, Debian), and finally customize storage, network (IP, gateway, bounding etc), drivers, applications, users etc. Using the following tools you can perform automated unattended operating system installation, configuration, set virtual machines and much more. These software can be used to install a lot (say thousands) of Linux and UNIX systems at the same time.

Kickstart

From the official Redhat guide:

Many system administrators would prefer to use an automated installation method to install Red Hat / CentOS / Fedora Linux on their machines. To answer this need, Red Hat created the kickstart installation method. Using kickstart, a system administrator can create a single file containing the answers to all the questions that would normally be asked during a typical Red Hat Linux installation. Kickstart provides a way for users to automate a Red Hat Enterprise Linux installation.

Kickstart Configurator allows you to create or modify a kickstart file using a graphical user interface, so that you do not have to remember the correct syntax of the file.

Fig.01: RHEL - Kickstart Configurator

Fully Automatic Installation (FAI)

FAI is a non-interactive system to install, customize and manage Linux systems and software configurations on computers as well as virtual machines and chroot environments, from small networks to large-scale infrastructures and clusters. It is a tool for fully automatic installation of Debian and other Linux Distributions such as Suse, Redhat, Solaris via network, custom install cd, or into a chroot environment. Some people also use it to install Windows.

Features:

  1. Installs and updates Debian, Ubuntu, SuSe, RHEL, CentOS, Fedora, Mandriva, Solaris, etc
  2. Centralized deployment and configuration management
  3. Integrated disaster recovery system
  4. Easy set up of software RAID and LVM
  5. Installs XEN domains, VirtualBox and Vserve
  6. Every stage can be customized via hooks
  7. Full remote control via ssh during installation

See the official project website and wiki for more information.

Cobbler

Cobbler is a Linux provisioning server that centralizes and simplifies control of services including DHCP, TFTP, and DNS for the purpose of performing network-based operating systems installs. It can be configured for PXE, reinstallations, and virtualized guests using Xen, KVM or VMware. Again it is mainly used by Redhat and friends, but you can configure a PXE server to boot various non-RPM boot images such as Knoppix and other flavors of Debian such as Ubuntu.

There is also a lightweight built-in configuration management system, as well as support for integrating with configuration management systems like Puppet. Cobbler has a command line interface, a web interface, and also several API access options.

Fig.02: Cobbler WebUI (image credit: Fedora project)

See the official Cobbler project home page and wiki for more information.

Spacewalk

From the official website:

Spacewalk is an open source (GPLv2) Linux systems management solution. It is the upstream community project from which the Red Hat Network Satellite product is derived. Spacewalk manages software content updates for Red Hat derived distributions such as Fedora, CentOS, and Scientific Linux, within your firewall. You can stage software content through different environments, managing the deployment of updates to systems and allowing you to view at which update level any given system is at across your deployment. A clean central web interface allows viewing of systems and their software update status, and initiating update actions.

Features:

  1. Inventory your systems (hardware and software information)
  2. Install and update software on your systems
  3. Collect and distribute your custom software packages into manageable groups
  4. Provision (kickstart) your systems
  5. Manage and deploy configuration files to your systems
  6. Monitor your systems
  7. Provision and start/stop/configure virtual guests
  8. Distribute content across multiple geographical sites in an efficient manner.

Fig.03: Spacewalk Server Provisioning System

See the official project website for more information.

OpenQRM

From the official website:

openQRM is the next generation, open-source Data-center management platform. Its fully pluggable architecture focuses on automatic, rapid- and appliance-based deployment, monitoring, high-availability, cloud computing and especially on supporting and conforming multiple virtualization technologies. openQRM is a single-management console for the complete IT-infra structure and provides a well defined API which can be used to integrate third-party tools as additional plugins.

Features

  1. Complete separation of “hardware” (physical servers and virtual machines) from “software” (server-images)
    Support for different virtualization technologies
  2. Fully automatic Nagios configuration (single click) to monitor all systems and services
  3. High-availability : “N to 1” fail-over
  4. Integrated storage management
  5. Distribution support – openQRM 4.x comes with a solid support for different linux distribution like Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS and openSuse. A single openQRM server can manage the provisioning of servers from those different linux distributions seamlessly.

Fig.04: OpenQRM Dashboard

See the official project website for more information.

DIY: Provisioning Server

You can build your own server using PXE, TFTP server, and DHCP software. PXE allows you to boot up a system and have it automatically get an IP address via DHCP and start booting a kernel over the network. See the following articles for more information:

Conclusion

There are many proprietary software solutions available to automate the provisioning of servers, services and end-user devices from vendors such as BladeLogic, IBM, or HP. But open source software gives you more freedom to automate the installation of the Linux server. Some of the above software support UNIX and Windows operating systems too.

I’m wondering if you use Server Provisioning Software regularly. Drop your discussion below and share what works for you in the comments.

Comments

  1. Not sure if this is correct comparison. Some of this project are part of another.

    Kickstart is a RedHat mechanism for answering the installation questions non-interactively.
    Preseed is the same for Debian.

    How it works: VM boots from regular kernel but as an command argument receives URL-path to kickstart/preseed file. Of cause kernel should be started from network(PXE). In other case it just can’t download URL.
    _______

    Cobbler: product based on kickstart/preseed files. It is like a convenient wrapper around them.
    It manages these files for different machines or group of machines. But in addition it provides us with TFTP and PXE management (sends kickstart/preseed path via PXE parameter).

    So totally Cobbler = Kickstart/Preseed + TFTP + PXE
    _______

    Spacewalk: heavyweight product. It has many functions and only one of them is a Cobbler. Yes yes, Cobbler is a part of Spacewalk.
    Spacewalk = Cobbler (Kickstart/Preseed + TFTP + PXE) + Monitoring + Inventory + …

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