Short introduction – what is a PXE server? In a nutshell, it is what receives the call when you press F12 at boot-up on your computer (or whichever key launches the Boot From Network option).
Short disclaimer – Why am I looking into it? No reason really, mostly because I can and I didn’t know anything about it. And because I find the idea of it very cool.
How does it work? Well, you need a machine, either physical or virtual to run a TFTP server. I had a look at Linux first (always the first point of call) and tried the UDA (Ultimate Deployment Appliance, based on CentOS, http://www.ultimatedeployment.org). It is a virtual machine set up and ready to go. It comes with a nice web interface for the server, which besides the usual functions (view logs, stop and start) allows you to map shared drives (also Windows ones through samba), add OSes and create templates. In a nutshell, you need to add the OS to create the template , which all lead to you having the option on the menu that comes up upon network boot. I was able following the instructions and digging through the forums to get very quickly up and running with:
a) a Ubuntu install so press F12, choose Ubuntu and kick off your install straight from the network. You have to dig through the forums to find out that in order to do that, you need to download the alternate version, which is PXE-enabled, unlike the default one.
b) Couple of liveOSes (so loading the OS completely to RAM from the network and running from there, leaving the hard drive untouched) – XPud and Slitaz
But no luck whatsoever with any of the Windows installs… Kept crashing either adding the OS or creating the template…
For references, here are some of the URLs I looked at:
And some printscreens of the UDA web interface