Geek Weekend: Part 4 Adventures with a netboot

It was bound to happen, after a few painless upgrades and installs, something was bound to go wrong.

I was trying to install Ubuntu from CDROM on the Dell Latitude C610, just like I did on the Inspiron. It would get partially into the process and then freeze and hang. It always hung at the same point: at 46%, trying to start the partitioner when it read “scanning disks”. This was also a brand new unformatted drive, so my only options were that the CDROM had issues ( it was making a horrid grinding clunking noise) or my brand new hard drive had issues.

I broke down the laptop, removed the hard drive and put it back in, just to make sure there were no issues with how it was seated, or connections. It was perfectly fine. I tried booting from CD again. And Again. And Again. ( yeah, I can be stubborn in a “head to the brick wall” sort of way). I was starting to get tired and frustrated. At that point trying to boot from CDROM starting throwing FileIO errors and just complaining. I knew it was time to just shut off the laptop and take a step back. OK. At this point, I had to assume that the CD was bad. How was I going to boot? I figured it was either USB or the Network. I copied the ISO file to a USB thumb drive, but this laptop model does not have a “boot from USB” option. The Network it would be. I knew this would involve some other research and complications, so I voted to go to bed last night and approach it again $later.

After a full day of chasing kids, $later=tonight after dinner. Some research showed there were a few options:

1) mount the ISO image on a tftp server on the network and PXEboot to that
2) PXEboot using the Ubuntu netboot files and just pull the whole install over the network

Just to try something completely different, I opted for #2. It seemed like time for a change in approach and this was a good chance to learn a little more about netboot. Poking around on the web found some useful references here and here.

Now comes time for some true confessions. It has been about 7 years since I have done any serious sysadmin work, and a good 5 years since I spent time immersed in unix or linux. The command line is coming back to me as I work, but I am not even close to as comfortable as I once was. ( really, this is one of the reasons for doing the linux installs… beyond hoping for something other than VISTA to migrate to). I was prepared to do the tftpd and SHCP server installs and configs on the Ubuntu installed Inspiron and even started down that road. Then I found this site on how to use a windows box as the tftpd and DHCP server and I took the cheesy route. I wanted failures to be because there was really a problem, not because I made a typo in a config file. Remember, at this point I was still not sure if the new hard drive was good.

Bad try #1: Attempting to use the windows box as the tftpd server, and my default DHCP setup on the linksys router.

Problem #1: for some reason, my router decided to lose its brains and not let me log in. At All. Or even display the login prompt. Or re-assign DHCP when I powered it off and back on. For a moment, it looked like the router was trying to become toast. I did a restore to fosctory defaults, reconfigured it, then poked about for a good way to designate the PXE startup file. Nothing I could find easily.

Bad try #2. Attempting to use the windows box at the tftpd server and DHCP server. This came so close. I actually got to the PXE and the install started. But once I got to the menu where it prompted me for an archive, it always responded that I had a bad archive mirror or it was not available. I checked from another computer, and the archive was in act present and serving files. Sigh. This laptop was really wanting to be scrapped. Seriously.

Problem #2: A little poking around and I found this mention that although all the instructions tell you to leave the WINS setting alone, you need to put your default gateway in as the WINS server. Yep, sure enough. Woot. Now I had a full intall going nuts.

Problem #3: OK, this was not really a problem, but a momentary freak out. The install paused and ran and ran at the point where it was starting the partitioner and scanning the disk. I was convinced for about 60 seconds that the hard drive was bad after all, and all of this had been an exercise in futility. But the install cranked forward and everything was OK

Problem #4: After install over the net, I had a good install of core Ubuntu. Command line only. no Desktop or programs or….. Yikes. OK, Yes, I used to live in this world, but I do not know Ubuntu at all yet.. WTF? I really wanted a desktop and some cool applications to play with tonight. Although an unrelated cause, this link gave me the command to do the apt-get for the desktop. I really need to read up on apt-get.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… while all this was downloading and installing over the network, I decided to run the Xubuntu install on the very old Compaq M300. The install from CDROM went smoothly for this one and was actually completed before the over the network install of Ubuntu desktop was completed.

Problem #5: D’oh- do NOT forget to reset the BIOS so that the newly installed laptop does not try to go out to the network and re-do the install.

So, I now have one laptop with Ubuntu and another with Xubuntu. I am going to go toddle off to the office, plug them both into the network and so the software updates and alternate installs. My next post may well be from Ubuntu land.