[ipxe-devel] Thoughts about an enterprise use for iPXE

Andrew "Arthur" Summers arthur.summers at gmail.com
Fri Feb 21 19:29:24 UTC 2014


I have an idea and potential enterprise use case for iPXE that I wanted to
share with you. I debated sending this via my corporate email so it would
stand out a little more in your inbox, but I thought that should this idea
be viable enough to become something bigger, it would potentially be
considered intellectual property of my company from a legal standpoint.
However, let's just say that I work for a VERY big company (I'll narrow it
down a little and say it's in the Fortune Top 5).

As I'm sure you're aware, no enterprise datacenter uses DHCP for its
systems. What's more, even if DHCP is used for backend interfaces, this
becomes a problem when NATs and subnets are part of the picture. Even more
frustrating is the fact that reconfiguring a system or attaching an ISO to
an iLO or a VM usually requires involving a different team, filling out a
form, logging hours, and jumping through a dozen or so hoops. Further,
performing a zero-touch install generally requires creating a preseeded
image for every target, and these generally aren't as tiny as an iPXE ISO.

Enter iPXE. My thought is that this little gem could be used as a "software
iLO" of sorts to give control over a system's boot process by using some
simple dynamic scripts and backend configuration data. Instead of
preseeding a full image for a system and needing to remove it after the
system is installed, a system could be configured with the tiny iPXE ISO
permanently attached. The only preseeding needed would be static IP
information. Let me walk you through a potential boot process:



- Preseeded with static IP config

- Basic script pointing to repo (if unreachable, boot from HDD)

 |              /\

\/              |

boot      return config, preseed, boot media

 |              /\

\/              |


- PHP to provide client-specific dynamic config

- Boot media (via sanboot/TFTP/etc depending on system)

- Database with preseed and iPXE script info for each client

    - First boot or system marked for reimaging?

        - Return config information and script to perform fresh install

        - Update record in DB to allow regular boot

    - Not first boot or marked for reimaging?

        - Return script instructing boot from local media

When the client boots, iPXE loads, configures static IP information, and
reaches out to the repository. If the repository is unavailable for some
reason, iPXE continues to boot from local media. Otherwise, the repository
looks at its database for config information for the client. If this is the
first request from the client or it has been marked for reimaging, the
configuration data is dynamically returned to the client, the database is
updated to allow the client to boot from local media on subsequent boots,
and the client boots appropriately. If the client has previously made a
request or is not marked for reimaging, the repository simpy dynamically
returns a script instructing iPXE to boot the client from local media.

There are obviously a few components that need to be built to allow all of
this to work:

   - Some sort of management console (web based?) for entering/updating
   client information
   - Would be great if AD integration were possible with role separation
      (role for changing configs, role for marking systems for reimaging, audit
      role, etc)
   - Database to store client information (perhaps paired with something
   like OpenStack/SaltStack?)
      - Flexible options for backend integration (SQL Server, MySQL, etc)
   - PHP backend to serve dynamic configuration info to iPXE requests
   - Tool to generate iPXE ISOs with preseeded static IP information
      - Looked at ROM-o-Matic
      - Would ideally allow the creation of multiple ISOs based on a CSV or
      a feed from the DB
      - Web-based? Would need to be platform-agnostic
   - iPXE currently doesn't recognize Hyper-V vNICs unless a legacy adapter
   is used

I'll admit that I'm no developer, but I'm no stranger to code, either. Let
me know what your thoughts are, and if there's any way I can assist, I'd be
more than willing to do so.


Andrew "Arthur" Summers
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