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Is there a public or commercial offering for iSCSI boot targets?

i.e. on a blank machine with an internet connection available to it, it can be configured to look a public internet domain host and pull down Windows (or any other OS) images, and all you need are the licenses.

Edit: It's clear now that block level iSCSI booting is not the right technology for booting over unreliable networks and a local cache defeats the plug-and-go paradigm I was aiming for.

Using iPXE to pull a more intelligent (handles unreliable and/or high latency connections) boot image via HTTP looks like a decent start, but flashing the NIC or chainloading adds a disappointing amount of complexity to the task.

Setting USB booting in the factory and then sending out USB keys with linux images that do the deployment and installation heavy lifting is a much more sane approach to wrangling iSCSI or PXE into doing something they're not designed for.

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While I am not aware of anything publicly available, PXE/iSCSI bootstraps usually are far too bandwidth-intensive and latency-sensitive to work well over public networks. Just imagine a local disk with 500 KB/s peak throughput and a seek time of 200 ms. Taken the performance numbers, MS-DOS 5.0 springs to mind as a likely candidate for running there, but unfortunately, it will not support iSCSI. –  the-wabbit Jan 5 '12 at 11:45

2 Answers 2

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Trying to boot from a publicly hosted iSCSI target would be 100% terrible. Insufficient bandwidth, high latency (relatively) and potential for intermittent connection... = recipe for disaster. iSCSI and any other block-level network-boot architecture requires near-0 latency, in addition to a high-amount of bandwidth to be successful. Buying a dedicated 1gbit connection for each server directly attached to a 3rd party service to host your disk drives... would be more cost-prohibitive than simply buying your own iSCSI/FC/?? infrastructure.

Alternatively... file-level access is much more do-able... but you'd have much tighter constraints to make it function at all. (it would download a disk-image... uncompress it in RAM... then boot a minimal OS which then would have access to network-based files...)

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And yet amazon have just done it. wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/01/amazon-storage-gateway –  Tom O'Connor Jan 26 '12 at 1:58
    
I will say that I have heard of people booting servers over the Internet via a VPN to their head office... –  Soviero Jan 26 '12 at 3:17
    
@TomO'Connor If you do a bit more reading... the servers aren't booting directly from the WAN... it's booting from a cached copy locally stored. Big difference. It is possible to boot from servers @ remote locations... but how it's working varies. block-based boot devices (iSCSI/FC/etc) require low-latency & high bandwidth... whereas PXE booting is much more doable over typical WAN connections. –  TheCompWiz Jan 26 '12 at 17:03

You can boot form iSCSI if either your uEFI firmware/BIOS supports that (most modern server uEFI images can do that) or the option ROM firmware of your iSCSI HBA supports that.

Another option is to use something like Etherboot/gPXE/iPXE to boot via iSCSI from your boot LUN.

Please note that the i in iSCSI doesn't mean that you should or can boot successfully from a LUN over the internet.

If you want to boot a machine from the Internet also consider something like Etherboot/gPXE/iPXE/uEFI that can pull a kernel/boot image via HTTP.

And I've never come across an offering from anyone that they will provide boot LUNs for your specific environment and needs and offer that over the Internet - sounds ridiculous.

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