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I am the sole IT person for a small private school. The school has about 60 PCs. All PCs are on a wireless network; there's no Ethernet network in the building.

I would like to migrate the school to Linux. I'd like the setup to require minimal maintenance of the endpoints, to support central authentication and file sharing, and to take advantage of the endpoint's CPU as much as possible.

The optimal scenario I envision is to install a small Linux distribution on the hard drive of each endpoint. This distribution would join the wireless network and mount the root filesystem via NFS. Then booting would proceed as normal. This scenario has the following advantages:

  1. It would work with the wireless network. (Whereas PXE solutions won't.)
  2. I can update almost all aspects of the system by modifying the endpoints' root filesystem stored on the server.
  3. Unlike regular thin client solutions, here we're using the endpoint's CPU rather than doing screen updates over the wireless network.

My questions:

  1. Is there a better scenario for what I am trying to do?
  2. Is there a better filesystem than NFS for this purpose? I'd love to use a filesystem that supports caching to the local hard drive, and downloads over the network only updated files.
  3. Has this been done and documented by anyone else? All howtos I find are for wired networks and PXE boot.
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iPXE is capable of PXE-booting via certain wireless devices, though driver support is somewhat limited (mainly Atheros chipsets). –  Michael Hampton Jan 9 '13 at 2:51
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Why migrate the school to Linux? Does the school want Linux? –  ewwhite Jan 9 '13 at 2:59
    
You shouldn't have to do a lot of updating of the clients, if you're managing them properly. Sounds like you're solving the wrong problems. Think about what the school needs, not what you think would be cool. –  mfinni Jan 9 '13 at 3:43
    
@ewwhite, I didn't want to force everyone to read irrelevant details. Yes, the school wants Linux. –  Philip Jan 9 '13 at 4:07
    
@mfinni, the updates revolve around software like Firefox. I don't have to do "a lot" of updating, but it would be nice to be able to roll out a new version of a program without jumping through major hoops. –  Philip Jan 9 '13 at 4:10
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Mounting the root FS via a WLAN for 60 clients will never work in a even remotely sufficient manner. WLAN is a shared medium and it just doesn't have the capacity for this.

Doing this via a wired connection is possible, but still requires many considerations, but with a wireless connection it's just not feasible. Well, maybe you could get it working somehow, but if you require a even minimally working system, this will lead to a hefty investment in very expensive professional WLAN equipment (lot's of access points and similar stuff from pro vendors like Cisco).

You'll need to go with local root file systems, but there are a lot of management solutions to keep a pile of machines under control. Have a look at stuff like Puppet, Chef or cfengine as a starting point.

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Yes, I foresee problems with just NFS... but with a caching layer, I think it could go very well. –  Philip Jan 9 '13 at 2:47
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No, it can't work this way. Really. –  SvW Jan 9 '13 at 2:51
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@Philip Do a proof of concept, then come back and tell us how well it works –  Joel E Salas Jan 9 '13 at 3:14
    
@JoelESalas, I plan to defer to your judgment... I just want to talk it out. If you combine a caching layer (if one even exists) with a policy to not boot many machines at once, do you think there would still be a problem? I estimate that >99% of root filesystem files would be cache hits. Couldn't I get an average case of requiring less than 100 KB of network transfer to get fully booted? –  Philip Jan 9 '13 at 4:17
    
@Philip: You are aproaching this from a totally wrong angle. Managing a lot of Linux systems with local file systems while using a good config management system is not that difficult, certainly much more simple than coaxing a remote root FS via wireless into some useable shape. –  SvW Jan 9 '13 at 4:22
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