I have been setting up Linux desktops for a non-profit radio observatory. For me, this was the first time I had to think about "deploying" several identical machines, centralizing login, home directories and so on. It quickly became clear to me that, perhaps contrary to intuition, the "everything is textual" philosophy does not necessarily make that an easy task, and I wondered what seasoned admins do about this.
In my case, I was installing Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on each machine. After installation, I ran a custom script that alters config files, removes and installs software and copies some files, like background images or browser bookmarks, from the server. I think, however, that my questions are distro-independent.
I was mainly encountering two problems: Firstly, inconsistent tools and config files, both across distributions and across versions, and secondly some crucial software not exposing settings to config files in an easy and intuitive manner.
Let me give two short examples for what I mean:
ifconfig tool is being replaced by
ip. All scripts relying on the presence of the former will break if, for example, run on a current ArchLinux box. So, I would need to check which tools in which versions are present on a machine I run a script on... this somehow feels like reinventing autoconf on a small scale.
For the second problem, consider that I wanted to give the desktops some sort of "common identity". In my post-install-config-script, I use the following lines to achieve this:
scp user@server:/export/admin/*.jpg /usr/share/backgrounds/ scp user@server:/export/admin/ubuntu-wallpapers.xml /usr/share/gnome-background-properties/ sed 's/warty-final-ubuntu\.png/MyBackground\.jpg/' -i /usr/share/gconf/defaults/10_libgnome2-common sed 's/warty\-final\-ubuntu\.png/MyBackground\.jpg/' -i /usr/share/gconf/defaults/16_ubuntu-wallpapers sed 's/ubuntu-mono-dark/ubuntu-mono-light/' -i /usr/share/gconf/defaults/16_ubuntu-artwork sed 's/Ambiance/Clearlooks/' -i /usr/share/gconf/defaults/16_ubuntu-artwork
I suppose that creating a CI is a common task for organizational admins. So, how come there is no central config facility, perhaps even cross-desktop? Having to set two (identical!) undocumented values in two distinct config files strikes me as odd.
In an organizational environment, how do you handle central, unified configuration across multiple clients?
Do systems like Debian's FAI offer significant advantages (aside from not having to change CDs) over my method of "install first, run script afterwards"?
What are good practices for the transition between major versions of your distribution? And, apart from the technical stuff: Is there a desktop environment that promises long-term stability as far as the user experience is concerned? I don't think I can migrate my users to KDE 4 or GNOME 3, but XFCE still has some functional drawbacks...
Is there a *nix system that adresses this type of configuration issues? For example, I'd assume there are systems that ask you for some imagery of your organization (logos, background images, colour and font sets etc) and apply them to the login manager, users' desktops, web apps (!) and so on. Note: In our case, I have to work with fat clients, so a purely thin-client solution won't help.