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Is it possible to execute one script which reads through a file containing a list of packages/applications, tests if each entry is already installed and if not, proceed to install?

I'm trying to find an approach which I can use in installing applications on a number of virgin servers autonomously.

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I recommend you to try out Ansible. It's agentless, the only requirement is that your servers are SSH accessible from a host running Ansible (you also need python executable on servers, but you can even automate its installation on the bootstrap).

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If you're installing "virgin" servers I highly recommend FAI, Fully Automatic Installation, which is designed to set up any number of systems with a pre-defined set of packages and configuration files.

Once the systems are set up, I second yaegashi's recommendation to try out Ansible.

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