Live Media installer

A bit over a week ago I pushed out an update to the OpenSolaris Live Media project which a few people have asked about, so I figured I'd answer them here.

Since we opened the project in August last year, most of the work for a few months was basically just maintenance, updating the construction kit to keep it functioning as OpenSolaris kept evolving around it. Some of those updates were easier than others; Gnome 2.16 in particular presented a few challenges (which turn out to have been useful to understand, as we're now dealing with some of them all over again in the Dwarf Caiman project as it modifies the current install miniroot so that it's capable of running a GTK-based install GUI).

The past few months, though, have seen the project start to evolve more rapidly. In March, we added the ability to generate flash memory images, which place an entire Solaris Express release on a 2 GB memory stick. This really helps the pace of development, as now we're not stuck exclusively using a read-only piece of media which has to be completely rebuilt to make even the smallest change. April brought improved networking support in the form of NWAM, and May's update added the WiFi drivers, while all along the improvements in the X server and drivers have continued to improve the display support options.

The most recent update, though, gets to the reason I initiated this project: using it as an environment for an installer. Truth be told, this installer is really primitive, not as functional or easy to use as what Belenix or Nexenta or Solaris offers; you first have to partition and slice out disk space using fdisk and format (so it's definitely an advanced user process at present), but once that's done, the installer's synopsis is simply:

/.cdrom/installer/install_live <ufs | zfs> <root slice> <swap slice>

Let 'er rip, and you'll have a complete installation of Solaris Express; on my test laptop (Toshiba Tecra M5) it takes about 20 minutes with a UFS root, 15 minutes with ZFS. The actual install_live script is quite simple: newfs or zpool create + zfs create to generate the root file system, a series of cpio's to copy the files to the new root, undo the customizations that make the live image work, generate the vfstab, configure GRUB, and finally run sys-unconfig so that the usual Solaris configuration procedures will run on first boot.

The primitive nature of this installer is something we're well on the way to addressing already; I've hooked it up as the back-end to the new GUI from Dwarf Caiman I mentioned above, and we've done successful installs with it to a half-dozen or so different machines. It also includes Moinak's work to optimize the DVD layout, so DVD boot times to reach the Gnome desktop are down to roughly five minutes rather than the nearly 15 that's been the case up 'til now. I'll be pushing those changes out as soon as I've cleaned them up a bit.

Which leaves the question that at least a couple of people asked: how does this relate to Caiman, or Project Indiana? Indiana's goals are well-aligned with the initial portions of our plans for Caiman all along (a project I've been calling “Slim Install”), so I look at this experiment as providing a demonstrable prototype of what Indiana's installer could look like to a user. The major challenge is in cutting down the Live Media image to fit in a CD; right now it's a bit more than twice the 700 MB limit we'd have for a CD. There are plenty of other big problems to be solved in many areas to build an open, maintainable installation and software maintenance system for the OpenSolaris family of distros, but at least now we've got something tangible to show for the graphical installer.


Hi Dave,

Regarding cutting down the contents, what about starting with an analysis of what BeleniX 0.6 does to cut down to a single CD and then doing a requirements study with that as a baseline?

Posted by Eric Boutilier on June 20, 2007 at 04:02 AM EDT #

Yes, Belenix has done at least some of the legwork for us, since we share the ON and X code; beyond that, it's a question of what functionality you want to offer on the base CD, which I think is what you're expressing in "requirements study". One of the real challenges underlying that, though, is how to make it fairly easy to maintain as all of the components evolve. A lot of my work in Live Media has been removing or modifying the customizations so that it's easier to maintain, but there's a lot more to be done there.

Posted by Dave Miner on June 20, 2007 at 04:25 AM EDT #

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I'm the architect for Solaris deployment and system management, with a lot of background in networking on the side. I spend a lot of my time currently operating Solaris Engineering's OpenStack cloud. I am co-author of the OpenSolaris Bible (Wiley, 2009). I also play a lot of golf.


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