How to install Linux on a large scale

I’ve been thinking about this for a while to be honest. I worked in an organisation with around 600 machines for over a year, all Windows of course. A copy of Windows was installed on each type of machine (there were around 5 different types, with all machines within each type having exactly the same hardware), tweaked the settings to make them use the correct settings for Windows domain and the file shares, used Norton Ghost to make a copy of the disk and put it on a server, then used Ghost book disks to drag the disk image over, then change the machine names, set up a domain account and set up any extra peripherals.

We could roll out a machine in 30 minutes tops, mostly unattended and one person could do the whole organisation in about 4 weeks. I’ve been wondering how this would be done in the Linux world. How do you deploy 600 Linux desktops like this?

I vaguely recall Red Hat having a thing where you could perform an installation on a machine and save the setup configuration somehow so it could be used to perform the same installation on other machines in a mostly unattended way, but that means using Red Hat. It seems that there is no open source vendor agnostic tool to do this. Either buy Norton Ghost or use Red Hat.

I read the HOWTO Clone Disk Images on Linux Booted from a Network artcile from The Linux Documentation Project, but it seemed a bit messy.

So I googled and found the following links and articles.

Mondo Rescue
Dolly and
this Linux Gazette article.

After a quick browse of these projects, I’d say that g4u looks the most like something that would be bearable to use.

I think it would be interesting to look at how to reduce maintenace time too. I think it’s not uncommon to use Linux as a thin client system on larger installations, using something like the Linux Terminal Server Project, like they did at Handsworth Grammar School but it would be interesting to see how thin is practical, what network file systems people use (NFS, Samba, Coda?) for best results and how to handle network logins (do people really still use NIS, how much of a pain is it to synchronize smbpasswd with /etc/passwd on a large multi-user network etc).

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has experience of deploying Linux on a large number machines, or who has experience of using any of these tools, particularly in comparison to proprietary products like Norton Ghost, Power Quest Drive Image or Acronis True Image.