Running Debian from a flash disk

Since Windows was not an option for the different requirements of the system and I am fairly familiar with Linux I decided to use Debian Linux, Xorg and Firefox.

The harddisk of my terminal was another source of despair. First my plan was to run the terminal as a standalone computer off a flash disk. After trying out several different Linux distributions, I decided for a different solution. I installed a minimal Debian on the flash disk that provides the boot loader and the kernel.

The main system is then booted off our central file server which provides backup storage for our notebooks, music via UPnP for our Noxon iRadio, the streaming DVD player etc.

The main server boots the terminal in the morning controlled by crontab entries using wake on lan. After breakfast it is shut down remotely by the same server using cron again and remote ssh commands. In the evening, the same sequence is repeated. On weekends, the terminal is started later in the morning and runs the whole day.

Below are some notes that might save you some time if you try the same.

Setting up a static DHCP entry in your DHCP server for the terminal is certainly a good idea. This makes it much easier to maintain your configuration lateron.

Disable all ethernet entries in /etc/network/interfaces. In this configuration the kernel obtains an IP address. If you reconfigure the same network interface a second time – no matter if you use the same IP address or a different one – breaks the connection to the NFS server.
Thus, your /etc/network/interfaces should look like this:

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

Add recent sources to your /etc/apt/sources.list. If possible, choose a Debian mirror near to you.

deb http://ftp.uni-kl.de/pub/linux/debian/ unstable main contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/ testing/updates main contrib

Setup locale

dpkg-reconfigure locales

Trouble with key-based authentication for SSH
see http://jblevins.org/log/linux/ssh-vulnkey

Update your system to the latest revision:

apt-get update
apt-get dist-upgrade

Install an SSH server on the terminal

apt-get install openssh-server
Generate an SSH key:
ssh-keygen
Use an empty passphrase to allow remote SSH access without entering a password. This is needed to shut down the machine remotely.

Allow even users which are not logged in properly to start the xserver in /etc/X11/Xwrapper.config:

allowed_users=anybody

Append line for /etc/lilo.conf
append=”root=/dev/nfs rw nfsroot=192.168.1.2:/mnt/logv1 ip=dhcp”

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