Remote Rebuild, CentOS-style

Problem: you've got a remote server that's significantly hosed, either through a screwup somewhere or a power outage that did nasty things to your root filesystem or something. You have no available remote hands, and/or no boot media anyway.

Preconditions: You have another server you can access on the same network segment, and remote access to the broken server, either through a DRAC or iLO type card, or through some kind of serial console server (like a Cyclades/Avocent box).

Solution: in extremis, you can do a remote rebuild. Here's the simplest recipe I've come up with. I'm rebuilding using centos5-x86_64 version 5.5; adjust as necessary.

Note: dnsmasq, mrepo and syslinux are not core CentOS packages, so you need to enable the rpmforge repository to follow this recipe. This just involves:

rpm -Uvh rpmforge-release-0.5.1-1.el5.rf.x86_64.rpm

1. On your working box (which you're now going to press into service as a build server), install and configure dnsmasq to provide dhcp and tftp services:

# Install dnsmasq
yum install dnsmasq

# Add the following lines to the bottom of your /etc/dnsmasq.conf file
# Note that we don't use the following ip address, but the directive
# itself is required for dnsmasq to turn dhcp functionality on
# Here use the broken server's mac addr, hostname, and ip address
# Point the centos5x tag at the tftpboot environment you're going to setup
# And enable tftp
tftp-root = /tftpboot

# Then start up dnsmasq
service dnsmasq start

2. Install and configure mrepo to provide your CentOS build environment:

# Install mrepo and syslinux
yum install mrepo syslinux

# Setup a minimal /etc/mrepo.conf e.g.
cat > /etc/mrepo.conf
srcdir = /var/mrepo
wwwdir = /var/www/mrepo
confdir = /etc/mrepo.conf.d
arch = x86_64
mailto =
smtp-server = localhost
pxelinux = /usr/lib/syslinux/pxelinux.0
tftpdir = /tftpboot

release = 5
arch = x86_64
metadata = repomd repoview
name = Centos-$release $arch
#iso = CentOS-$release.5-$arch-bin-DVD-?of2.iso
#iso = CentOS-$release.5-$arch-bin-?of8.iso
# (uncomment one of the iso lines above, either the DVD or the CD one)

# Download the set of DVD or CD ISOs for the CentOS version you want
# There are fewer DVD ISOs, but you need to use bittorrent to download
mkdir -p /var/mrepo/iso
cd /var/mrepo/iso

# Once your ISOs are available in /var/mrepo/iso, and the 'iso' line
# in /etc/mrepo.conf updated appropriately, run mrepo itself
mrepo -gvv

3. Finally, finish setting up your tftp environment. mrepo should have copied appropriate pxelinux.0, initrd.img, and vmlinuz files into your /tftpboot/centos5-x86_64 directory, so all you need to supply is an appropriate grub boot config:

cd /tftpboot/centos5-x86_64
mkdir -p pxelinux.cfg

# Setup a default grub config (adjust the serial/console and repo params as needed)
cat > pxelinux.cfg/default
default linux
serial 0,9600n8
label linux
  root (nd)
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img console=ttyS0,9600 repo=

Now get your server to do a PXE boot (via a boot option or the bios or whatever), and hopefully your broken server will find your dhcp/tftp environment and boot up in install mode, and away you go.

If you have problems with the boot, try checking your /var/log/messages file on the boot server for hints.