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Network Booting via PXE: the Basics

The majority of computer users are familiar with BIOS options as long as they don't go further than selecting the main bootable device or ordering that priority list such as HDDs first, then optical drives, and so forth. In the past few years, however, another option has appeared there. Itís called Network Boot or the infamous PXE Boot. In this article we will give a brief overview of the basics of network booting.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Network Booting via PXE: the Basics
  2. Theory of PXE
  3. Practical Solution
  4. Closing Thoughts
By: Barzan "Tony" Antal
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 37
February 11, 2009

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Before we begin, let's find out what networking booting is all about. After that we will explain the theory behind PXE booting in a nutshell without getting into advanced technicalities whatsoever. We will also examine a few ready to run practical solutions. The main purpose of this article is to elucidate what PXE is and to break down the entire process into small applicable steps.

Every so often we see questions and requests on bulletin boards where users are asking for help in order to network boot their computer to back up the files from a system on which the operating system went bad. Network booting wasn't exactly designed to be "yet another" booting option. Its purpose is different, and we are going to explore that in detail. It differs a great deal from "classic" booting. 

Network booting, as its name suggests, stands for the process that boots up a computer (or device) from the network-not from local disk drives or removable media. This technology is meant to be used in clustered environments where specific nodes (diskless/thin clients) may not have a local drive. It's also used by system administrators when they are doing unattended multiple simultaneous operating system installations.

PXE is short for Preboot eXecution Environment. It is the environment that allows devices to boot up via their network interface(s). The entire process follows a specific "client-server" model. It was first introduced and designed by Intel; the official document regarding its specifications can be found here.

On the next page we are going to see how PXE works and what the client-server model actually means. What do you really need in order to implement PXE on your network, and take advantage of this fancy technology that sounds oh so great (despite often being pronounced "pixie")? Once you know this, you will no longer confuse Network Booting with any other booting possibility.



 
 
>>> More Site Administration Articles          >>> More By Barzan "Tony" Antal
 

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