You’ve been trying for months to convince upper management to give you the money for a pilot Linux installation, and they finally bought into the idea. You’ve performed countless Linux installations on your own computers and on your friends’ machines, so installing it for your company should be no different, right? Wrong.

Although many aspects of Linux installation remain the same regardless of hardware, environment, or distribution, there are also several critical differences. If you’re a system administrator or a team leader who’s responsible for performing an enterprise Linux installation for the first time, you’ll want to pay close attention.
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In this article, we’ll assume that you’re installing Linux for a business or other organization, that you have more than 10 workstations to build, and that you have some experience installing Linux for your personal use.

First things first
The first step is to plan the installation carefully. Answering the following questions will help you develop a framework for your plan:

  • Why did your organization decide to install Linux?
  • What is the most important item that you must get right?
  • How Linux-savvy are the users?
  • How much time do you have for installation, configuration, troubleshooting, and user training?
  • Will the users need access to another operating system?

Next, you’ll need to gather information from the users to determine their specific needs:

  • How well do they know Linux?
  • Will they have a choice of desktop environments?
  • What software will they need?
  • What does the team do?
  • Does each user perform the same function, or do users have different jobs with different requirements?

As you gather questions and find answers, you can begin to create a list of requirements.

Which distribution?
Although you can create your own custom distribution from scratch with the Linux kernel, it’s much easier to choose an existing distribution that closely matches your users’ needs and then customize that distribution to meet their specific requirements. Selecting a distribution for your company is different from choosing one for your personal use. Some of the factors that you’ll need to consider are:

  • Stability
  • User-friendliness
  • Tech support
  • Ease of installation
  • Ease of customization
  • Ease of upgrade
  • Cost
  • Included applications

What software will you need?
The next step in planning your Linux enterprise installation is to prepare a list of software that the users require. Not only will you need to find out what software is required, but you’ll have to make sure that the software you need is compatible with Linux. Keep in mind how many requirements can be satisfied within the base Linux distribution, which requirements can be satisfied with free software, if any requirements can be satisfied only with Windows products, and which applications require licenses.

Determine your hardware requirements
Once you have a list of software requirements, you need to define your hardware requirements and make sure that the hardware is compatible with Linux. If you have a budget to buy all new hardware, this step is easy: Buy hardware that’s known to be Linux-compatible. If you’re working with legacy hardware, it’s vital that you verify that it’s compatible with Linux before you begin the installation. Many hardware companies ensure that their products are tested and verified to be compatible with Linux, but many more are not yet on the bandwagon. A good way to ruin your day is to begin a new installation only to find that a CD-ROM or a printer isn’t Linux-compatible. A great resource for checking hardware compatibility is the Linux Hardware Compatibility HOWTO. In addition, check the home page of your Linux distribution—once you have one—for information on hardware compatibility.

Don’t forget the scripts
After you’ve collected your hardware information, group your machines according to their hardware. If the hardware is identical, you can create one installation script for all your machines. Otherwise, you can create different scripts or add menu choices to the script.

If you’re performing the installation via NFS, you’ll need to collect the following information about your network:

  • Hostname and IP address for each machine
  • Network domain name
  • Netmask
  • Default gateway
  • Primary, secondary, and tertiary nameservers
  • Directory containing the installation
  • Hostname or IP address for the NFS server containing the installation

Make the most of your opportunity
If you aren’t familiar with your users, the expectations of management, or your environment, your installation won’t go as smoothly as it should. The ideas and suggestions included here will help ensure that at your business, Linux is viewed as the most cost-effective and sensible solution available.
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