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Linux PXE Server - booting Windows 10 or Ubuntu 18.04 over UEFI network

Blog Category: ContributionAuthor: 16.02.2019
Linux PXE Server - booting Windows 10 or Ubuntu 18.04 over UEFI network
Drawing: Sylbek

There are motherboards on the market that no longer load the classic BIOS, not even via Lagacy-Mode. In other words, if you are about to buy new hardware and plan to install it over the network, check if PXE server configuration also boots UEFI computers.

Below you can find some information on how we can accomplish this task with iPXE & RouterOS.

PXE introduction

With PXE (Preboot Execution Environment) is possible to boot via nettwork as well as all computers like laptop, thin client, workstation, server.
If you press the DEL or F2 key immediately after the computer is switched on (also possible several times) you will be able to enter the BIOS or UEFI settings. In the boot area, you can, for example, permanently set the boot order to network.
Then the client computer looks for a DHCP server to get an IP. In addition to IP, DHCP Server also provides the TFTP server and associated boot file from which computer then starts.

Starting a computer over the network is not a must, but it makes the work of system administrators, especially in large companies, much easier. So computers can be installed by the user, the necessary configuration is setup centrally in the PXE server. After installation, this computer automatically starts directly from the local (SSD) hard disk.


PXE-Server

PXE server usually includes services such as DHCP, TFTP, HTTP, SMB ... which can be installed on one hardware or distributed to multiple servers. This software is included for most Linux distributions, as well as for Windows Server.
We decided for commercial Linux RouterOS as this OS is light-weight and very fast. The configuration can be adapted via WEB. In addition, 100th of clients can access shares and all this with onetime costs including a lifetime license. Open source firmware iPXE was selected as the bootfile because it offers many configuration options and is compatible to boot for UEFI clients.


After you have installed Mikrotik RouterOS, add the following in DHCP Server and TFTP Server:




The boot-file ipxe.efi is available from the iPXE page (link above) where you will also find the instructions how to configure it. This task requires some knowledge in Linux development. In addition to this file, you can also copy memdisk, wimboot into the TFTP directory.

For this purpose, the configuration file is required to show the menu, see picture.

PXE-Boot-Server-Menu



You see an example iPXE menu structure. WinPe is loaded when it comes to Windows 10 installation/backup/restore, or mini Linux (deb_sylbek) at Ubuntu 18.04. References to other configuration files such as *.cmd or *.cfg, have to do with automatic installation, so users do not have to make any decisions other than menu selection.




The configuration of PXE server is very extensive task, however it can be fully automated.
We can assist you in this task if it is known what hardware is used. If you plan new hardware, you will find here fanless mini-PCs, the relevant category is: Mini-PC_Thin-Client