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Old 16th December 2009
Greg_Morgan Greg_Morgan is offline
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Question Remote desktop & terminal independence

Hi.

I am a Unix newbie and I need your help for a pet project. I would appreciate if you could help.

I currently have one OpenBSD server at home that runs 4.6 stable. The machine has 80GB hard disk space. I have user accounts for my family members on that machine. I want to know as to how I can operate this machine without working on the console.

(i.e) I want a terminal in the living room and a terminal each in the kid's rooms. They would access the Unix box remotely. I do not have any spare machines/ laptops. I cannot run wires and hence am looking for
a wireless option. I do not want to buy a laptop and then wipe it for BSD.

Can I buy some diskless units and connect to my "server"?

This is the setup I am imagining.

I have a Keyboard+mouse+monitor+speakers+microphone unit in the living room. I turn it on and the machine asks me for my login id & password. I type those in and I get a graphical desktop. I create my documents and save it. Then I log out. The files that I created are on the "central server" and I can access them from the console or from the kid's rooms. I do not want to store any of my files on the local "terminal" for I would have to "hunt" for my files in each of the workstations I use.

With this arrangement, I do not have to share my desktop/console with anybody. The kids can be in their room, listen to music, browse the net while claiming they are doing homework etc.

The advantages to me are:
a) OS patching and upgrade are at one place and easy to accomplish.
b) Software package install & upgrade is easy
c) Virus scans easy. (I use F-prot)
d) Files are in one place and hence easy to find.
e) I can make enhancements to improve security without affecting end user experience. eg. router config, firewall config, proxy setup etc.

My questions are:

a) Is this dream reasonable?

b) What do I need to buy as terminals?

c) How do I "boot" my terminals? Is this where PXE comes?

d) What do I need to do to OpenBSD setup to accomplish this?

Thanks in advance.
-gm
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Old 17th December 2009
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TerryP TerryP is offline
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Option A: General diskless operation; take a look at diskless(8)

Option B: Remote login; make sure you understand SSH and running remote X sessions (can be done easily over SSH).
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Old 17th December 2009
ocicat ocicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_Morgan View Post
I cannot run wires and hence am looking for
a wireless option. I do not want to buy a laptop and then wipe it for BSD.
Be aware that using wireless isn't as simple as wired configurations for a number of reasons:
  • Due to the competition between wireless vendors, they are quite nervous about releasing specifications to the public. This makes the development of wireless drivers difficult in the Open Source world (& in some cases, the Linux world allows use of binary blobs where vendors don't have to release any information at all...). In general, wireless chipsets from Atheros or Ralink have a higher probability of working with OpenBSD. Be forewarned that not all offerings from these vendors work with the OpenBSD drivers available. It is not uncommon for vendors to cripple their chipsets marketed to some customers; it all depends upon how contracts/deals are made/worded, so carefully verify the version number of installed wireless cards displayed in dmesg(1) output with what information can be found in the relevant manpages.
  • Because of these issues, you should study what chipset models are supported. The first place to go is to search for these vendors' names using apropos(1). Heed the information found in the associated manpages. Likewise, study Section 6.13 of the FAQ. It would also be to your benefit to search the misc@ mailing list archive for similar information. OpenBSD's misc@ archives can be found at various sites -- one being MARC.info.
Quote:
Can I buy some diskless units and connect to my "server"?
Note that only newer NIC's support PXE, so older hardware may not work. My suggestion is to go someplace local & discuss motherboard feature sets with the help. I have not set up a diskless workstation, but as I recall, the ROM's associated with newer NIC's initialize & contact the PXE server prior to the BIOS possibly freaking out that no drive is attached. Again, begin with studing Section 6.10 & look up PXE in Wikipedia. You will get bonus points for studying Intel's specification for PXE (Google for it...). On the server side, you will need to set up a tftp(1) server to serve the necessary files (one being pxeboot...), & note that tftp is not the same thing as ftp(1).
Quote:
I turn it on and the machine asks me for my login id & password. I type those in and I get a graphical desktop.
This isn't quite the question you are asking (yet), but I will point you to studying the xdm(1) manpage. Whenever a properly configured system is booted, it will boot directly into X. More information can be found in Section 11 of the FAQ. OpenBSD 4.6's new installer makes configuring xdm easy if this is what you want.
Quote:
Is this dream reasonable?
Yes, but with work, & a lot of educating yourself about a number of technologies.
Quote:
How do I "boot" my terminals? Is this where PXE comes?
Yes.
Quote:
What do I need to do to OpenBSD setup to accomplish this?
Various sections of the FAQ have already been mentioned. Study these & the manpages cited carefully.

OpenBSD's documentation is some of the best out there. Studying the entirety of the FAQ now, as a newbie, will save you a lot of future grief & frustration.

Basically, what you are envisioning is quite possible, but you are also implicitly putting yourself into the role of administrating & supporting such a configuration. To do this effectively, you will be learning the skill set needed by good sysadmin's. Learning to do the necessary research upfront is a necessary first step.
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Old 17th December 2009
Greg_Morgan Greg_Morgan is offline
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TerryP & ocicat,

Thanks for your replies and encouragement.

When I picturized this setup, I did not fathom the complexity involved.

In your feedback, you have shown a method as to how I can go about solving this. I will follow your suggestions.

Thanks for your input.

I wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New year!

Thanks.
-gm
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Old 18th December 2009
There0 There0 is offline
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I have a little howto from a ways back that involves setting up a server within a server thats boots via PXE, not sure if you can boot that over WiFi NIC. It is quite easy to setup and boots anywhere on your network that will PXE, no hard disks required in the terminals.

This howto is a FULLY working install that boots over PXE and allows full access, installing applications, everything you can do normally from OpenBSD, you can even use different window managers fine.

If this sounds like something that may help PM me and i can send you the info i have, if you want anymore details i would be glad to share what I know.

P.S. I have NOT tried this over a wireless connection, PXE support on the NIC aside? i am not certian if the throughput rates will create a smooth user experience, hard wire would be a better choice if at all possible.
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Last edited by There0; 18th December 2009 at 11:01 PM.
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Old 18th December 2009
ocicat ocicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by There0 View Post
...not sure if you can boot that over WiFi NIC.
Very good point!

A quick search through the misc@ archives didn't reveal anything salient. Searching through Google shows some interest in the Linux world, but I found no mention of any wireless cards being capable of PXE. The OP will want to renegotiate this requirement with the chairperson of the house.
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Old 19th December 2009
BSDfan666 BSDfan666 is offline
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Wireless devices are very complex, much more so then Ethernet controllers.

A PXE rom contains basic chipset initialization and just enough support for communicating over the wire with a tftp/dhcp server.. AFAIK there are also architectural constraints on x86 Option ROM sizes, but I cannot find a definitive answer (..64K?).

Such a ROM for Wireless devices would need to fully implement an 802.11 stack (..with error handling), and the ability to decrypt WEP/WPA frames.

Instead of trying to network boot these systems, it would perhaps be a better idea to use xdm(1) with XDMCP.. not known for security, but you could tunnel it over SSH or use IPsec.

Would that be possible?

Last edited by BSDfan666; 19th December 2009 at 03:22 AM.
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Old 20th December 2009
There0 There0 is offline
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Quote:
Instead of trying to network boot these systems, it would perhaps be a better idea to use xdm(1) with XDMCP.. not known for security, but you could tunnel it over SSH or use IPsec.
Something like that is possible, or even just SSH in and connect via VNC or something, but that would require some type of storage media on the clients to boot from and operate.

Yes security, even locally i agree completely, i encrypt EVERYTHING i can inside and out, good to get used to the practice of doing so.
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Old 22nd December 2009
EverydayDiesel EverydayDiesel is offline
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Sorry to hijack your thread but I have to ask...

Do they have network interface monitors that do not require a desktop computer (only the central server that runs PXE)?
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Old 22nd December 2009
BSDfan666 BSDfan666 is offline
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It was once quite common to have a centralized server with a variety of external terminals.. that's a concept that is still a criticial part of Unix systems.

Traditionally people interfaced with a Unix server over a serial link, directly over modems.. if you look into the history of X, you'll see it's heavily based on a server-client architecture.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_terminal

Many thin-client systems have existed over the years, but it soon became quicker and more affordable to use dedicated workstations with their own local hard disks and graphics cards.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thin_client
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Old 22nd December 2009
There0 There0 is offline
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MMMM yes serial connections to a mainframe and dummy terminals ..... god how i do not miss those, haven't worked on anything to that nature for over 6 years
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