Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) and 9.10 (Karmic Koala)

(this howto is based on the Debian Etch iSCSI howto with some major changes)


This howto shows how to make an existing installation of a recent *buntu (ubuntu, kubuntu, edubuntu, xubuntu and so on) bootable over the network using iSCSI.

I will be using the great gpxe to boot the OS over the network later and a dhcp (v3) Server to easily propagate settings to the gpxe client.

If you are experienced with ubuntu and initramfs / initrd creation you can install ubuntu directly onto the iscsi target using the desktop (i386 or amd64) install CD (more on that later). The alternate install disk is not capable of installing additional packages at runtime, because of the limitations of the busybox environment.

If you have the possibility it is more comfortable to install ubuntu onto a local HDD, USB stick or whatever and boot into the installed system after that.


This howto is based on the following assumptions:

  • An installation of ubuntu or one of its pendants in the latest (jaunty) version
  • the system is installed on a single harddrive, no matter how much partitions you have set up
  • there is an already done iscsi target on an iscsi server
  • there is a working dhcp server (although you will only need it for comfort, configuring gpxe manually does also work)

Preparing the initrd

The debian howto recommended to compile open-iscsi yourself as iscsistart and fwparam_ibft were not available in the debian packages that time. This is not necessary for ubuntu for some reasons:

  • fwparam_ibft is no longer a (fully featured) component of neither the open-iscsi semi-stable release (which does not even support kernel 2.6.28+) nor the development git source tree. It has been merged into the iscsistart tool in the same package, and its featureset reduced.
  • iscsistart is available via open-iscsi from the ubuntu repositories.
  • the initramfs scripts are even prepared for iscsi usage in some way

But the initramfs / initrd has to be recreated to include the required iscsi stuff: (I use joe for some vintage reason, but you are of course free to use the editor of your choice)

install required packages

 sudo aptitude install initramfs-tools open-iscsi sysv-rc-conf

add iscsi to the list of modules to include in the boot image

 sudo echo "iscsi" >> /etc/initramfs-tools/modules

change the initiatorname (of the client) to something unique if you are planning to set up many boxes

 sudo echo "InitiatorName=iqn.1993-08.org.debian:01:22b2ed5d3ccc" > /etc/iscsi/initiatorname.iscsi

touch the indicatorfile, which is queried to determine, whether the daemons are to be copied into the new initrd

 sudo touch /etc/iscsi/iscsi.initramfs

If you are using Ubuntu 9.04 then you have to workaround a bug in the jaunty stable tree.

The bug is in /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/iscsi

If you are using Ubuntu 9.10 you don't have to edit this file.

edit /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/iscsi with your favourite editor:

 sudo joe /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/iscsi
 and change line 25 from:
    copy_exec /usr/sbin/iscsistart /sbin
    copy_exec /sbin/iscsistart /sbin

Even if the modules for the network cards are loaded early enough, udev still initializes too late to activate the NICs which will cause the iscsi script to fail. As long as there is not a much smarter solution, you will be fine to copy the udev script from /scripts/nfs-top to /scripts/local-top/early_udev FIXME Perhaps it is smarter to copy it to /etc/initramfs-tools/scripts/local-top/

 sudo cp /usr/share/initramfs-tools/scripts/nfs-top/udev /usr/share/initramfs-tools/scripts/local-top/early_udev
 ls -lha /usr/share/initramfs-tools/scripts/local-top/
 insgesamt 12K
 drwxr-xr-x  2 root root   35 2009-04-28 23:12 .
 drwxr-xr-x 10 root root 4,0K 2009-04-28 22:59 ..
 -rwxr-xr-x  1 root root  430 2009-04-28 23:00 early_udev
 -rwxr-xr-x  1 root root 1,9K 2009-04-28 22:32 iscsi

generate the new initrd('s)

 sudo update-initramfs -u
 update-initramfs: Generating /boot/initrd.img-2.6.28-11-generic

Preparing the system

now we have to take care that neither /etc/init.d/networking nor the Network Manager reconfigures the interface again during the init process or X11 startup so edit /etc/network/interfaces:

 sudo joe /etc/network/interfaces
 and change the appropiate entry for your primary NIC from:
    auto eth0
    #iface eth0 inet dhcp
    auto eth0
    iface eth0 inet manual

As we do not have fwparam_ibft we cannot read out the ibft contents that gpxe has left, so we have to specify vital iSCSI information via Kernel command line options. Use your favourite boot manager for this. I did use grub, because it is preinstalled and my no. 1 choice anyway, but it is most likely possible to use gpxe or a gpxe-script to pass these parameters. (FIXME edit this if you have more detailed knowledge on this - as gpxe scripting is still on my to-do-list) Make the boot process verbose if you want to be able to see potential problems immediately when they occur.

This are the available options (which are parsed from /proc/cmdline):


It could look like this:

 title		Ubuntu 9.04, kernel 2.6.28-11-generic iSCSI
 uuid		f859db1e-39f8-4539-9f0e-8292f8f93cca
 kernel		/vmlinuz-2.6.28-11-generic ip=dhcp ISCSI_INITIATOR=iqn.2009-04.arbeitsgruppe:general ISCSI_TARGET_NAME=iqn.2009-04.Arbeitsgruppe.Commander1024:general.ubuntu ISCSI_TARGET_IP= ISCSI_TARGET_PORT=3260 root=UUID=021ebcfc-188a-41ba-9864-ee18cbf7af9f ro
 initrd		/initrd.img-2.6.28-11-generic

WARNING: Make a backup of grub.cfg! When you upgrade your system the ubuntu installer will overwrite it. If that is the case you have to add your iscsi options again! After upgrading always check if your grub.cfg is still intact.

Transfer your image to the iSCSI Target server

Installing ubuntu directly onto the iSCSI SAN

Installing ubuntu directly onto SAN is basically the same as the method: HDD → SAN and takes advantage of the possibility to install packages in the running live cd system. But that means you cannont use the Alternate install disc out-of-the-box.

Boot your favourite *buntu variant using the desktop CD. Install the open-iscsi packate in the live system

 sudo aptitude install open-iscsi
 sudo iscsi_discovery <SAN-IP>
    Set target iqn.2009-04.apobyte.fattony:eee-box.ubuntu to automatic login over tcp to portal
    Logging out of session [sid: 3, target: iqn.2009-04.apobyte.fattony:eee-box.ubuntu, portal:,3260]
    Logout of [sid: 3, target: iqn.2009-04.apobyte.fattony:eee-box.ubuntu, portal:,3260]: successful
    discovered 1 targets at
 sudo iscsiadm -m node -p <SAN-IP> -T iqn.2009-04.apobyte.fattony:eee-box.ubuntu -l

Now you should be logged into your SAN Target (if it does not require Authentication, this could be done now by editing the config file

 sudo joe /etc/iscsi/nodes/iqn.2009-04.apobyte.fattony\:eee-box.ubuntu/\,3260\,1/default

and add the following to the config file:

  node.session.auth.username = <username>
  node.session.auth.password = <password>

now the login command will finally work which can be veriefied with the “dmesg” program. This will give you a hint, which disk you will have to partition and install ubuntu to:

 [   62.491211] scsi8 : iSCSI Initiator over TCP/IP
 [   63.540037] scsi 8:0:0:0: Direct-Access     IET      VIRTUAL-DISK     0    PQ: 0 ANSI: 4
 [   63.541815] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] 50331648 512-byte hardware sectors: (25.7 GB/24.0 GiB)
 [   63.548975] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Write Protect is off
 [   63.548979] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Mode Sense: 77 00 00 08
 [   63.550486] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Write cache: disabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA
 [   63.556047] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] 50331648 512-byte hardware sectors: (25.7 GB/24.0 GiB)
 [   63.560353] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Write Protect is off
 [   63.560357] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Mode Sense: 77 00 00 08
 [   63.565124] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdg] Write cache: disabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA

Now start the install program and install ubuntu exactly the same way you would do on a local harddrive. There is no difference at all, even grub goes onto this drive by default so nothing to take care about, except the fact you should not reboot your box right after the installation procedure.

Now mount your newly created root device (that partition you mount as “/”), if you are unsure you can use “fdisk -l /dev/sdX” to call your partition structure back to mind and create a sane environmet so that all the scripts you will use will be satisfied. I alway use a separate /boot partition, so we have to keep that in mind.

 sudo mkdir /mnt/sdc3
 sudo mount /dev/sdc3 /mnt/sdc3
 mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt/sdc3/boot/
 sudo chroot /mnt/sdc3
 sudo su -
 mount -t proc none /proc
 hostname -F /etc/hostname

Now jump back to “Preparing the initrd” and walk down the howto from there on.


Emergency Busybox Shell on Boot

The following procedure will allow you to get your system up with 2 short commands, if something went wrong and you are dropped to a Busybox Shell:

 /scripts/local-top/iscsi (This will work now out-of-the-box as the networking modules are loaded now)
 exec switch-root (to continue the boot process)

Crash on Shutdown

If ubuntu keeps crashing on system shutdown, try to disable networking and openiscsi scripts for shutdown, because shutting down the network will cause loss of the root-device:

 sudo sysv-rc-conf
 ┌ SysV Runlevel Config   -: stop service  =/+: start service  h: help  q: quit ┐
 │                                                                              │
 │ service      1       2       3       4       5       0       6       S       │
 │ ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- │
 │ networking  [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [X]     [X]     [X]      │
 │ open-iscsi  [X]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [X]     [X]     [X]      │
 │ Use the arrow keys or mouse to move around.      ^n: next pg     ^p: prev pg │
 │                        space: toggle service on / off                        │
 ┌ SysV Runlevel Config   -: stop service  =/+: start service  h: help  q: quit ┐
 │                                                                              │
 │ service      1       2       3       4       5       0       6       S       │
 │ ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- │
 │ networking  [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]      │
 │ open-iscsi  [X]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]     [ ]      │
 │ Use the arrow keys or mouse to move around.      ^n: next pg     ^p: prev pg │
 │                        space: toggle service on / off                        │

FIXME: Notes from contributors

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS / Lucid

Disclaimer: use everything in this section at your own risk! Think for yourself.

With Lucid, it is basically the same as described above, except for:

  • copying early_udev and bugfixing scripts is not necessary
  • make sure the OS image contains its target definition under /etc/iscsi/nodes/… – otherwise iscsid start will kill the connection upon boot. You get that target definition by mounting the iscsi target. iscsiadm seems to be creating it.
  • use sysv-rc-conf to remove “networking” and “open-iscsi” from *all* run levels.
  • make sure that *all* open-iscsi sysv links are gone. My experience shows that using sysv-rc-conf is *not* enough:
find /etc -name 'K*open-iscsi'
find /etc -name 'S*open-iscsi'
  • One possibly has to repeat the previous step when upgrading/reinstalling open-iscsi.
  • create /etc/init/open-iscsi.conf:
description	"Open-iSCSI"

start on filesystem
# no stopping!
exec /etc/init.d/open-iscsi start
  • Lucid detects on its own if rootfs is an iscsi target. It will prevent network shutdown on shutdown and read-only remounting of the rootfs should make sure that data gets flushed to disk.
  • For your own convenience, edit the following line in /etc/default/grub as shown below:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="ip=dhcp ISCSI_INITIATOR=<yourInitiatorName> ISCSI_TARGET_NAME=<yourTargetName> ISCSI_TARGET_IP=<yourTargetIp> ISCSI_TARGET_PORT=3260 quiet splash"


in order to prevent data loss (for example, a corrupted dpkg db), one may do the following stuff:

  • Enable data journaling. That will cut your maximum write performance in half.
  • One may increase node.session.timeo.replacement_timeout in iscsid.conf to avoid escalation of temporary connection problems to upper layers. In *my* situation it (almost) *never* makes sense to tell the ext4 driver about I/O problems because there is no fallback. It would just give me an unclean filesystem (not unmounted properly, like a hard reset). However(!!), an unclean filesystem may be better than a totally screwed one: imagine your iSCSI target host crashes, looses some data that still has not been written to disk, and the client continues to use that target without doing a journal replay first… personally, I try to avoid that situation by never starting the iSCSI target automatically (removed from init scripts, starting it manually after killing the client machines…). IMHO the iSCSI protocol is a bit dumb. The target should detect a crash and refuse session continuation after restart… again, I'm not liable for *any* sort of data loss if you act according to these explanations. You *will* screw your data. Sooner or later.
  • Additional warning: SAN boot using gpxe seems to not allow using a MaxSessions=1/MaxConnections=1 setting for the target, which would prevent concurrent accesses – a very basic need for data integrity purposes.

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