As a promotion, OVH has been giving away free dedicated servers for a full year. I was quick to respond to the promotion, and have been using my free server for a couple of weeks now.

As the hardware is rather limited, I meanly use it for some backup and easy downloading purposes:

  • CPU: Intel Celeron
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Disk: 250GB
  • Uplink: 100Mbit
  • Traffic: unlimited

As I was trying to get the OpenVPN client working, I noticed that OVH uses heavily modified kernels to optimize performance. The downside is that these kernels aren’t modular and hard to modify.

I decided to try and install my own Debian OS onto the box. Unfortunately, there’s no DRAC/ILO/IPMI card present, so I cannot simply boot an ISO or physical CD. Here’s what I had to do to get the Debian network installation working:

(see here for a bash script that does it for you)

Step 1 – Install or use a OVH Debian system

Using the OVH Manager, install a Debian 5.0 32 bits distro. Partitioning isn’t important, as you can repartition the entire disk when installing the clean debian.

Step 2 – Preparing the boot of the installer

Log into the newly installed server using SSH and execute the following commands:

wget http://ftp.nl.debian.org/debian/dists/testing/main/installer-i386/current/images/netboot/mini.iso
mkdir -p /mnt/iso
mount -o loop mini.iso /mnt/iso
cp /mnt/iso/initrd.gz /boot/initrd-debinst.gz
cp /mnt/iso/linux /boot/vmlinuz-debinst
aptitude -y install grub
mkdir /boot/grub
nano /boot/grub/menu.lst

Fill menu.lst with the following info: (save using [ctrl]+[x])

default 0
timeout 30
title Install Debian
root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-debinst vga=normal ramdisksize=11057 root=/dev/rd/0 devfs=mount,dall rw –
initrd /boot/initrd-debinst.gz

Execute the following commands:

grub-install /dev/sda
grub-install –recheck /dev/sda
poweroff

Step 3 – Launching the installer

Now go into the OVH Manager again, and select netboot option ‘vKVM’ and reboot.
Login to you vKVM console (see the e-mail you recieved) and start installing Debian the way you like it!
When partitioning, please be carefull: it seems there’s a bug in either Debian or QEMU, as the physical disk is displayed twice: once as an IDE disk (hda)  and once as an SCSI disk (sda). Please ignore one of the two: do not remove partitions or edit it in any other way.