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I've got a file server running Linux that I want to be able to run headless and access it via ssh. I no longer have room for the monitor and keyboard and plan to put it in a closet or somewhere out of the way.

Once the monitor is gone I will need some way to recover the system if it crashes. I was hoping to be able to create a bootable image that can be placed on a hard drive and swapped with the bad drive.

Is this possible or is there a better way to manage a headless server without having to keep a monitor and keyboard around?

Note: I only have laptops in my house so I can't just put it with another PC and use a KVM.

UPDATE: What I mean by bootable image is a pre-configured, functioning copy of the server. I would like to be able to pull the failed or corrupt drive, insert the new one and have the server back up in minutes.

Also this is not a real server. It is a PC with lots of RAM and storage.

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3 Answers 3

Unless this server has a real server motherboard which supports serial console or serial-over-ethernet console (including access to BIOS via serial or network), I suggest you'd better keep a monitor and keyboard around, and make provisions for connecting it in case your server does not boot. Diagnosing hardware problems is nearly impossible without monitor or serial console.

Generally, keeping a spare monitor/keyboard around is much cheaper than providing a server with true out-of-band remote console access.

Cheap way to provide *some* remote recovery options

Grab any Linux "recovery" distribution, verify that it does not require any keyboard intervention till it boots, includes SSH server with a known root password, and install it on a USB stick. Make sure booting from this USB stick takes priority over your hard disk once it is inserted (so you can easily override your boot process). If you cannot access the back of your server easily, place USB "extension" cable in advance, so you can insert this USB stick with ease. This way, you'll be able to recover from boot problems on your hard disk, filesystem problems, etc., over SSH, just keep that USB stick handy.

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On normal "headless" servers, the console is redirected to one of the serial-ports. (at least in most data-centers & such) There are also options to boot into a PXE image that provides recovery options if needed... as well as one of the many bootable linux disks out there.

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Setup ssh access and use that manage your server.

Make sure you set the computer bios to start without a keyboard. i.e. ignore errors.

If it crashes you're likely going to loose data anyway and what you're planning to swap it out with may no longer be suitable. In which case you may need to plug in a screen again.

Well, still it sounds like trouble but I've had servers running for years that didn't require me plugging in a monitor/keyboard physically. But your mileage may vary.

Anyway, your desktop computer has a monitor and keyboard so you probably will get away with disposing of those old ones. Although, some hardware doesn't work too well with USB keyboards. So keep an old style one around in case.

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