PXE – Preboot Execution Environment
Usually pronounced “Pixie”
For those who have visited or work in a corporate office, have you ever noticed how many workstations there are??? A LOT! Now you might also wonder how the respective IT department is able to deploy Operating Systems to these workstations. Almost every company/organization doesn’t want their IT department spending too much time on this, so installing and configuring every machine individually is out of the question.
Smaller organizations might store a preconfigured “image” of an OS on a portable storage medium (e.g. USB flash drive, portable hard drive), with all prerequisite drivers and programs already slip-streamed or injected into the image. But this method still requires you to be present to copy the image to the workstation. Most larger organizations won’t be doing it this way either.
So that brings us to network-based Operating System installation and configuration. In order to do this, we need to use a boot protocol called PXE (usually pronounced “Pixie”). Pretty much any modern BIOS/UEFI boot firmware will include an option to boot the workstation over the network using PXE. This will use the wired network card to get IP from DHCP to gain network access. Afterwards, a Proxy DHCP address is obtained which is the address of the boot server. A small bootloader will be retrieved from this server via TFTP, which will then perform the remainder of the boot process.
In terms of imaging, PXE will boot the workstation into an imaging console from your respective computer imaging software. This will allow you to pull an image from an imaging server an apply it to the local workstation. In fact, you don’t even have to be physically present at the workstation for any part of the process. If Wake-on-LAN is enable in the BIOS/UEFI, you can power on the machine over the network, have it boot via PXE, and run an unattended installation.