I got tired of manually fetching installation images via either FTP or by manually transferring files to z/VM to test s390x installs. Hence it was about time to automate it. Originally I wanted to instrument an installation via vmcp from another instance on the same host but I figured that I cannot really rely on a secondary instance when I need it and went the s3270/x3270-script way instead.
The resulting script isn't something I'm particularly proud of, especially as it misses error handling that really should be there. But this is not expect – instead you operate on whole screens of data and z/VM is not particularly helpful in telling you that you just completed your logon either. Anyway, it seems to work for me. It downloads the most recent stable or daily image if they are not present yet, uploads them via DFT to CMS and makes sure that the installation does not terminate when the script disconnects. Sadly DFT is pretty slow, so I'm stuck with 70 kB/s and about five minutes of waiting until kernel and initrd are finally uploaded. Given that installations themselves are usually blazingly fast on System z, I'm not too annoyed by that, though.
I previously wrote about a parmfile example that sets enough options to bring debian-installer to the point of a working network console via SSH without further prompting. It's a little unfortunate that s390-netdevice needs to be preseeded with the hardware addresses of the network card in all cases, even if only one is available. I should go and fix that. For now this means that the parmfile will be dependent on the actual VM system definition. With that in mind there is an example script in the same gist that writes out a parmfile and then calls the reinstall script mentioned above. Given that debian-installer now supports HTTPS (so far only in the daily images) you can even do a reasonably secure bootstrapping of the network console credentials and preseeding settings.
If you put this pretty generic preseed configuration file onto a securely accessible webserver and reference it from the parmfile, you can also skip the more tedious questions at the beginning of debian-installer. A secure transport is encouraged as preseed files can do anything to your installation process. Unfortunately it seems that there is no way to preseed SSH keys for the resulting installation yet, neither for the created user nor for root. So I haven't achieved my desired target of a fully automated installation just yet. Debian's Jenkins setup just went with insecure defaults, but given that my sponsored VMs are necessarily connected to the public Internet that seemed like a bad idea to me. I suppose one way out would be to IP/password ACL the preseed file. Another one to somehow get SSH key support into user-setup.