HP's SmartStart is a tool that guides you through the install of an operating system onto a ProLiant server. It's a bootable CD included at no cost with every ProLiant ML and DL 300-series server (or higher). (It works on BL series, too, and there's a similar Easy Set-Up CD for the ProLiant 100 servers). Here's a trick that might help you make a SmartStart-assisted OS install super-fast.
Let me first explain what SmartStart does. Typically, you boot a bare-metal server to the SmartStart CD. From its GUI, you're guided through some preliminary configuration, like setup of RAID arrays on the local hard drives. You're asked a few questions about the OS you plan to install and what agents (if any) you'll want. You're asked to insert the OS CD or DVD, and you can walk away; the installation is handled start-to-finish, including the injection of the latest hardware-specific drivers.
With each version of SmartStart, HP has made the install process easier and quicker. SmartStart itself has a long history: it debuted with first x86 server, the Compaq SystemPro, back in 1989.
For awhile, HP has also produced a free USB Key Utility that lets you make a bootable USB key with SmartStart on it. This is actually the most popular utility downloaded from HP's Business Support Center. It's pretty easy to use (and can make other bootable images as well).
Today's larger USB keys led us to add a cool feature in SmartStart that lets you get extra value from that USB key utility. After you've created a SmartStart image on a USB key, you can just drag-and-drop an ISO image of the OS installation media onto the same key. Then, when running SmartStart, just choose the USB key itself as the source for the OS installation, instead of a CD or DVD.
Viola! Here's a video showing the subsequent SmartStart install process:
Not only does that mean that both the utility and OS image are on one piece of media, but the install runs fast. In fact, it's faster than using Dell's Unified Server Configurator tool, which replaces the Dell Server Assistant CD with a ROM-based utility.
SmartStart, USC, and similar tools are best suited for manual installs onto a small number of servers. For these scenarios, there are some aspects of Dell's USC tool that I like, because both Dell and HP share the vision of reducing the number of individual pieces of media needed, simplifying the user interface, and speeding up the whole process. For folks with more servers, or more frequent OS deployment, folks typically use centralized image repositories and license management, making scriptable, multi-server tools like Insight Control server deployment.