Update: what about a liveCD to get started, instead of bios's support for network boot? And then continue the boot using the contents of a HGFS network drive? Might this be simpler?
The network boot option is looking for a PXE server that the machine will use to provide its boot image, not what you are trying to do exactly.
If you create a workstation image, you can use a network drive,but when you create a disk, make sure you do not select to allocate all space immediately. That way, you don't have to worry about decreasing drive size, as it will be thin to begin with.
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Not counting non-persistent disks the only way to avoid having to occasionally shrink a disk is to preallocate it so it doesn't matter from where it's running if it's a sparse disk it's going to grow and at some point you''ll need to shrink it to regain Host disk space.
You said:"If you create a workstation image, you can use a network drive". By workstation image here, do you mean a .vmdk file? If yes, I do not see any benefit in putting the .vmdk on a network drive, it still needs shrinking now and then. And I want to keep my changes so non-persistent is not an option, and I want to economize on space so pre-allocated is not an option either.
Can a PXE Server be a VM with raw access to a physical drive? If this VM provides the boot image for each PXE client VM, can't it also provide some space for the client VM to keep its data?