I have a macbook pro 15" early 2011 model, which I would like to install linux on (dual boot setup). However, I don't have an optical drive for it since I replaced it with an SSD. I need some way to boot the linux installer. I have tried booting from a USB flash drive, from a partition on an external HDD connected over firewire, and even using a virtual machine (which surprisingly was the most successful attempt).
Should my computer be able to boot from some of these media I listed above, if so, are there any good resources that might show me what I was doing wrong?
I have an external optical drive that connects over USB if that helps.
Is there a way I could set up a network-boot solution? I have a mac mini running mountain lion that I can use.