Another Long Winding Cisco Road

So, lately I’ve been investigating buying new routing and networking equipment for home, as the NBN (Australia’s FTTH roll-out) is coming closer and my old ADSL2+ modem/router (a Billion 7800NL, one of the first consumer routers capable of IPv6) was getting a bit long in the tooth; the configuration is not retained across reboots and the web interface crashes with HTTP 500 errors more often than not.

So, out with the old an in with the new. There were a few choices:

  • A new consumer-grade router, such as one of the newer models from Billion (which are quite good, but have low tinkerability).
  • A Mikrotik-based solution. This was a close call, as I’m a fan of Mikrotik and my friend Jamie is even more of one (he loves them). However, I want to get more experience with Cisco products as I want to be able to put that on my résumé. Hence, I wanted a Cisco solution.
  • I also considered the Cisco 2801, as they are not much more than an 1841, but have four HWIC slots instead of two, so I wouldn’t have to spend time deciding which HWICs to get, I could just have them all! However, the fans are apparently very loud (as professional rackmount gear tends to be) which would not suit the living room locale very well at all.
  • So in the end I settled on a Cisco 1841. Lower fan noise, still supports HWICs for swap-out fun and excitement, and has the full features of the IOS software available.
My new Cisco 1841
My new Cisco 1841

You may have noticed I didn’t go for a Cisco 1801 which has ADSL support built in. This is deliberate, as the NBN is closing in on my street and I don’t want to be left with a router that supports old technologies – all I will need for a fibre connection is an ethernet port, which the 1841 has two of out of the box. I can also add in 3G backup connections (which is more of a want than a need) as well as things like WIC-1AM or WIC-2T modules (i.e. utterly useless but kind of cool).

For wireless, I’m undecided as to what direction to go in. I definitely want something dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) as my laptop supports dual band and I want to invest in technology that will last at least a couple of years. This rules out most consumer gear quite quickly. A Mikrotik solution is another option and is probably the front-runner. The second option is a UniFi AP Pro, which supports a whole host of cool features like multiple VLANs and SSIDs etc; it’s a little cheaper than a Mikrotik solution but also a lot less flexible. Finally, the most expensive option is to buy a wireless card for the 1841. There are many problems with this approach: I’ll use up an HWIC slot, the modules are incredibly expensive, it’s not even 802.11n, likely to be a complete pain in the neck to configure, and not dual-band. The only benefit is that it keeps everything in one box.

I’ve only received the router in the last week or so, and the eBay auctions for WIC modules haven’t yet finished. There’s a long way to go yet. So wish me luck on my path to routing enlightenment!

My new Mikrotik Love

Recently I’ve begun playing around with Mikrotik routers as part of my normal day job, and I’m really impressed by them! I’ve now used two different models:

  • The RB2011LS-IN, which I’ve set up as an edge router on our backup SHDSL link, so that I can do more complex routing than a normal consumer router could do, and survive the high-usage scenarios that our old router (a Cisco 877 router with suspect stability) was stressed by.
  • The RB751U-2HnD, which I’ve now set up two of: one as the main router in a small business, providing two virtual access points; and a secondary switch and access point to that same network.

I’m really loving both the web interface and the Windows GUI interface, but the fact you still retain the command-line interface as well (like a Cisco device) is pretty cool. The fact that it uses the same operating system across all devices is also great, as it means a nice upgrade path exists if we want it.

As far as I can see, Mikrotik routers are basically Cisco gear without the indestructible casing (though don’t get me wrong, Mikrotik stuff is still pretty well built) and a price tag that’s a fifth of what an equivalent Cisco router would cost (usually even less!).

I’m seriously considering buying a Routerboard for home; the only thing they lack as far as I can see is an ADSL2+ port. I reckon I’ll just use a simple TP-Link modem in bridge mode until my home gets provided with a fibre-to-the-premises link (hopefully) later this year. I’m not yet sure what model I’ll buy. My heart really wants a rackmount device, because rackmount is codeword for cool, but my brain says something from the RB751 series or the RB433 series would do the trick.

Cisco Catalyst 3550 Fan Mod

First of all, the usual warning: I take no responsibility for any harm done to yourself or your equipment if you decide to take my lead and mod the fan on your switch. It’s your fault for listening to some guy on the Internet you’ve never met.

A little while ago I acquired some old 3550 switches from a friend, and I haven’t used them much because they’re horrifically loud. Recently though, I decided to try and make them quiet enough to leave on in the living room. While I didn’t succeed, I made enough of a difference that I thought it might be worth sharing.

Please note that this mod isn’t going to work if your switch is a) under warranty; b) installed in an equipment rack with hot/cold aisles; or c) you don’t like taking the cover off equipment that has 240v inside.

Basically, the gist is this: The fan inside the switch has a cover on it. By removing half of the cover (the half that isn’t attached to the fan motor) and then mounting the fan upside down, you reduce the vibrations of the fan’s casing. Please also note that the outlet fan is thus turned into an intake fan; it takes cold air from the back of the router and blows it over the power supply unit.

The finished fan installation. Much quieter!

Research on the Internet (#cisco on Freenode and some forums) led me to decide that complete removal of the fan wasn’t an option, due to the switch overheating. I then wanted to replace the fan with a quieter computer fan, but the connector, though the same, is wired differently. Though I own (and can operate) a soldering iron, I’m also quite lazy. Turning the fan upside down (as suggested by a friend) was much easier!

Update 2011-08-17: I initially tried this with my non-PoE switch. Today I tried this with my PoE switch and tested it running a few PoE devices. It quickly overheated, so I don’t recommend this with the PoE (inline power) models.

Back at University

Today, seeing that I haven’t done so for a while now, comes an update on my life.

I’ve just started my second year at university. My degree is supposed to be three years long, but I’ll stretch it out to three and a half because I failed stuff bigger is better. I’m still doing computing. This year comes one of the units I’ve eagerly anticipated: Algorithms. It’s programming in C, finally, after a year of Java. Also comes a not-so anticipated unit, ICT Project Management. It’s as dull as it sounds.

I’m not really sure why I’m at university. Mostly just because I can’t figure out anything else worth doing. I could go get a job, but having done that before, university seems much easier. I enjoy playing around with computers and programming, but I’m not quite confident that I really want a job as a programmer… I should probably figure that out soonish.

After resigning from Principal Computers again before I left to move to Berlin in July last year (which I ended up not doing, sadly enough), I’m now back there working Saturdays again. And I still jump every time the phone rings. Talk about Pavlov’s dog.

I’ve started playing around with Cisco networking gear again. This time I’ve got a 3550 switch, which strangely enough is more of a 24-port router than a switch. It can do some weird and wonderful things. I can’t wait to do the networking unit at university.

Some more rack gear

Over the Christmas/New Year period, I was simultaneously browsing eBay for junk and trying to come up with some more stuff to stick in my server rack, which I had just finished moving under my house (picture of it here). A very dangerous combination. After a small delay of contemplation into which model I should get, I ended up buying a Cisco 2610 router second hand. I hope to achieve a few things with this purchase:

  1. Firstly, I want to learn to configure Cisco routers properly, with the goal of some day in the distant future getting a CCNA qualification.
  2. Secondly, I needed to fill some more space in my rack.
  3. I wanted a modem/router near my server. At the moment my server is connected to the Internet via a wireless connection to a modem at the other end of the house.

I received the router in the mail yesterday, and I was a bit dissapointed. Unfortunately the front bezel had come off, which was a bit annoying. I can glue it back on though, and it’s only a cosmetic thing anyway. Far more important is that they hadn’t shipped it with rack ears, which is one of three reasons I bought it. I sent an email off, and a set of rack ears is on its way.

To make the router useful, you can add any number of different cards (such as for ISDN, ADSL, T1, and so on). Cisco calls these things WICs, for WAN Interface Card. I had to buy an ADSL one. It cost twice as much as the router did, because the ADSL WIC is still used in production, where the router is end-of-life. I also bought an external 56k dialup modem, so that I can set up a backup Internet service (which hopefully will autotomatically switch over) in case my ADSL line drops out (which it does once every three years, for about an hour).

At the moment I’m still waiting on a console cable to connect the router to my PC for the initial configuration. Once I’ve got that, I’ll get stuck into the configuration, and hopefully not blow anything up too badly…