This week, I’m doing something rare and actually stepping back a generation of hardware. I usually try to keep the latest and greatest around here, within reason, but with this I just can’t help it.

Back in 2008 I purchased a Cisco ASA 5505 firewall/router. It has worked perfectly since then, and I probably only use 10% of its amazing feature set. I have it configured to forward a bunch of ports (using NAT/PAT), provide VPN service for my devices while I’m out of the office, and do basic packet inspection to avoid DoS attacks and other issues. The router has never once crashed on me and has stayed online for hundreds of days at a time without any issue.

So why am I replacing it? Well, it turns out that Cisco’s licensing absolutely cripples the 5505. I have a 10 user license, which I thought would be plenty when I bought it. Of course, this was before all the extra mobile devices, game devices, webcams, and printers were added to the network. I quickly passed this 10 device limit and am well on my way to three times that. Everything has WiFi built-in these days, and 10 devices just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I looked into what it would cost to upgrade the ASA to a 50 user license and an unlimited license. The upgrade to a 50 user license is around $250, and the unlimited license is a $350 upgrade. That’s more than I spent on the router hardware itself.

For the past couple years, I’ve gotten around the limitation by segmenting the network. I put my main systems (development Mac, the file server, etc) on the primary network connected to ASA, and have connected everything else to a second subnet that uses an Airport Extreme as a gateway. So the ASA only sees a few devices on the primary network, and everything else hides behind the Airport. This works pretty well, but the Airport Extreme bottlenecks communication between the two subnets, and devices on the primary network can’t connect to devices on the secondary network.

I’m tired of it. So this week when I saw someone on Craigslist was selling a PIX 515e firewall, I jumped at the chance to have an unrestricted network. Even though the PIX is a few years older, it’s a higher-end model so it can handle 50% more bandwidth than the ASA (up to 190 mbps). If I ever wanted to segment the network again, the PIX supports up to 25 VLANs. And the previous owner added a memory upgrade, so it runs the same OS version that my newer ASA has. There really isn’t a drawback I can see.

Of course I am still keeping the Airport Extreme on the network. I definitely don’t want to give up wireless. But now the Airport can act as a bridge and allow two-way traffic between wired and wireless clients. I also brought all wired devices from the secondary network back onto the primary, where they can talk to each other directly using a 24 port gigabit smart switch. It is a much faster and cleaner setup.

Here’s a shot of the home network rack since the upgrade.

Home Office Rack