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Category: Network (Page 2 of 2)

Updated Gaucho Network

For quite some time now, I’ve been wanting to upgrade my office network, which doubles as my home network as well. From the business standpoint, I wanted some more reliable equipment along with some added security by enabling me to connect to the office network over a VPN when I’m on the road. From the home standpoint, I wanted to add a couple of ethernet outlets upstairs, mostly to enable the quick transfer of media from the file server downstairs, as wireless can be pretty slow.

A few weeks ago, I finally took the initiative and started looking at some equipment. For networking, no one is going to blame you for ordering Cisco equipment, so I started there. Their routers start at about $350-400 and move up from there pretty quickly, which is more than I originally was looking to spend, so I started looking at a few other brands. Brands like ZyXEL offer less-expensive business-grade equipement at about half the price, and I checked all the high-end equipment offered by consumer brands like Netgear and Linksys.

It didn’t take long to rule out the consumer equipment. While a lot of the features were there, I was constantly running into reviews complaining about reliability issues, and to me that was a key issue. Another common issue with consumer equipment was bandwidth capacity. A lot of them only handled around 15MBits, with some others moving up to 50-75MBits. VPN speeds were definitely slower, most of the time running around 10MBits because of the extra processing required to encrypt the packets. Ignoring VPN, these routers were faster than my network connection (10MBits), but I was looking more for something to handle up to 100MBits so it would grow with my connection for many years to come. Despite this limitation, a lot of them had gigabit connections on the WAN side. Not sure why…

While doing my research, I kept going back to look at the Cisco router. I was looking specifically at their ASA line of products. The ASA line replaces the older PIX routers, and there is quite a model spread from the 5505 for small office environments, all the way up to the 5580 for the enterprise. Even at the low-end, the 5505 was able to handle 150MBits of throughput for unencrypted traffic, and an impressive 100Mbits of VPN traffic bandwidth. All of the reviews said the device was rock-solid and never crashed. Setup seemed to be a bit more difficult, with a lot of it taking place on a command line, but I have some past experience with Cisco’s IOS and thought this would be a good time to brush up on my knowledge. Finally, with support for VLANs, an 8 port Cisco switch built-in with 2 power-over-ethernet ports, and an insane 10,000 simultaneous connections supported, it was hard not to like this device.

I ended up going for it, and shiny new 5505 is sitting on my desk. The device is a lot easier to configure than I originally expected. The device arrives with a dynamic configuration by default, so it just worked when I plugged it in to my network. There is an online Java application that is hosted on an HTTPS server. Configuring the VPN end-point and getting the iPhone to connect to it and split-tunnel all traffic through the router took all of 20 minutes. It’s taking me a little longer to configure my Mac to connect over the VPN, but I just need to spend some more time on it. I find it ironic that the iPhone is more prepared for the enterprise than the Mac is. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Switching gears a little bit here, from the home side of adding additional outlets, I bought a 24 port patch panel to punch down all the cabling on, and 500 feet of Cat 5e to wire it all up. Cat 6 was definitely a consideration but it cost twice as much, and with Cat 5e handling gigabit just fine I saw no need to spend the extra money. If 10-gigabit starts becoming standard, I’ll just upgrade the cabling in my office.

Dropping the lines from upstairs has been a bit more difficult than I was expecting. I naively expected to be able to look up the wall from the basement and see the outlet connection box from below. Of course, this isn’t the case, as each wall has a bottom 2×4 to complete that edge of the frame. I’m still working on finding the best way to send the wire through a small hole in the connection box, and target a small hole at the bottom of the wall frame.

I still have some work to do, but will try to update this with photos when the job is completed. Stay tuned.

Customer Service

There have been two instances of excellent customer service that I’ve experienced recently. The service offered in both instances was so good, that I decided to blog about them.

The first experience took place just before WWDC this year. Usually after a year of hammering on a laptop battery, I pick up a fresh battery before the conference, simply because it’s important that the laptop works all day while taking notes in the sessions. Usually I replace the battery with an Apple standard battery, but this year I decided to give a third party a shot. FastMac has a battery for the MacBook Pro that claims it will last longer than the Apple one, and it’s about $20-30 cheaper too. I ordered it and waited patiently for it to arrive.

After hearing nothing for about a week (and WWDC getting dangerously close), I decided to give them a call. The person I talked to was apologetic, stating that they ran out of stock just before my order was placed. Bummer. Fortunately, FastMac did have new Apple batteries in stock, and not only did they offer to switch my order, they added rush shipping to make sure it would arrive before the conference, and knocked the price down to $10 less than they were charging for their own battery. The unit arrived with a day or two to spare, and overall it was a great example of a company going the extra mile.

The second experience happened just a few days ago. I’m installing a new network here at the office, and part of that new network was a Cisco router. As usual, I ordered the new equipment from NewEgg. It arrived, and seemed to work okay out of the box, but for some reason I was unable to connect to the device using the ASDM or over the web configuration interface. I called up Cisco, and the tech I spoke with there spent an hour and a half on the phone with me trying to troubleshoot the issue. The nice thing was their use of WebEx to help troubleshoot, so they could share my Desktop here and work with the router themselves directly. In the end, it was determined that the router I received had a corrupted flash chip, because we were unable to write any new data to the flash disk.

I went through NewEgg’s online exchange interface, and it was looking like I needed to pay to ship the damaged router back to them (shipping of the replacement device was free). I was a bit put off by this. While I agree it wasn’t NewEgg’s fault I received a bum router, I also shouldn’t pay extra for something that wasn’t my fault either. When calling up NewEgg to ask an unrelated question, the representative I was speaking to noticed that I was charged shipping to return the damaged device. Not only did he refund the return shipping amount, but he also put through an order for the new device to ship before they received the damaged one. To top it all off, he upgraded the shipping on the replacement to next-day air for free.

In this last situation, both Cisco and NewEgg get major props for great service. The new router arrived and it’s worked perfectly from the get-go.

MicroNet G-Force MegaDisk NAS Review

If you have been following my Twitter feed, you know that I just ordered a 1TB NAS last week for the office network here. I wanted some no-fuss storage sitting on the network so I could backup my data and store some archive information there instead of burning everything to DVD. (In reality, I’ll still probably burn archive data to DVD just to have a backup.)

Earlier this month, MicroNet released the G-Force MegaDisk NAS (MDN1000). The features were good and the price was right so I bought one. It finally arrived today and I’ve been spending some time getting to know the system and performing some benchmarks.

When opening the box, the first thing that surprised me was the size of the device. It’s really not much bigger than 2 3.5″ hard drives stacked on top of each other. The case is pretty sturdy, made out of aluminum, but the stand is a joke. Basically, two metal pieces came with rubber pads on them. You’re supposed to put a metal piece on each side to support the case. It’s not very sturdy, and a pain to setup like this, so I doubt I’ll use them.

I had a few problems reaching the device on my network when I plugged it in. I had to cycle the power a couple of times before I was finally able to pick it up on the network and login to the web interface. I’m guessing future firmware updates will make the setup process easier. It’s running Linux, which is nice. The firmware version is 2.6.1, so I’m guessing that means the kernel is version 2.6 (nmap identifies it as kernel 2.6.11 – 2.6.15). Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before someone’s hacked it with ssh access. MicroNet’s website claims there is an embedded dual-core processor on board, which again sounds pretty cool. The OS requires just under 61MB of space on one of the hard drives. There are two 500GB drives in this unit. Both are Hitachi (HDT725050VLA360) models, which are SATA2 drives that run at 7200 RPM with 16MB of cache. From the web interface, it looks like the disks are mounted at /dev/hdc and /dev/hdd.

Disk management is pretty straightforward. You can select a format for each disk (ext2, ext3, fat32), and there is an option to encrypt the content on the disk. The drives are monitored via the SMART interface, and you can view the reports in detail via the web. By default, the drives come in a striped RAID format, but I was able to remove the RAID and access each disk separately (contrary to the documentation’s claims). Unfortunately, for some reason I was unable to access the second disk over NFS. It looks like you might be able to mess with the web configuration page to get around this limitation though.

Moving on to the RAID configuration, you can choose between RAID 0, RAID 1, and Linear (JBOD). Ext2 and ext3 are your filesystem options. Building a RAID 1 took a very long time (~ 4 hours), which I’m guessing is because the disks require a full sync of all 500GB of data when initializing such a partition.

So let’s bust out the benchmarks! I benchmarked by performing 2 different copies. One copy was a single 400.7MB file (LARGE FILE), and the other was a directory with 4,222 files totally 68.7MB (SMALL FILES). All tests were performed over a gigabit Ethernet network from my 2.5Ghz G5 desktop machine. Transfers were done via the Terminal with the time command, to remove any human-error from the equation.

A note about testing Samba with SMALL FILES: I started running a write test and let it go for around 8 minutes. At that point, it was still only done copying around a quarter of the files, and the transfer rate averaged less than 20KB/sec. This was absurdly slow, so I didn’t bother waiting for the full test to go through. It’s difficult to say if this is a limitation of the NAS, Samba, Mac OS X or all of the above.

Striped RAID (Standard) NFS Samba
Write LARGE FILE 1:13 (5,544 KB/sec) 0:42 (9,542 KB/sec)
Read LARGE FILE 0:42 (9,769 KB/sec) 0:35 (11,723 KB/sec)
Write SMALL FILES 3:46 (310 KB/sec) DNF
Read SMALL FILES 0:39 (1,759 KB/sec) DNF
Mirrored RAID NFS Samba
Write LARGE FILE 1:17 (5,328 KB/sec) 0:47 (8,730 KB/sec)
Read LARGE FILE 0:40 (10,257 KB/sec) 0:41 (10,007 KB/sec)
Write SMALL FILES 3:44 (314 KB/sec) DNF
Read SMALL FILES 0:43 (1,636 KB/sec) DNF
Separate Disks NFS Samba
Write LARGE FILE 1:13 (5,620 KB/sec) 0:43 (9,542 KB/sec)
Read LARGE FILE 0:46 (8,919 KB/sec) 0:35 (11,723 KB/sec)
Write SMALL FILES 3:11 (368 KB/sec) DNF
Read SMALL FILES 0:42 (1,675 KB/sec) DNF

All of these were using standard mounting, either through the Finder’s browse window, or mount -t nfs with no options on the console. I decided to try tweaking the NFS parameters to see if I could squeeze any more speed out of it. The following results are all using a striped RAID configuration…

  no options wsize=16384
Write LARGE FILE 1:13
(5,544 KB/sec)
(6,838 KB/sec)
(6,954 KB/sec)
Read LARGE FILE 0:42
(9,769 KB/sec)
(12,822 KB/sec)
(12,822 KB/sec)
Write SMALL FILES 3:46
(311 KB/sec)
(310 KB/sec)
(372 KB/sec)
(1,759 KB/sec)
(1,675 KB/sec)
(1,758 KB/sec)

In summary, while this NAS isn’t necessarily the fastest out there, it’s certainly fast enough, especially after some tweaking. A RAID configuration doesn’t necessarily improve performance on this device. All of the transfer rates were about the same, regardless of format. You’ll notice slightly slower speeds for a RAID 1, but the difference is minimal. Before tweaking, Samba had a clear lead in transfer rates on large files, but it was completely unusable with smaller files. After modifying the NFS mount parameters, it seems to give the best of both worlds.

Update: I researched the Samba performance (or lack thereof) and found that it is not the fault of the NAS. Using a Windows XP box, writing small files went at a reasonable pace (around the same as using NFS above). Then, testing from my MacBook Pro with an OS that shall not be named, performance was similar to the Windows XP machine. I’m going to attribute this to a bug in the Samba code between version 3.0.10 on the G5 and 3.0.25 on the MacBook Pro.

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