About rsts11

Big data integrator/evangelist I suppose. Formerly a deep generalist sysadmin and team lead, still a coffee guru, and who knows what else...

Straying into Ubiquiti territory for a home network experiment, part 1

As many of you know, I run my home, lab, and store networks primarily on Meraki gear. Employee discounts and internal system engineer promos make it a reasonably priced platform for me, but I can understand why non-Cisco employees might not build out a substantial home network on their own dime with Meraki.

Having cut directly over from the Linksys WRT1900AC as a router to a mix of MX security appliances, MS switches, and MR access points, I didn’t really take the time to evaluate other options. However, with many friends getting into Ubiquiti, I figured it was worth trying that platform out, especially when some of the devices went on sale at a local computer store.

In this post I’ll talk about the initial deployment and the gear I’ve purchased. I do have a few items from Ubiquiti that I won’t be using for this environment (like the EdgeRouters and a couple of relatively ancient 24v POE access points).

Spoiler: I’m still a big Meraki fan, and if I were deploying in a business environment where I didn’t want to tweak much or where I wanted enterprise-grade features, I’d still lean toward that platform. However, for a home network, home office, or early stage  startup, the Ubiquiti option is definitely worth a look.

Initial Bill of Materials

ubnt-cloudkey-aa-1.jpg

UC-CK Cloud Key, with two AA batteries for scale

Note that Amazon offers some combos with multiple elements, like this $349 combo with Cloud Key, Switch, and Security Gateway. You may be able to get quicker shipping and/or save a buck or two that way, but look around at the combos to see what makes the most sense. If you decide to buy multiples, there may be discounted packs of devices (like this 5-pack of AP-AC-PRO which saves you about $15 per device).

You’ll also find the items on Newegg, including Newegg on eBay, Central Computers (if you’re in the SF Bay Area), and direct from Ubiquiti. If you use the Amazon or eBay links above, we get a few bucks that will go back into gear to review here and on rsts11travel.

Why did I choose this particular gear?

ubnt cloudkey

UniFi Cloud Key

Like Meraki, Ubiquiti uses the concept of a “cloud controller.” Unlike Meraki, you can place the controller on your own private cloud, or purchase a “Cloud Key” to run on your own network for management. There is still a “public” website to view and manage the network, but you can access the local controller via ssh, https, or a mobile app.

Since I don’t currently have a full-time system running that would host the controller, I chose to buy the older Cloud Key. They have newer versions, with more powerful controller hardware, battery  backup, and more features, but since this is meant to be a basic deployment on a budget (and I wanted to pick up the cloud key locally), I went with the first gen device. This device is about the size of four AA  batteries; can be powered by PoE or a USB cable; and of course still requires a LAN connection even if powered by USB.

ubnt accesspoint

UniFi AC Pro

For wireless access, there are over a dozen different AP models, compared and contrasted on the Ubiquiti knowledgebase. The three devices in the “wave 1” family (UniFi AC) include the Lite, the LR (long range), and the Pro. My decision on the Pro was based primarily on “ooh, it’s on sale” but I’m pretty comfortable with the features including extended 5GHz radio rate of 1300 Mbps, and the dual Ethernet ports for redundancy.

ubnt switch

UniFi Switch 8 60W

The switch is meant to let me offload both the AP and the Cloud Key from their current home on my Meraki MS42P switch, so that I can put them behind the security gateway for more thorough testing. The AP uses 9 watts and the Cloud Key uses 5 watts, so the 60 watt PoE switch should be enough for the near term.  There is a 150 watt version (US-8-150W, for about $190) with two additional SFP modules, if you do need more power. And interestingly, the switch is the only piece in the bill of materials that has a metal shell as opposed to plastic.

ubnt security gateway

Unifi Security Gateway 3-port

Finally, with the USG security gateway, I get additional visibility into the Internet connection itself and my use thereof. Without the USG in the data path, I can see per-device information within my network, and status of the APs and switches, but I don’t have the visibility at a network level.

Starting the deployment

I bought the access point first, and went back a day or two later for the cloud key once I decided not to run the controller on my own hardware. So the CK went up first, plugged in via the tiny Ethernet cable to a port on my Meraki PoE switch.

When I logged in, of course, it was behind a few versions on the firmware. I had issues with firmware updates and “adopting” the device into my Ubiquiti cloud portal. The adoption failed claiming the device was unreachable, and the firmware upgrade didn’t seem to start, much less complete.

So I ended up doing some minor workarounds using some steps from a community post here for the firmware update. I wish I could remember the fix for the adoption, although I suspect I’ll figure it out again on a future device and can report back then.

Once the Cloud Key was recognized, updated, and working properly, I adopted the Access Point and updated it. I configured a wireless network and went downstairs from the home office to connect my iPad to the new network and test it out.

Not surprisingly, the network was as fast and efficient as it was through the MR34 at the same distance. I did learn from the Ubiquiti interface that there were at least 50 networks detected by the AP-AC-PRO, which was slightly surprising. Despite that, I’m seeing about 20% utilization on 2.4GHz and 3% utilization on 5GHz and noticeable but not overwhelming “interference” registering primarily on 2.4GHz.

I also realized that the extra MR34 downstairs, connected through an MS220-8P switch that was uplinked through Powerline networking, was definitely throttling my connectivity when I associated with it. Unplugging the AP forced my iPad to connect to the upstairs MR34, and I didn’t have any issues even at the distance. So for now, the Powerline network is driving two tiny Verium miners and my two printers, as well as an Intel NUC in the living room.

What comes next?

After reorganizing a bit of the home office, I’ll be turning up the USG security gateway and the 8-port switch very soon. At that point I’m likely to put all four pieces behind my secondary Internet connection (to enable the home network SLA to be maintained), and run some traffic through it.

I’m also giving serious thought to powering the USG through a PoE splitter like the Wifi Texas one ($18 on Amazon) so that all four devices can be powered from a single wall outlet (for the switch).

Check in soon for the second part of this journey, and feel free to share any suggestions, comments, references, designs, etc in the comments below.

 

 

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Good news on the USB-C to Lightning front… maybe…

There are a few power units I’ve been using, testing, and documenting over the last many months. It’s easy to get 5V 2.4A charging, and Qualcomm Quick Charge standards (or Anker’s analogue to them) are pretty easy too. But there’s a somewhat new charging consideration that’s lighting up even more this year, with a possible catch.

When Apple released the iPad Pro (12.9″ 1st generation) in 2015, it was an amazing media consumption and even creation device. Support for the new Apple Pencil for creative types, a huge beautiful screen, and a huge 10Ah 38Whr battery… what’s not to like?

How about charging that huge battery?

Aye, there’s the rub. The iPad Pro came with a 12 watt USB-A charger like iPhones did, and a USB-A to Lightning cable like iPhones did. It’s what Apple had available, and it would probably recharge your iPad Pro in 4-6 hours. (As you can see on the right, mine hasn’t left the box in about 3 years.)

Soon, though, Apple released a USB-C to Lightning cable, which would allow you to charge at about 28 watts (that’s 2.3x as fast on a good day). This cable also opened the door to directly connecting to the new USB-C Macbooks, and with the 30W or better Apple chargers, you could get that 28 watt charge going. Most USB Power Delivery chargers and battery packs at 29 watts or higher can also rapid charge your iPad Pro.

When the iPhone 8 generation came out, Apple started supporting a rapid charge at 18 watts for those devices, and newer iPad non-Pro models (in the last year) have also taken on the faster charge rates.

The catch was, Apple did not sell or license their USB-C rapid charge chips for third party manufacturers. So while some overseas companies made USB-C to Lightning cables, they couldn’t charge faster than the standard USB-A cable, and wouldn’t be MFI-certified. So $19-35 went to Apple for each of those cables, and you got your rapid charging.

You also got typical Apple cable sturdiness (such as it is), which left many people replacing cables and grumbling.

But then, it all changed

Anker USB-C to Lightning Cable

Now that Apple is moving to USB-C for charging their devices, they’re also allowing third party USB-C to Lightning cables by licensing the C89 and similar connectors/chips.

Anker announced one last month at CES, pre-orderable now on their website and shipping later this month, and a crowdfunding project from a company called Cascade Cables is also promising such a cable coming in April.

These new cables are sturdier, potentially more aesthetically pleasing, and the Anker cable is priced lower than the Apple version by a couple of bucks. Now the question is whether these cables will support the full range of charging rates that those of us with larger devices will need.

Cascade USB-C to Lightning Cable

Anker responded to an inquiry on Facebook about the iPad Pro charge rate by telling me that my iPad had USB-C and I could use USB-C to USB-C cabling. Alas, the 2015 iPad Pro doesn’t have USB-C, and they didn’t follow up on the question. However, their pre-order page says it uses USB Power Delivery, which has me feeling optimistic.

I’ve inquired with Cascade Cables as to whether they’ve tested with 28W devices. I’ll update this post if I hear back from them.

It takes more than a cable

With the higher power cabling, whether from Apple or a third party, you’ll need a USB-C Power Delivery charger to negotiate the higher power level.

The easy option is to pick up an Apple USB-C Macbook charger.

If you already have one for your Macbook, you can use it to rapid-charge your iOS devices as well. And note that if you have another USB-C charged laptop (like a Dell XPS 13 or XPS 15, a newer Lenovo, and so forth), you can use the Apple chargers as long as they feed enough wattage to charge your device.

For the third party side, I’ve had very good experiences with Anker, so it’s worth considering a charger from them that provides at least 29 watts on USB-C, like the Powerport II ($30) or Powerport Speed+ Duo ($26). The Powerport II offers up to 19.5 watts on USB-A, which is good for quick-charge devices or iPhone 8 or later; the Speed+ Duo is limited to 12 watts on USB-A.

If you’re patient, Anker has also announced their entry into the GaN (gallium nitride) charging field, the Powerport Atom PD1 charger which gives 30 watts of juice in a tiny form factor. It’s listed on their website for pre-order on Amazon, but Amazon is currently offering email alerts for when it’s available to order. I’ll update when that comes out of unobtanium as well. I have the RavPower 45W GaN charger in house, and will be writing that up soon too.

And if you want to see what power profile your charger is negotiating, regardless of which charger or cable you use, I’ve used the Plugable ($20) and Satechi ($30, right) USB-C power meters with good results. You don’t need a power meter to just charge your devices, but it can be useful to troubleshoot slow charging, flaky cables, or power profile mismatches (like the ones we’ve experienced with the Dell XPS 13 9370).

Where do we go from here?

As the newer cables come out, I’ll be acquiring and testing them. Same goes for the new PD1 charger from Anker. With an iPhone 8 Plus, a 2017 iPad Pro 10.5, and a 2015 iPad Pro 12.9 in the house, rapid charging is an important topic.

I’ll also have some updated coverage on battery packs to rapid charge your iOS devices, and even charge your USB-C Power Delivery laptops. The new HyperJuice “World’s Most Powerful USB-C Battery Pack” and Omni Ultimate battery packs are in house and ready to test, when work lets up a bit.

What are your charging concerns, and what interesting solutions have you found to keep your devices up and running? Share in the comments, or ask any questions you may have.

As always, if you buy through our links above, we get a small commission, which then goes back into buying more stuff to review here and on rsts11travel. We appreciate your support.

 

 

Happy 8th Birthday to rsts11

rsts11 turns 8 today. Not the operating system, which is older than your host, of course.

Eight years ago today, inspired in part by Stephen Foskett and the Tech Field Day crew, I started what was probably my third attempt at blogging. Two weeks later I wrote a post loosely based on Tech Field Day 5 (which I attended a small part of–mostly the party), and a happy post about getting a 48 port 3COM switch and going back to Windows XP to upgrade its firmware.

Today I’m back to attending the TFD parties only; after 5 stints as a full delegate and 7 of what’s now called TFD Extra, I went over to the dark side in 2014, working for a vendor, and my delegate page progress is on hold for now.

As you may know, I branched out into the royal plural on the travel blog just over two years ago; rsts11travel still hasn’t found a better name, and I haven’t gone Sinclair on rsts11 itself either.

I have a modest backlog of posts for rsts11 this year, as well as a couple of recent eBay acquisitions to write about (including a whole new home network infrastructure), so despite working for a Fortune 50 company that makes a lot of the hardware I would have written about in the past, there’s still a lot to cover.

Stay tuned in 2019 for more coverage of tech new and old, continuation of the POHO (Psycho Overkill Home Office) theme that’s driven the blog for eight years now, and some more quick takes and soft topics to push us along into what may be the Year of VDI, the Year of the Linux Desktop, or the Year that Marketing Listens To Tech.

Quick Take: Setting up a blogroll on WordPress-hosted blogs

I seem to have volunteered to share this documentation… if I run out of other things to do, I might do a video or animation of the process. But in short, here’s how I would go about setting up and managing a blogroll (list of blogs to share) on a wordpress.com-hosted WP blog.

Note that you have to have administrative privileges to the account (as far as I know) to make this sort of changes. Also note that I’m not responsible for any damage you do to your blog, your home, your horse, or your hometown while following these steps.

First: Create a link category

Log into your admin portal for WordPress. It’s either going to be <yourblog>.wordpress.com/wp-admin or <yourblogdomain>/wp-admin

If you’re already in the <yourblogdomain>/admin interface, look on the bottom left of the screen for “WP Admin” which will take you to the same place.

Continue reading

Upgrading the HPE Microserver Gen 8 and putting it into service

A year and a half after my original write-up of the Ivy Bridge-based Gen8 Microserver, I’m finally doing a last round of pre-launch updates and documenting the upgrades I made.

You can read the original write-up (as updated to December 2018) here: Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

More links at the end of this post.

Where do we start?

The HPE Microserver Gen8 as I received it had the Intel Pentium G2020T processor, a dual core, dual thread, 2.5 GHz processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics. For an ultra-low-end workgroup or SOHO server, that’s not too bad, and it’s better than the Celeron G1610T option.

gen8-cpus

Stock processor options for the HP Microserver Gen8

But since we’re not worried about the warranty and do want a bit more power, we looked at the following options for a CPU upgrade.

Xeon Processor CPU speed C/T TDP Integrated graphics? eBay price/link
December 2018
E3-1230 v2 3.30 – 3.70 4/8 69 No 75.00
E3-1260L (v1) 2.40 – 3.30 4/8 45 HD2000 57.00
E3-1265L v2 2.50 – 3.50 4/8 45 HD2500 100.00

Since we didn’t have a use case in mind for this, we went for the E3-1265L v2 processor. CPU speed is reasonable, power is within the envelope for this system’s cooling capacity, and the price didn’t turn out too bad (although it was almost twice as much a year and a half ago).

The system arrived with 16GB of memory, which is the maximum supported with this generation of processor and a two-DIMM-slot motherboard (the CPU will handle 32GB but no more than 8GB per DIMM, and the Memphis Electronics 16GB DDR3 DIMMs require a newer generation of CPU).

The system also shipped with a single 500GB SATA drive and three empty trays for expansion, connected to the onboard B120i storage controller. There’s a low profile slot at the top suitable for an optical drive, or a hard drive carrier. According to the specs, the first two bays are 6gbit SATA and the last two bays are 3gbit SATA. You can add a P222 Smart Controller to provide battery-backed cache and expanded RAID options; these can be had for under $50 on eBay.

I installed a 32GB Micro-SD card for OS boot. Like the previous Microservers, the Gen8 offers an internal USB port, but Gen8 adds a MicroSD slot which may be less likely to snap off during maintenance. If I were running a heavy duty Windows or Linux server on this machine, I’d probably either put an SSD on a PCIe carrier card or use the optical drive SATA connector on the board to mount a boot drive in the optical bay. But for VMware or appliance-type platforms, or for light use Linux, the MicroSD should be enough.

Bringing the Microserver Gen8 up to date

One of the first things I do when building or populating a system is to upgrade any applicable firmware on the system. This could include the lights-out management, the system BIOS itself, drive controllers, optical drives, etc.

This gets complicated with HPE gear, as they decided to restrict all but “critical” BIOS update to customers with active support contracts or warranties. There are dubious workarounds, but it’s more of a pain than for any other mainstream vendor. Luckily (and I say that sadly), some of the critical vulnerabilities around Intel microcode in the past year led to the most recent Microserver Gen8 BIOS being considered critical.

So I gathered the latest BIOS, the ILO 4 firmware for out-of-band management, and the latest firmware for the PS1810-8G switch that this system will be connected to. (Unlike the computer systems, HPE’s networking gear carries a lifetime limited warranty and free access to firmware updates.)

With the switch connected to our upstream POE switch and the Microserver’s three network ports (two gigabit LAN, one ILO) connected to the switch, I upgraded the firmware on all three components and installed CentOS 7 from the latest ISO image via external USB flash drive. Additionally, I got a free 60-day trial license for ILO 4 Advanced from HPE.

One quirk I ran into was with regard to the .NET-based remote console and Chrome browser. In short, it doesn’t work unless you install a plugin to handle the .NET launching. I didn’t want to bother with Java either, so I accessed ILO from Microsoft Edge and used the .NET option from there.

Where do we go from here?

In the near term, I’m planning to install the Aquantia AQN-107 10GBase-T/NBase-T adapter and use it to test a couple of new devices in the home lab. Linux with iPerf or the like should be a good endpoint, and with a Thunderbolt 3-to-NBase-T adapter and an economical NBase-T/10G switch to work with, it should be compact and functional.

Longer term, with the former VMware “$25 server” being converted to EdgeLinux (from the makers of the Antsle servers we wrote about here and here), I will probably have this box serve as my in-home vSphere / ESXi system.

There’s a very small chance that I’ll break down and get the new Gen10 machine, but with as many spare computers as I have in the home lab now, it’s not a high priority.

What have you done with your Microserver recently? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information on the Microserver Gen 8 (especially around expandability):

HomeServerShow.com has an exhaustive page on Gen8 upgrades and other features and functions.

ServeTheHome has their release-time update on the Gen8 system here: HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 Updated Specs and Pricing

And if you want the latest and greatest, the Microserver Gen10 came out a year ago with AMD Opteron X3000 processors.