September 2001


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Revision 8: September 2001


Suddenly working from home meant having more time and energy to focus on the rack, so stuff that I didn't get around to (or wasn't a problem) before is now rapidly dealt with. One of the first issues cracked was the set up for the Voyetra AudioTron and its accompanying amplifier, the Sony DAV-S300. The final location was staring me in face the whole time. The amplifier is not quite 2Us high, leaving a gap I thought I would have to fill with a custom insert. At the same time the Belkin 2x8 Matrix KVM switch "overhung" a second U by a fraction - enough that regular rack mount hardware couldn't use the U directly beneath the Belkin.

Lo and behold, the amount of the Belkin overhang is the same as the Sony underheight, so between the two units, only 3Us are consumed and the gap is filled!

The final placement of the Sony amplifier and Voyetra AudioTron recovers a wasted U from the overhang of the Belkin 2x8 Matrix KVM switch.

Meantime, I acquired a couple of new cases in an attempt to address some rack issues and expand functionality. The first was a long-awaited- for 1U case from Antec. When this system gets built (and it wasn't built in September), it will be used initially for fail-over and backup testing of DB/2. Another future duty will be the testing of a Linux-based routing solution. In the meantime, it sits and waits for parts to come free from other planned revisions to the rack.

The other case is the 5U case from RackmountPro. This case is a bit deeper than desired (22 inches), but it has everything else - 2 full height 5.25" drive bays, plus space for a floppy and a DVD drive. This is the case with the potential to replace Cartman (the file server), although losing some capability - Cartman's current configuration allows for eight IDE drives in the drive array (granted, with limited reliability). This case would allow only four drives (but they should work perfectly).

And to top off the proposed Cartman solution, RackmountPro also sells high density IDE caddies. These caddies allow three 1" IDE hard drives to be installed in a full height drive space, which normally could only hold two drives. With two of these caddies, six 80Gb drives can be mounted in the chassis!

An interior shot of the Antec 1U case, showing room for two hard drives (front left), a floppy (center) and a DVD (front right). A small ATX motherboard is preferred in a case like this, and there's only room for 1 PCI card. Ideally you'll get a motherboard with video and LAN already built in.
The 5U case, opened, with the drive chassis sitting beside it. Lots of room in this case for a monster motherboard and the like. Unfortunately, RackmountPro shipped the wrong drive caddies with the case.

Like the 1U case, the 5U case did not get built in September. RackmountPro shipped a pair of SCSI SCA caddies instead of the IDE caddies requested. I pulled them from the case and shipped them back, they shipped out the right caddies. Promise Technology makes a six drive IDE RAID controller, allow all six drives in the IDE caddies to be plugged into one controller (one cable per drive) using ATA/100. One thing I learned about the other drive chassis - its not enough to have lots of space, it has to be reliable as well. And with six 80Gb Maxtor drives (the controller really needs all drives to be identical), running RAID 5, I'll have about 400Gb of capacity (6 drives - 1 worth of capacity for RAID = 5 * 80Gb = 400Gb). Unfortunately, I had to wait for the Promise controller to be shipped, so maybe in October I'll get to see how this thing works.

The final coup of the month came from my good friend Ian Bell, a former employee of Cisco and another rebel of the dot com era. Ian took the time to dig through his closet and turned up an interesting toy... a Cisco 3620! At my behest (and lots of begging), he brought the gizmo up to Vancouver so I could see if I could make it work.

The first thing I needed to do once I got my hands on the 3620 was to upgrade the Cisco IOS installed in the unit - since it had been in a closet since 1997, the software was more than a little out of date. Unfortunately, all the new software required LOTS of memory - the router was initially configured with 4Mb of Flash RAM and 16Mb of DRAM. And Cisco wants a fortune for RAM! Some digging around turned up that the DRAM is perfectly ordinary FastPage 72 pin RAM (16Mb SIMMs were $20 each), and the Flash RAM could be had for $75 a 16Mb SIMM.

With the RAM upgraded, I was able to update the IOS to the latest (12.2.5). Then came the next problem - I had NO idea what I was doing with it! While waiting for the RAM to arrive, I also ordered a couple of Cisco related books to get myself up to speed. 

The amazing Cisco 3620, as it arrived from Ian. Having been in a closet since 1997, it was more than a little dated, RAM and software-wise.
An inside shot of the router, if you look close, you'll see four sticks of 16Mb 72pin DRAM near the center, and two sticks of 16Mb Flash RAM on the right. Whatever you do, don't buy this stuff from Cisco, there's much cheaper out there these days.
A close look at the back of the router shows the two 10Base-T Ethernet connections and a single Serial WIC.
The temporary location of the Cisco 3620, sitting on top of the temporarily located DB/2 server. Yes, the router is in backwards, it can be rack mounted that way so I can see the blinky lights. Its currently plugged into the inner network and the DSL switch while I figure out how to make it work.

My brief bit of education (along with help from a friend of Ian's named Steve Lloyd) has made it possible to get the router working to a limited degree - its essentially working like a very expensive LinkSys router, doing Network Address Translation to provide Internet access for my test machines over a different IP on the DSL modem.

Until I get more ports to connect to it, there isn't much more it can do. However, I have learned that things like fail over between the Internet connections is remarkably easy using the Cisco - something virtually impossible with any of the cheapo routers. Also, the plan is to connect the wireless LAN access point to the router as well, since the security of wireless has been proven faulty. Wireless connectivity will be done outside the firewall, using VPN for safety - again, something the Cisco can do easily.

After studying the Cisco router for awhile, I realize there's an opportunity to build mid-range routers - something more sophisticated than a LinkSys router ($100) but not as expensive as the serious routers (a 3620 would retail for over $7000). By buying the routers on EBay and piecing things together, I should be able to build a $2000 solution. Already I have a few friends interested in acquiring the same set up should I succeed (and I bet I will).

Issues with this revision:

Need to get the parts in order to finish the 5U system.
DB/2 Server can be moved into the 2U case when the 5U is finished.
Finishing the 5U system should free up the parts needed to built the 1U system.
Add more Ethernet ports and possibly a DSL WIC to the Cisco 3620 to take over routing functionality for the network.