Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Yawarra Eber 220

Finally got some new toys to play with. Three 'application servers' to go over to Curtin University to provide hotspot services to the student residents.

There are three models of the Eber - 210, 220 and 230. I selected the 220 mainly because it uses Intel network adapters (3 x 10/100 and 1 x 1000/100/10). The 230 would have been nice due to its increased grunt and memory support however I wasn't 100% sure if its 4 x 1000/100/10 Realtek adapters would be supported by Mikrotik RouterOS, not the 2.9 version anyway.

Only two small issues with the units. First the screws used to fasten the lid to the unit are easily shredded - they develop some kind of seal against the aluminum lid and combined with the not so hard metal they're made of causes them to be difficult to remove. Although out of 3 units with 5 screws each (top lid) only 4 ended up like this, most were on the one unit. A quick e-mail to Yawarra had this sorted quickly, more screws are coming.

Secondly the location of the Compact Flash card slot is annoying. Located on the bottom of the board - so you have to remove the entire board to plug the CF card in. Removing the board isn't particularly easy since you have to undo the VGA and COM port lugs, 4 mounting screws and unplug 10 LEDs and the mainboard power connector. A trap door style arrangement on the bottom of the unit would fix this nicely.

The Commell LE-564 'single board computer' is an (Embedded Board eXpandable) EBX form factor board based on the Via Eden CLE266 chipset. In this case it utilizes a Via Eden-ESP 533MHz CPU. The board is well made and the components all appear to be over-rated items suitable for hostile environments. The board does have provisioning for a directly attached 5v DC power source however Yawarra have opted for a 12V DC-DC power supply with appropriate 12V 4A regulated power pack. I believe this is to accommodate the power demands of a hard disk. I'm a little fearful of the power supply because its quality doesn't seem to match that of the board, and in my experience power supplies are usually the first item to fail. However I'm sure Yawarra have tested the units thoroughly.

I flashed a 64MB CF card with the latest stable version of RouterOS (2.9.41) and completed the reasonably tedious task of plugging the CF card in to the board. Because I normally just use the console to install and configure everything I didn't bother plugging in the keyboard/mouse PS/2 sockets or a monitor - straight serial into the com port with 9600 1,8,1,none.

Flicked the rocker switch on the front of the unit and watched the console display a typical BIOS POST screen with a memory count in progress (which you can't disable). I tried pressing the delete key to enter the bios configuration with no luck - many interpretations of 'delete' in the console world, so I left it be. Once the POST had completed the usual hardware information screen displayed and that was it... I thought it had crashed or there was something in the bios that caused it to hang while searching for something to boot from (it had automatically detected the CF card as HDD-0).

This prompted me to connect a screen, keyboard and mouse. This is when I discovered that it had infact booted and had started the RouterOS installation - it simply wasn't redirecting the screen output to the console as expected. I think this can be fixed by using its "Universal Console Redirection (UCR)" feature? Once I discovered this I just left it do its thing and then reboot itself - once it had booted the typical RouterOS username/password prompt displayed in the console.

Pleasantly I found that RouterOS discovered all the necessary hardware and was running fine. The only little oddity that I found is that when making a change to one of the three 10/100 ethernet interfaces it would cause things to pause for about 2/3 seconds before continuing on. The gigabit port didn't display this behavior.

I have set it all up as a fully functional hotspot as it will be when installed at Curtin. I haven't yet had a chance to do any bandwidth or system loading tests - I'll be sure to update the blog when I do. However everything has worked out well and no problems like oversized frames/VLAN issues have occurred.

Three Eber 220's

Commell LE-564

Internal view showing 3.5" HDD mounting plate, board and DC-DC power converter
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