Thursday, April 12, 2012

Virtual rebuild of Untangle server

I don't know how long I'm going to write today as work ,while being A LOT better as of late, still takes it out of me. Managing the front and back end of a network that has pretty high demands for its size (Only 40 users but there's...GIS, SCADA, plotter prints (big files), with a multi-site network coming with multi-site video surveillance, and automatic meter reads coming into our network in the future) while also being the help desk guy, cell phone guy, and physical security systems guy is a great challenge but being the jack of all trades means you're the master of none. If you've read my second blog post you can imagine that doing that which is contrary to my nature can take it out of me some days. However I have plenty of bills to pay so I just need to man up and quit bitching about it. As always the most rewarding endeavors never come to fruition easily so I will push forward a little today if only to feel like I've made some progress.

It kind of urks me that the price of that Untangle server came out at over $400. Ideally I would like it to be $350 dollars or less. I just don't want to make myself go broke purely for a proof of concept project at this point. I suppose I shouldn't really worry as who knows what my financial situation will be in the coming years. This hardware purchase is likely a year out at least and I imagine my tax returns are going to be funding this hardware unless I can drill up some side work at $50-$100 an hour. It can't be that hard if Geek Squad can charge $300 just to setup a backup of your hard drive at your home (not including the hard drive). I'll do it for $350 AND throw in a USB HDD. It's child's play that won't take more than 30-40 minutes even on a slow machine to accomplish and include training for the user so that they can know when their backups are not working. Throw in some basic user education (15 minutes at most), a cheat sheet for the backup software and basic troubleshooting (assume they know nothing) and let them breathe easier knowing their data is safe. Is that really $350 worth of time and materials? I would charge the going rate for mileage that the IRS allows and only work local (within 30 miles) which should keep the drive around 30-45 minutes at most for a local client. My car gets 29 MPG on average (2006 Nissan Sentra) so at worst I'm only burning through a few bucks of fuel. The service charge would break down as shown below:

  1. $125 tax and all for a 1 TB HDD.
  2. With $225 left I need to figure in taxes. I'll ballpark that at 30% since I wouldn't be doing all that much business. I just want it to fund my real passion. :)
  3. So $225 less 30% leaves me $157.50 with at worst this taking 1.75 hours of my time. That nets me $90 an hour for a $350 solution that another company would charge $50 more or even higher for.
    And I'm sorry but look up some You Tube videos about Geek Squad. They're wannabe geeks IMPO and sometimes they flat out lie about the solution so that they can charge for a more expensive job than actually needs to be done. YOU NEVER, EVER LIE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS!! They're who pay your bills. Threat them like they're that important and your professionalism will net you return business and maybe even more business via word of mouth.
    Now that I'm done venting/ranting about wannabe techies let's move on to something more fun like figuring out how cheap we can build this Untangle server while still using reliable hardware that will stand up to some heavy use. As a quick reminder our basic system requirements are the following:

  1. Dual core CPU
  2. 2GB of RAM
  3. 80GB HDD
  4. 2 x NIC

I spent a good hour on NewEgg this evening and I came up with a second build that is under $400 but only barely. This setup uses an Intel MiniITX server motherboard that has dual NICs built in that people are using to build ESXi hypervisor servers for their home labs. Given that ESXi uses some pretty old Linux drivers the latest build of Untangle should run quite nicely on this hardware. This setup will also use far less electricity and when you're talking about building a small network at home your power bill is probably going to go up a little so build using as efficient of hardware as you can while still fulfilling all of your needs. A pic of my NewEgg card is shown below:

A machine like this should do quite nicely for my needs given that even though its an Intel Celeron (budget CPU) its based on the Sandy Bridge platform which has been smoking fast. I don't expect it to be smoking fast but it should work and should I outgrow it I'll just throw a Core i3 CPU in there which should be more than enough. I've included pics of both the MB and case below to give you an idea of just how compact this setup really is.

I know this isn't the most interesting of topics but the point is that you need to find the best value for your $$$ for whatever solution you're trying to create. We all have budgets and when you can make the most of your $$$ you can do more with your home network given the same amount of $$$.

Well, I've been up for 15 hours without much of a reprieve so I'm going to crash for the day and get some rest for another day at work. Good night all!


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