Cisco CRS-1

This week, as a result of a software upgrade operation across the backbone routers, I had to do the procedure on one of the CRS-1 routers in Stuttgart, since I kinda live in the neighborhood. I have worked, configured and troubleshooted them since 2 years now but physically I only saw one a little in one of our labs. This time  I had the opportunity to work a bit more closely with it.

The Cisco CRS-1 Carrier Router System is, as the name suggests, a carrier-grade backbone router which is usually found in big ISP’s. In it’s full 16-slot configuration it can push data up to 92 Tbps (yes, that’s Tera) and the price of such a configuration can make lesser people faint. The CRS routers we’re using are the medium 8-slot version, which is slightly cheaper and it’s not completely packed with line-cards. Of course, this is not the “cheaper” definition we know, it’s still there in the stratosphere. It’s a monster of a router as well, just the chassis with the fans has about 150kg. The full configuration for the 8-slot version, together with the power shelves and line-cards can weight up to 250kg.

The CRS has a highly redundant design, it’s extremely scalable and it’s designed for an “always-on” operation. As software, it runs the IOS-XR which while it has the same look-and-feel as the normal IOS we know,  it’s based on Linux. The CRS routers we use form the core of our MPLS network, based on 10GB Ethernet.

The software upgrade was an interesting experience. The new version comes on two 4GB PCMCIA flash cards (one for each router processor) which you have to use to replace the existent flash cards. The procedure is quite different than the one for a normal router and it’s quite lengthy. It involves first rebooting the router which loads the new software on the route processors and then each individual line-card has to be upgraded as well. All-in-all I was in that data-center for two and a half hours.

This particular data-center belongs to KPN and, like almost all their sites in Germany, they are completely unmanned. You need to call first and they open the door for you all the way from Netherlands. Same when you get out, you’re stuck in there until they open the door for you.

It was nice experience. And even though it took a long time, at least I could kill time by reading a SciFi ebook (“Consider Phlebas” by Iain M. Banks) on my N85 and listening to music. Good book too, I like it so far. 

Digital life and backups

More and more of the data in our lives these days is in digital format, rather than plain paper or other physical media. The information we gather on our computers at home grows each day, there is a constant influx of it: new documents, emails, music, pictures, videos and so on.

Some years ago I started scanning every single letter or invoice that I would get. For the important stuff I am still keeping the paper version filled in  folders but most of it is now in digital format. It’s a lot easier and faster to work with it, if you need it. And of course a lot faster to search for something.  Of course ,when you have so much digital data then you don’t want to lose it, you need to back it up.

Some time ago I bought a small network server, a D-link DNS-323 NAS, and I put inside two 1TB hard drives in a RAID-1 configuration (which basically means the hard drives mirror each other). So if one drive fails, I don’t lose anything.  It sits on our home network and we use it to store all our documents, pictures, music and movies. You might think 1 TB is a lot or space but when you talk about movies and music, it’s not.

But what happens if the whole box breaks down ? Or gets stolen, or blows up,  or gets hit by a micro black hole, or whatever ? That will be a huge inconvenience and some data on it is  actually irreplaceable.  So I’ve been looking into ways of backing  up my stuff online.

There are many options out there, from using your own webspace, to dedicated backup services, to cloud backup, some free some not. They all have their advantages and disadvantages you have to take into account. For example today’s home internet connections are indeed fast and they get faster but that’s only the downstream. The upstream is usually a lot lower than that and that is exactly what you use when you back your stuff up online. In order to get around that, you have to upload only what is changed, so that you keep the transmitted information to a minimum.

Then of course, you want your information to be secure. You don’t want to depend on your backup provider on that, you want your data to be encrypted while it’s being transmitted and also while it’s being stored.

After pondering all kind of solutions I decided to go with Jungledisk. The software does incremental and encrypted backups and you can choose between 2 cloud storage providers. One of them is Rackspace Cloud (Rackspace actually owns Jungledisk) and the other one is Amazon S3. The advantage of cloud storage is that the data is not stored in a single datacenter, in a single location. It’s actually spread over more datacenters in different geographical locations, which means it’s a lot less likely to lose everything in case of a major disaster.

In the $3 monthly fee you have 5GB included but if you go above that, you only pay what you use. I chose to go with Rackspace as a storage provider and you pay $0.15 per stored GB and no transfer fees, which is really dirt cheap I would say. Jungledisk is cross-platform, having 32bit and 64bit versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. In my case I run it on my home Ubuntu server, where data from the home computers as well as from the NAS is backed up to the cloud. If you want you can also access your files securely over the web.

So far it’s working fine and I think $3/month for your peace of mind is not much at all.

Transformed cabinet

Freya has been in a cute-things-making spree lately ;-)

Cisco Borderless Network – ISR Generation 2

Last week I participated in a one-day workshop which took place at the Cisco office in München. The new Cisco vision of the borderless network was introduced and the main focus was on the new Integrated Services Router (ISR) Generation 2.

The whole idea of this vision is that the “borders” in the network will soon disappear and one will be able to connect to the network from anywhere, at any given time, from any device and to any resource. And all this will be done transparently and securely. One will no longer be limited by the device used (be it laptop, desktop, smartphone, etc) nor will he be limited by the type of connection (wired, wireless, mobile, etc). The network will be intelligent enough to adapt and provide a seamless experience.

What interested me the most was the new ISR G2 series, which is a key player in the borderless network concept. There are new versions to all the previous ISR routers and the upgrades are significant. I won’t bother you with too many details, but couple of things stand out:

  • 3 new models of the small 800 series, new 1900, 2900 and 3000 series
  • all of them run a universal IOS image, IOS 15.0 will be released.
  • the image contains all features. The individual features are activated on-demand, as they are needed
  • multi-core processors
  • crypto engines are already onboard
  • field-upgradeable mainboards (Service Performance Engine, SPE)
  • Multi Gigabit Fabric (MGF): the individual modules will be internally directly connected at gigabit speeds

There are of course other changes but I think those are the most important.

After the ISR G2 presentation, a few more things were discussed about topics such as Security, WAAS (Wide area application services) and the ASR 1000 (Aggregation Services Router).

Otherwise things were nice, the presentation was good, no blue screens or anything. And the canteen over there makes really good food! ;-)

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