Simple, Configurable Switching.

Greetings All. A quick-ish post today, but an important one for those of us set in our ways when it comes to different technologies.

I recently found myself in need of a new, small network-switch for my home office. Like many other professionals, I work from home. Unlike many other professionals, I have worked from home (when not traveling) for the last 12+ years. My home office resembles something of a lab meets a meeting space meets a man cave, with an office in the middle of that madness somewhere. I wired the home with Cat6 upon purchasing it but I need far more than just one wall drop (I converted Cat6 phone jacks to RJ45s, I love when contractors over-build!). To that end, I have a switch in my office that uplinks to the core/server switches in my network room. I need power over ethernet (PoE) as I have multiple IP phones and video units in various states of configuration as well as a Unifi AP installed that uses in-line power. I also need layer 2 capabilities and either LLDP-MED or CDP for my phones. On the flip-side I need a quiet switch as I am on the phone (or headset) multiple hours of the day dealing with customers that hold me to higher standards than they hold themselves.

In the past I’ve used, almost exclusively, Cisco switches as I work with the brand often in my professional endeavors and find them to be easy to deploy and understand (for the most part). The switch that I am replacing in this narrative is, in fact, a Cisco 3560CX-8PS. This flavor of 3560 is fan-less (quiet) and provides 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports with PoE+ (15.4 watts). It also has two copper/SFP Gigabit uplink ports as well. Additionally it supports basic inter-VLAN routing, which is not terribly important given the satellite nature of where it is deployed (VTP from the core). While this switch is great, it is bigger (physically) than it needs to be and it cost me around $800 on the gray market. Additionally, I found that I needed it for another project and thus I began searching for an office replacement. I first started my search by looking for another 3560CX, I can find refurbished models for $500-1000. I like Cisco gear, but not for that price. I looked at some HPE/Aruba options but those too are more expensive than I’d like and have roughly the same size constraints as mentioned above.

At this point I started to question what I really needed. I need the ability to tag and trunk VLANS and perform the other basic tenants of a solid Layer 2 switch. I need either Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) or Link Layer Discovery Protocol – Media (LLDP-MED) for my phones and video units. I need PoE, as stated before, but I honestly don’t need 8 ports, I could do with 4 in most situations. I want something small and I need something quiet. To that I end I looked where I should have started looking in the first place…Ubiquiti.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know that I have Ubiquiti wireless APs and that I also have a Ubiquiti USG security gateway, I’ll put a link here if you are curious about that adventure. With the APs and USG I have a Unifi Network Controller that is constantly running and provides very useful insights on the wireless and security portions of my network. With all of that said, their switching offerings were my next logical step and I went on Amazon and found a US-8-60W switch for $125 with tax (and free shipping). If you know Ubiquiti models, you will figure out that this is a previous generation of the controller-based 8-port PoE (on 4 ports) Gigabit Layer 2 switch. It is fan-less (quiet!) and has an external power supply that can be easily hidden. The 4 PoE+ ports supply up to 15.4 watts of power per interface and it has native support for LLDP-MED.

The installation was simple. I plugged it in and connected the uplink. It was adopted by the controller (with the help of Layer 2 discovery and DNS records) and the code was upgraded. From there I created port profiles and assigned them to the 8 ports.

From my initial testing, I found that LLDP-MED does exactly what I need it to and the interoperability with my Cisco core/server switches is seamless.

I also found that my Cisco IP phones had plenty of power and registered without issue on the correct VLANs.

I have been incredibly impressed by this switch, and the rest of my Ubiquiti gear. I am sure there are those that will argue that comparing Ubiquiti and Cisco is far from an apples to apples comparison. I believe that argument has merit, but I prefer to respond in this way; I was able to deploy Layer 2 switching with PoE for $125. I don’t really think anything else needs to be said.

Justin

Ubiquiti USG: Quick & Easy Remote Access VPN

Hello World!

When I decided to purchase and install a Ubiquiti USG-3P security appliance, which you can read about here, one of the determining factors was that I could configure VPN service for remote connectivity. As I use Dynamic DNS (DynDns) with the USG (read about that here), I have a reliable VPN url that is always available.

Whenever you put “Quick & Easy” in the title of anything, the expectation is that the process is not difficult and does not take all day. Ubiquiti has made the process very simple, I’ll outline the steps below.

Step 1.  Configure the local Radius server

This first step is located under the Settings -> Services -> RADIUS -> Server   within the Unifi Controller software. Turn it on and set your Secret and you are good to go!

Step 2. Configure your Radius (VPN) User

This second step is located under the Settings -> Services -> RADIUS -> Users   within the Unifi Controller software. Turn it on and set your Password and you are good to go! Notice I left the VLAN blank. If I was using the USG as a switched Layer 3 device this would need to be filled in. As it stands my USG is basically running as a transparent firewall.

Step 3. Build your VPN Network (VPN Profile)

This third and final step (on the UBNT side) is located within the Settings section under Networks. You will create a new network and select Remote User VPN as the purpose. In my case I selected an L2TP  Server, you could select PPTP as well, but L2TP works for my purposes. You’ll then configure your Pre-Shared Key (PSK) and define your VPN subnet. I recommend making this network small and keeping it on a network convention dissimilar from your internal networks. Configure your Name (DNS) server(s) and other options and then select your Radius profile. In my case the simple Default profile was all I needed. Within the Radius profile configuration you could add an external Radius server if you have one in place currently. If that is the case the first two steps are not necessary.  The MS-CHAP v2 requirement is checked by default and you should use it for security.

At this point, we are done with our Ubiquiti configuration! That means it is time to move on to the client side. In my case that means Windows 10. There are L2TP/PPTP configuration guides out there for Mac and Linux as well but since I am using Windows, that is what I’ll cover.

Step 1. Go to the VPN Configuration Screen

In the image below you’ll see the VPN configuration screen that is under Settings -> Network & Internet -> VPN from here you can Add a VPN Connection. Once your connection is added you’ll see it in the list (as shown below) and also in the network status icon on your Windows taskbar (Windows 10).

Step 2. Configure the VPN Profile

Configuring the VPN profile for Windows 10 is very straightforward. You’ll need the public address of your USG (or your Dynamic DNS url) and you’ll need the Pre-Shared Key (PSK). You’ll also need (optionally) your username and password. If you don’t enter your username and password (shown in the image below) you’ll be prompted every time you connect.

Step 3. Connect

To connect to your VPN in Windows 10, select the network status icon in the task bar (usually a computer screen for wired or a wireless signal graph for wireless) and click on the VPN connection at the top of the box.

If you entered your username and password into the configuration page you should not be prompted for them, if you did not, you will need to enter them when prompted. Once connected, you’ll see the status above.

When I show my connection status I can see the VPN settings that I configured earlier (shown below).

In closing, this really is a quick and easy process. If you need easy and reliable remote access it is definitely something to consider. Also worth considering is that we are doing this configuration with PSKs and not with certificates. There are security considerations to take into account here.  With all of that said, I would 100% choose this option over users accessing systems remotely via the questionable applications that exist in the software client remote access space today.

I hope this helps someone! Questions? Comments? Post them below.

-Justin

Forgive Me Cisco for I Have Sinned (And I Liked It!)

Hello World!

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you have no doubt figured out, that I am a Cisco guy. Cisco’s products have kept me gainfully employed for many years (and hopefully for many years to come). I enjoy their technology but I also know they aren’t the only game in town.  I am also painfully aware of what it costs to play their game.

The Problem

Recently, my home network/lab Cisco ASA 5506-x died. This was a long expected outcome from a hardware clock malfunction that Cisco discovered a few years ago, you can read more about it here: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/support/web/clock-signal.html. If you have SmartNet support on your products this is a problem, but a covered problem. If, like me, you bought your products on Amazon or Ebay, you are screwed.

The Research

When the 5506-x died, I considered buying a Cisco Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) as a replacement (the 1010 would probably work). I’m not made of money and the thought of paying $800 on the gray market (or even from CDW) had me less than excited. I also considered buying a Sonic Wall, Juniper, or Palo Alto appliance but I don’t have support contacts/contracts for those brands and I want to be able to patch them (this is not a problem with Cisco). I then considered building an Endian or PfSense firewall but by the time I got the right appliance I would be out as much money as the Cisco option discussed above. With my home internet speed being over 100Mbps, I was going to need a very powerful box.  In case you are wondering what it takes to build a custom firewall, please see this link for sizing guidelines: https://www.firewallhardware.it/en/firewall-hardware-sizing-guide/. I was quickly running out of viable and reasonably professional options. It was then that I looked at my wall and found one more.

I started using Ubiquiti’s Unifi wireless access points a couple of years ago for a family business. I was impressed by the hardware and actually really liked the controller software as well. Being able to extend SSIDs across multiple access points without giving up backhaul bandwidth (assuming you have LAN drops where you need them) is a professional feature and one that I take advantage of often. Consumer grade multi-unit systems dedicate channels (and thus a portion of total throughput) to the backhaul communication between the “access points” and the base station. I also like the Ubiquiti price. The 802.11ac access point above, was $99 on Amazon. When it came time to put access points in my home the Ubiquiti option was an easy choice to make.

“If their access points are great, maybe I should give their firewalls a try.”

The Decision

The Unifi Security Gateway (USG) is a powerful platform. The architecture follows the versatile Edge architecture that Ubiquiti was originally known for. While the Edge platform devices have individual web interfaces and operate autonomously, the USG registers to and is managed by the Unifi Controller. Luckily, the USG does still include SSH/Console access to the powerful Ubiquiti CLI. The CLI is a cross between Unix, BSD, and Cisco’s IOS but once you understand it, it is very useful.

There are currently three (3) models of the security gateway available…

  1. USG
    • 3 1G ports
    • $138 + shipping on Ubiquiti Store
  2. USG‑PRO‑4
    • 4 1G ports (2 with dual-personality SFP ports)
    • $344 + shipping on Ubiquiti Store
  3. USG-XG-8
    •  8 10G SFP+ ports
    • $2,499 + shipping on Ubiquiti Store

I chose the USG. Small but mighty! Price aside, this little box will handle more bandwidth than I can currently throw at it*. With that said, the price is nice too.

*This is without IPS (currently beta) enabled. If you enable IPS the hardware offload is turned off and all packets are processed via software. This limits the throughput of each device as follows…

  1. USG: 85Mbps
  2. USG-Pro-4: 250Mbps
  3. USG-XG-8: 1Gbps

With the above numbers, I will probably be replacing my USG with a USG-Pro-4 (or whatever the next generation option is) in a few months. I want to take advantage of the IPS functionality but don’t want to limit my Internet bandwidth. Currently, this is a minor concern.

The Configuration

Setting up the USG took more time than you might expect. Part of this was my architecture; Ubiquiti likes their routing devices (the USG in this case) to be the end-all/be-all Layer 3 device in the network. In my network, that is not the case. I traditionally run my firewalls in transparent mode and use a Layer 3 “core” switch to handle the inter-vlan routing and segregation of traffic. I want the firewall to terminate the WAN/Internet connection and secure the connection as well as handle the NAT/PAT responsibilities but I want it to end there. My logical configuration is laid out in the image below.

 

As you can see from the logical diagram above, my USG sits in the “normal” firewall position between the provider NIU and my LAN. I am handling all VLAN routing and inter-VLAN routing on the 3750x. On the switch I have a static default-route pointing at 10.10.0.230 (the LAN IP of the USG) (shown below).

ip route 0.0.0.0 0.0.0.0 10.10.0.230

In the USG I have routes going back to the my 3750x (10.10.0.254) for the networks configured there (shown below).

static {
        route 10.10.10.0/24 {
            next-hop 10.10.0.254 {
                distance 1
            }
        }
        route 10.10.30.0/24 {
            next-hop 10.10.0.254 {
                distance 1
            }
        }
        route 10.10.100.0/24 {
            next-hop 10.10.0.254 {
                distance 1
            }

Finally I have a NAT rule in the USG allowing everything that goes out of eth0 (WAN) to be source NAT’d accordingly (shown below). This works well as I have a DHCP connection from my ISP.

rule   type  intf     translation
----   ----  ----     -----------
6001   MASQ  eth0     saddr ANY to X.X.X.X
    proto-all         sport ANY

Conclusion

I admit it is still early (as I’ve only had the USG in place for about a week), but I am impressed by that little box. No loss in throughput and I enjoy having the Internet statistics on my Unifi mobile application. The USG wasn’t my first choice but the more I do with it the more I am convinced it was the right choice for my environment.

Below are a few quick additions that I didn’t get to cover in this post, I plan on adding posts for these features later…

  • NAT/PAT for Cisco Unified Border Element (CUBE)
  • Dynamic DNS (DynDNS) native integration
  • Quick and Easy VPN Client configuration

-Justin