What a COOL TOY!

2004-08-11 02:56

So, I got another embedded systems gig. This time, it’s actually more a network appliance thing; firewalls, built on Soekris Net4801 boxes. These boxes are great. Three ethernet ports, one serial, power, USB. CF drive for booting from. Pluggies for a standard notebook hard drive, and a second serial port, and a MiniPCI slot for expansion.

Which means nothing to most of you. Let me put it another way:

A computer about half the size of the keyboard you’re using (unless you’re on a laptop; then maybe 2/3rds), which can sit around being a firewall for a fairly big and loaded network, or do all sorts of other stuff. All-in-one wireless access point and firewall? No sweat. Wanna add a small personal web server to the mix? It can do that too. With room to grow. I wrote about this once, although that was with the older Net4521 box.

This is, in short, a little toy computer, designed for doing all sorts of networky things. It’s designed to be a totally reliable box that just does one thing, and does it well, and does it quietly and without further intervention once you’ve set it up.

Right now, I’m setting up a pair of them for a consulting customer, to work as redundant firewalls. I am sort of bummed, because I thought “hey, this’ll take a few hours, I can afford some hardware to work on it with”. Then it turned out to take two hours. Oops. So, if anyone wants some consulting done on Soekris 4521 or 4801 hardware, look me up – I have investments to recoup! I am actually collecting these cool little embedded systems. I also dearly love the Technologic TS-5500. It’s the same generation of hardware, roughly, as the Soekris 4521, but it’s a VERY cool board. More serial ports, and – more interestingly in some cases – one of the optional expansions is a VGA and keyboard/mouse board! Only one built-in ethernet, so it’s more aimed at data collection than firewalling, but you can add USB gizmos.

In short… There is a certain elemental delight to having a computer which uses less power than a standard lightbulb (and, in fact, less than most compact flourescents), needs no fan, runs for months at a time without rebooting, does EXACTLY what you want it to, has NO MOVING PARTS AT ALL… It’s nice. And it’s a lot of fun to play with. I have tons of ideas about what to use these for. Maybe I’ll do some of ‘em some day.

Peter Seebach



  1. I'm tellin' ya . . .

    It would be so cool if you put an old-fashioned rabbit ears TV antenna on the wireless router. That new-fangled antenna you have for it now is so DULL!

    — seebs_lawyer · 2004-08-13 17:44 · #