Cute little routers

By Jeffrey Fritz, ITworld.com |  Operating Systems

You don't buy them from Cisco, Nortel, or Lucent -- you make them yourself. They're
Linux-based routers running on old, retired PCs. All you need is a 486 PC or better, a
few Ethernet cards, some free software, and presto! You have a router that supports
RIP, OSPF, and even BGP.

The Linux Router Project offers the code
that turns former doorstops into routers. It runs on a minimal version of Linux that
fits on a single diskette. (Obviously, this isn't a Microsoft project!) The software is
free, so assuming you already own a spare PC and a couple of Ethernet cards, you have a
near-zero implementation cost. That's a big advantage -- the last time I looked, none
of the big three router vendors was giving away its products.

Depending on your hardware platform, your expertise, and your courage, you can make
a simple 10 Mbps Ethernet router using just a 486 PC with 12 MB of RAM and a pair of 10
Mbps NICs. With a little more horsepower and courage, you can have a 10/100 Mbps
router/switch by using a 100 MHz Pentium or better with 16 MB of RAM and multiple
10/100 PCI NICs.

Want even more power? You can add RADIUS, PPP/Slip, and RAS by using a 100 MHz
Pentium with 32 MB of RAM, 10/100 PCI NICs, and serial ports. Move up to a 166 MHz
Pentium or better with 64 MB of RAM and 10/100 PCI NICs and you can add secondary DNS
and a firewall to your routing switch. The number of NICs your PC can support and the
horsepower in your CPU limit the total number of segments you can route.

The possibilities are staggering, and you certainly can't beat the price!

So what's the down side?

  • Performance: If you need routing capabilities, have zero funds,
    are technically strong, and like to experiment, then a Linux-based router is likely a
    good solution. Otherwise, you are better off with an inexpensive router from one of the
    major vendors. Home-grown routers cannot offer performance that matches even an
    inexpensive dedicated router. If you run an enterprise network, you should definitely
    stick with the major router vendors, unless you plan to install the Linux-based router
    in a noncritical segment on your network.
  • Support: Don't count on a 24/7 support center. In fact, there
    isn't much of any support available; you must be prepared to do most of the work
    yourself. However, there are FAQs that
    can help, and you can view archives of previous support messages.
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