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Powerful Linux ISP Router Distribution? 268

fibrewire writes "I'm building a Wireless ISP using commercial grade, low cost equipment. My main stumbling block is that I cannot find a decent open source ISP class routing distribution. Closest thing to even a decent tool is Ubiquiti's AIRControl — but even it doesn't play well with other network monitoring software. I've used Mikrotik's RouterOS for five years, but it just isn't built for what I need. I don't mind paying licensing fees, but $300K for a Cisco Universal Broadband Router is out of my budget. Has anyone seen any good open-source/cheap hardware/software systems that will scale to several thousand users?"
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Powerful Linux ISP Router Distribution?

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  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) * on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:36PM (#30771250) Homepage

    Just pick up your favorite Linux distribution and get back to me with your requirements. I think Linux can easily do what you need almost out of the box. It is only a matter of configuring it. I bet some would recommend looking at OpenBSD or FreeBSD as well.

    Either way, you would definitely have a more flexible solution that any canned product will provide you with.

    • by grub ( 11606 ) * <> on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:36PM (#30771262) Homepage Journal

      Does it have to be Linux?

      Why not try OpenBSD [] and its excellent BGP implementation OpenBGP []! It powers some pretty hefty businesses and ISPs. []

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ls671 ( 1122017 ) *

        The title in the question was asking for a Linux distro.

        Anyway, you have proven me right, if you read my OP very carefully, it states:

        > I bet some would recommend looking at OpenBSD or FreeBSD as well. ;-))

      • by Spit ( 23158 )

        I agree, OpenBSD seems to have bottomless performance in my installations and the configuration is so easy.

  • Vyatta (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:40PM (#30771324)

    try the beta v6

  • by teqo ( 602844 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:43PM (#30771368) Journal
    So AirControl "doesn't play well with other network monitoring software" (which one, and why?), and MikroTik "isn't built for what [you] need" (what's that?) - other than that, you don't give us any idea what you really expect. What are your requirements? Suggestions out of the blue: OpenWRT [] with quagga/zebra, hostapd, radius, olsrd, b.a.t.m.a.n. etc. etc, or you might want to have a look at Vyatta [] (no affiliation).
  • Why does it have to be linux? Use pfSense []
    • by JSG ( 82708 )

      Seconded and my idea of fun is running 50 odd Gentoo based systems around the UK. I probably wont try and screw them though.

      For me the multi link routing ie load balancing/failover gateways is the key feature (I have 6 ADSL lines - my office is a bit rural). Add to that a good list of add ons, eg ntop, OpenVPN and IPSEC, WiFi with mesh and captive portal etc etc etc and its a bit of a winner.

    • PFsense has been OK for me in a small business environment, but it's nowhere near robust enough for ISP duty. For one, the multiwan implementation has been somewhat troublesome (mostly working, but occasional glitches) and traffic shaping doesn't work at all with multiwan. If you can do your multiwan stuff with an appliance, then perhaps that's not an issue, but my assumption was that you wanted something to act as your "core" using commodity hardware.


      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Fez ( 468752 )

        pfSense 2.0 will solve the multi-wan traffic shaping limitation, and it's in beta right now. As for the multi-wan glitches, I'm not sure when the last time you tried it was, but the outbound load balancer was redone in 1.2.3 and 2.0 will have even more changes as well.

        I run an ISP and we use a pfSense CARP cluster in front of our servers and it's worked great for us, but admittedly we are a small ISP. We also use it at more than a dozen customer sites. Everyone loves it.

        • I've been using 1.2.3 since it was released and while some of the problems have gotten better it still isn't nearly stable enough to be a core component of an ISP's mix of gear. Also, 2.0 has been in alpha for ages and only JUST went to beta and has a prominent warning in their support forums about not trusting it for production use.

          I've heard things are MUCH better when using it as an inbound loadbalancer, but the outbound stuff is troublesome and doesn't scale well (at least for me).

          That said, for a SOHO

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:48PM (#30771434) Homepage Journal

    So Cisco makes billions of dollars a year selling some ungodly expensive, ungodly powerful head end router like devices (not even routers in the IP sense) and somehow you suspect a Linux distribution with the same features is going to unpack itself and be everything you want it to be? You need to tell us what the rest of your platform looks like if you expect any answers that go beyond 'any linux distribution can act like a router!'. What subscriber equipment is in use? How much user control do you need (access on/off vs. bandwidth filtering, etc.) Details, details, details.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b1t r0t ( 216468 )

      The "same features"? You mean like ASICs that forward the data with low latency once the route is established? Yep, Linux is going to somehow magically add those to your computer, and that's one of the reasons people pay the extra money for Cisco over some old P3 tower PC and a CD-ROM with a penguin on it. Another is that they fit nicely in a rack.

      The submitter apparently has his own unique idea of what "ISP class" means. Admittedly, this is for a wireless network, so there is already a bit of latency expe

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mysidia ( 191772 )

        Another is that they fit nicely in a rack.

        And they provide a packaged solution, that most network engineers recognize and know how to manage, troubleshoot... meaning it will be easier to find/hire people to help manage it, than some custom home-brewed solution?

        Lower long-term operational expenses, hardware is darn proven (fewer operational risks than you have buying commodity desktop parts), and you can get a support contract, usually (or opt to save money upfront by finding equipment and replaceme

      • by atamido ( 1020905 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @02:01AM (#30775728)

        The "same features"? You mean like ASICs that forward the data with low latency once the route is established? Yep, Linux is going to somehow magically add those to your computer, and that's one of the reasons people pay the extra money for Cisco over some old P3 tower PC and a CD-ROM with a penguin on it. Another is that they fit nicely in a rack.

        A lot of router equipment is essentially an x86 PC. Add on cards are often just PCI or PCIe cards. You'd be surprised how commodity a lot of that equipment is. At least, for a big part of the mid range stuff.

        Granted it's all specially chosen hardware and custom firmwared, plus Cisco IOS is a heavily developed and mature OS specifically written for routing, so you're not going to see anywhere near the same performance with some random Linux whitebox system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shaitand ( 626655 )

        ASICs offload processing power from the cpu as dedicated hardware. But the PC you are running linux on likely has a CPU that is at least 10x as fast as that in the CISCO routers (and use a lot more power) so they can keep up.

        This is one of those things that is as much about marketing as reality. There are no shortage of hardware appliance network boxes like BIG-IP LTM/GTM and Bluecoat ProxySG's that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are nothing more than BSD/Linux rack mounted PC's in a fancy case. Thes

    • Cisco (and others) make ungodly money because they are perceived as the "best". I won't argue that too much though.

      For low end stuff, there are cheaper options. Do you need a Cisco Catalyst to handle 3 desks on a fairly slow DSL line, who aren't doing outrageous sharing between each other? No. Do you have 100 desks, then sure. Could you do the 3 desk operation with a Linux machine and 4 network cards? Sure. In this example, it's cheaper to pick up a cheap hub, than to ta

      • Do you need a Cisco Catalyst to handle 3 desks on a fairly slow DSL line, who aren't doing outrageous sharing between each other? No.

        Sheesh. I wish someone would tell that to our clients. My company provides service to (mostly) small businesses, and half of these little five-man operations have some totally over-engineered Cisco gear acting as their network edge because some smartass, self-styled "IT Guy" told them it was the best. Surprise, he vanishes after plugging it in and collecting his fee, and now the client has all these problems with our SIP service and of course they have no idea how to manage their own equipment, and WE end up looking like jerks because our stuff won't work out of the box with whatever equipment the client has.

        Could you do the 3 desk operation with a Linux machine and 4 network cards? Sure. In this example, it's cheaper to pick up a cheap hub, than to take even a salvage machine and put 4 network cards in it.

        Here, though, I disagree. At the same company I mentioned, when I joined, we were a three-person operation, and we used a Linux machine with two network cards and a switch as our router. It worked great as we scaled up in staff numbers, particularly when tools like ntop and tcpdump existed to let me see when some joker was ruining it for everyone by torrenting the entire internet. If you never plan to expand, then sure, some cheap little router toy from Dlink or Linksys will do fine, but if you intend to grow, may as well do things right the first time than have to re-engineer your network down the road.

        Also, a hub? Who the hell uses hubs anymore? I can't even think of a use for them these days other than packet sniffing, and an inexpensive managed switch will let you do that.
        • by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> on Thursday January 14, 2010 @08:51PM (#30773672) Homepage Journal

              I don't believe in overselling customers. I believe customers appreciate the fact that I'm looking to milk them for extra money. Really, I can score one big scale, or I can build a relationship and continue with them as needed. I've had customers not call for years because they didn't need anything, but the minute they do, I'm there for them.

              Growth is a funny thing. A lot of places I've seen have had 4 desks with the intention of growing, and years later they still have exactly 4 desks. One place had a dozen or so servers with high hopes for the future. Those high hopes were a serious understatement. Their partial T3 became multiple GigE circuits, and their dozen server became over 100. Even the first big growth spurt overgrew the agreed upon server naming convention and it had to be changed after two years.

              One place I worked at, which was growing rapidly, they were set up with a bunch of hubs (I'll explain the hubs thing in a moment), and terrible links between the suites (multiple suites in a complex). It was terrible. Literally, it was normal to have >100ms pings between suites on a good day. I got 6 Cisco Catalyst 2924XL-EN's with 4 port 100baseFX cards, deployed one switch per suite, and ran fiber between all the suites. Total expense was about $600. Then the economy took a dump. They started downsizing, and I believe they were down to something like 5 desks and 3 servers (don't ask).

              Ok, now the hubs thing. I say "hubs" for any low end consumer grade unmanaged "switch". For some manufacturers, it was a marketing ploy to say "switch", which just meant "auto speed switching", where it would handle 10baseT/100baseT/100baseTX, but was still a hub (you could see all traffic on all ports). Some really are switches, but usually not at the level of a real managed switch. If you can get 5 ports for $20, it's a hub. :) I have seen some recently that act like a hub, which is really sad. Well, not just act. They'll even have a single collision light on the front. Oh, there's a big hint. :)

  • Be more specific! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dokebi ( 624663 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:50PM (#30771464)

    Without more performance and cost requirements, it's really hard to figure out what would work for you.

    Are your users all in one building? Over a large area? Are you talking about a dozen access points or hundreds?

    Without some more specific information, only advice I can give is:
    Soekris boxes with FreeBSD.

    Good luck.

    • Why would you go with FreeBSD over OpenBSD? It has an older port of pf, and the networking infrastructure in both kernels has changed enough since the port was done that it will be tricky to update the FreeBSD version. The OpenBSD version more than doubled the throughput in Soekris systems since the FreeBSD version was branched.
      • by dokebi ( 624663 )

        Huh, I didn't know that FreeBSD pf is not up to date. FreeBSD does have multiple firewall options, though.

        But since OP asked about Wireless support, does OpenBSD have good wireless support now?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by fibrewire ( 1132953 )

      The Coachella Valley is the area - all of it. A large area.

      A dozen to start but hundreds in the near future - i'm going to provide high bandwidth service for next to nothing. So the routing HAS to work for minimal bucks.

  • Mutually exclusive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vawarayer ( 1035638 )

    I'm building a Wireless ISP using commercial grade, low cost equipment.

    To me, some words in this sentence seem to be mutually exclusive.

    To my humble opinion, a good ISP needs to have good reliable equipement. Sometimes, out of the box routers are better because they don't have moving parts and their firmware could be more stable than a full-blown OS (even if it is Linux).

    Disclaimer: Not that I don't like Linux, I use it all the time.

    • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) *

      OpenBSD packet filter supports transparent router redundancy pretty well I think. Used by pretty large corporations.

    • No reason a person can't run linux (or a half-dozen other unix-derived router platforms) on good quality, no moving parts hardware.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BobMcD ( 601576 )

      To my humble opinion, a good ISP needs to have good reliable equipement. Sometimes, out of the box routers are better because they don't have moving parts and their firmware could be more stable than a full-blown OS (even if it is Linux).

      If not for this reason, why do you suppose the question got asked?

    • by Fez ( 468752 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @07:20PM (#30772622)

      You can have low-cost commercial grade services run using off-the-shelf hardware.

      pfSense [] includes support for CARP, which lets you build high-availablity failover clusters. You can have two (or three or four...) cheap systems and if one dies, just fix/replace it as needed. The backup system(s) automatically take over and nobody would likely even notice the changeover.

      When it's cheap, that is much easier to consider.

      If you want no moving parts, you can use an ALIX box, Soekris, or perhaps even some atom-based boards. If you want to use server-grade boxes to make yourself feel warm and fuzzy, you can do that too. Supermicro even has a server-class atom board in a 1U rack which runs pfSense very well for us.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Xenna ( 37238 )

        These guys: []

        Sell embedded systems with monowall/pfsense preloaded.

        Extremely easy to use and reliable.
        I use a pfsense one at home, no idea how things would scale...

    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

      To my humble opinion, a good ISP needs to have good reliable equipement.

      I don't think that is the point. Motorola's commercial gear does not support nearly the functionality AirOS and MicroTik do. It's great gear - you just can't make it do some of the stuff you need to do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "To my humble opinion, a good ISP needs to have good reliable equipement."

      To my humble opinion, a good ISP needs to have good reliable *service*.

      Ask i.e. Google to learn the difference.

  • by backtick ( 2376 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @06:02PM (#30771644) Homepage Journal

    Maybe Vyatta @ [] does what you want. I really don't have any idea what that is from the actual post, tho. You need some routing for thousands of users, and can't afford a Cisco UBR. I'm not sure exactly if you wanted to use the UBR for DOCSIS type support for some reason (a la cable modem) but the fact it'll be wireless leads me to believe it won't be. I'm assuming you don't need a lot of physical ports, just something to manage your VLANS, some routed subnets, a bit of BGP, etc. Maybe XORP is what you want, tho @ [] so you may want to look there. IHeck, 'm not even sure if you want to take a server with a bunch of PCIe ports and slam multiport switchable fabric cards in there like the ones DSS @ [] makes, or do something else. Maybe these links will help, and hopefully there'll be a detailed followup so we can aim at the real target :)

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Where Cisco is a good value is enterprise licensed switching. You could buy 37XX, 4XXX, or 65XX gear depending on the level of residency you need and do lots of your heavy lifting there; BGP learning and advertisement and port access control and basic ACLs; you might then put some Linux servers behind some of that to do some of the really complex routing jobs (things with lots of rewrites and NAT operations; process authentication information, provide DHCP with dynamic DNS updates etc. You might save som

  • by sirket ( 60694 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @06:02PM (#30771646)

    Routing and ISP's are huge topics- what are you trying to do?

    The main problem with routing isn't bandwidth- anyone can pump enough 1500 or 9000 byte frames per second to fill a gigabit pipe. The problem is when you have lots of small packets. At that point, dedicated routing hardware with a high-speed TCAM becomes really important.

    What kind of line cards do you need? ADSL? Ethernet? OC12?

    What kind of services do you need to run? BGP? OSPF?

    What kind of bandwidth are you going to be pushing?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by fibrewire ( 1132953 )

      Tons of multicast video data will eat up 1/4 to half of my last mile bandwidth, followed by voip and data.

      I'm trying to balance Access point range to around 1/2 mile without dropping bandwidth, so Ubiquiti AirMAX equipment seems to work in trial runs.

      i don't want to drop below 100Mbit lan speeds, rates are fixed so if a customer can't connect they won't kill all the bandwidth for everyone else.

      Client's actual throughput will be about 10Mbit down / 2Mbit up + about 45Mbit of Multicast video overhead - 100 cl

  • by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @06:10PM (#30771740)
    Start off small. Pick up some used Cisco stuff off Ebay at 1% list. Maybe a 6500 with a couple of SUP2s for your core switch, a couple or four 7200s for the upstreams/customer facing bits. Make lots of money, upgrade to newer stuff as needed.
  • pfSense (Score:2, Informative)

    by mhab12 ( 1180139 ) *
    Give pfSense a try. [] Also a VERY active user forum at []
  • Big Sur Wireless (Score:3, Informative)

    by north.coaster ( 136450 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @06:18PM (#30771820) Homepage

    There's a small wireless ISP located in the Big Sur area of California that seems to have been up and running for a few years now. Maybe the OP wants to build a system like Big Sur Wireless []. Their web site includes a lot of details about their homebrew system.

  • by KiwiGod ( 724799 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @06:28PM (#30771936)
    What's your interface to the net, line cards, bandwidth expectations, etc. I spent 5 years building a fairly heavy duty wISP network on a stupid low budget from my boss. You can obtain used cisco stuff for cheap. For instance, you can get your hands on a 7206vxr with a NPE-G1 for $10k or less nowadays... If you need something with high redundancy do do less intensive switching, you can pick up a 6509 with a pair of SUP2-MFSC2 cards for less than $2k. As far as support contracts go, I can't imagine that you need the latest and greatest IOS, let alone a support contract that costs more than the replacement of a piece of hardware. On a side note... why are you asking about the uBR series? Are you not running an ethernet network? Last I checked, there's no such thing as "low cost commercial grade." Depending on where you are, unlicensed stuff may not cut it, dealing with interference etc. And licensed hardware is certainly not cheap. With wireless, as well as so many other areas, you get what you pay for.
  • just a thought (Score:2, Informative)

    by khelix ( 987576 ) *
    I did not see anyone suggest [] . i have only played with it for a short time, but it might be worth checking out!
  • OBSD or pfSense (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    My history is: started on OBSD (due to hardware support, ironically); played w/ FBSD; ended up on pfSense.

    My observations:
    OBSD is absurdly security conscious... for ISPs especially, this is a good thing.
    OBSD tends to have a lot of focus on new network features (pf, carp)
    most OBSD features get ported to FBSD... but take time (look into carpdev)

    pfSense (built on FBSD) has some overhead vs FBSD raw (obviously), but has *nice* management UI, package support, etc
    customizations are easy for pfSense (I added some

  • Vyatta (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What about Vyatta? It's a good router based on linux and you can install it on any old box you want or buy their hardware for it. Even has a cisco like interface if you want.

  • Why not buy used Cisco routers? In the current economy, you should be able to make some pretty sweet deals.

  • You can make ssh plugins with Nagios, AirOS supports ssh and key exchange. You should be able to achieve most things with that combination, what is it you are trying to do?

    MicroTik has a strong API, have you tried doing what you need to do by using that?

  • A suggestion (Score:2, Informative)

    by scottraynel ( 947466 )

    RuralLink Ltd (yes, I work for them) does what you want, linux-based wireless network management. Get in touch with us at []

    There's not a lot of info about that side of things on the website, but if you contact us we'll be happy to chat - and don't worry, we're all techs, there's no sales droids here.



  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14, 2010 @08:25PM (#30773350)

    I founded and operate a wireless ISP serving about 1000 wireless subscribers, and have my own embedded linux distro inside just about everything. It would be a fair statement to say that linux literally saved our business on more than one occasion, by giving us the tools to overcome manufacturer software bugs, by establishing 'known good' systems of various types, by enabling read-only compact flash based systems running on solar power, by bringing a high level of utility and reliability into the critical parts of the network, by allowing us to make it anything it needed to be.

    As a CPE, my linux distro never lets me down and never puts customers of at risk of 'stone dead - lights on but nobody home', like linksys/netgear/etc always seem to. Never having to tell someone 'just pull the power and plug it back in' for their connectivity is a real saving grace. And when in a business situation, I can equip these customers with connectivity devices that _do not fail_ and make us look stupid, while at the same time giving them useful feature sets unavailable in higher end router manufacturer gear (cisco 2621 - excellent hardware with great stabillity, just weak on features I get with dnsmasq, openvpn, tcpdump and others.. trying to diagnose network connectivity issues without tcpdump is just dumb.). Its also never choked and zeroed out it's own flash config for no goddam rason, unlike the previously mentioned low-end consumer devices frequently do. Basically, that consumer stuff puts you at risk and is suicide.

    As a network appliance, linux flings packets just fine and gives you great tools to filer, mangle and generally control how and what it does. The ebtables code is awesome, the iptables stuff is killer, openvpn rocks asses, dnsmasq kills, there's just too many useful and cool things just go right. I have a pppoe server running rp-pppoe + my patches and userspace tools, running for years now and hit with every kind of client side bug and malfunction imaginable, and just keeps trucking along. Freeradius backed up with mysql is sweet as can be, and quagga for distributing my routes internally is just a dream. I have it all on read-only compact flash, so they never write and basiclaly will run until there is a show stopper hardware problem, at which point I will more than likely be able to remove the flash and put it into another machine and away I go.

    There is a lack of management interface, and there is a learning curve to this route, but the upside is very low dollar cost and an attainable level of flexibillity, reliabillity and stabillity you are unlikely to find in any commercial solution anywhere. Cisco IOS is awesome, but you won't power anything that runs it off a 12v battery and solar panel on the side of a mountain and flinging/filtering 20mbps of traffic.

    Good luck.

  • Need help (Score:3, Funny)

    by Goody ( 23843 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @11:27PM (#30774892) Journal
    I'm building a WISP, too. Do you think I should get a T-1 or a DS-3 for Internet? I haven't been able to decide between BSD and Linux for my router operating system. I think I'm going to go with Linux because I think the penguin mascot is cuter than that Satan mascot, but it's easier to get BSD to run on a 486 these days.
  • Have you tried Meraki? Google bought into the company awhile ago and it all runs on Linux. There are proprietary bits nowadays so you can't put your own distro in place of the original code. However less than $200 for solid, lifetime warranty, outdoor gear is nice. The built in meshing control is impressive. The ranges with omni antennas are great. Also millions of users have connected to the 'net via meraki equipment according to the website. I'm currently writing this on a meraki mesh, 4th hop from the ga

  • by itzdandy ( 183397 ) <> on Friday January 15, 2010 @12:12AM (#30775182) Homepage

    Seriously, learn to love FreeBSD.

    I am assuming that you will be doing a tree style network with a central location providing you bandwidth on a fiber link or T1/T3 etc.

    Get a PAIR(at least, add more as necessary) of nice, quad core Dell Poweredge or HP DL series servers. FreeBSD+CARP them giving you as seamless load balancing/fail over as you can realistically get.
    at each hub consider either buying commercial wireless routers or build your own. If you build just keep everything fanless as that is where your equipment will fail you.
    Use OSPF on branches while being aware of scaling issues and where OSPF isnt ideal, kick in the BGP and you can link your OSPF clusters together giving an extra level on branch redundancy because traffic can hop to another branch if necessary.

    OLSR in mesh cells, OSPF on the cells backhaul router linking these cells and providing multiple route options for redundancy, and BGP between groups of cells and between you and other ISPs etc etc.

    You dont need to take the Mesh down to the client, only to the neighborhood AP level. The idea of mesh per client creates too many hopps and clients have too much latency. Ideally, you are no more that a 2-4 hops from the backbone, any more and you are going to be adding too much latency from the hops. When a backhaul link goes down and the OSPF saves your butt by routing traffic through a neighboring cell, you are already going to add latency and you dont need that complicated by 6 hops in the neighborhood and 5 more to the backbone (11 hops over wireless is just too many for broadband).

  • OpenBSD has been used as a router in enterprise environments. Check out [] or their OpenOSPF and OpenBGP implementations. They strive to be lean, standards compliant, and meet the broadest set of routing criteria. Coincidentally, OpenBSD has an incredibly easy to configure IPSEC stack as well as tools for router redundancy called CARP.

"Pull the wool over your own eyes!" -- J.R. "Bob" Dobbs