Buying appliances as servers?

oddball

Active Member
May 18, 2018
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I recently discovered this avenue. It seems like Cisco builds most of their appliances on their standard UCS platform. For example, the WSA S680 appears to be a UCS-240 m3 under the hood with a E5-2680 v0 and 32GB of RAM.

What's interesting about this is these things go on ebay for nothing because they're such special use devices.

The question is can you simply install Linux? My guess is yes. The thought is if you took out the SD cards, and the drives you have a bare metal machine. It isn't like the Cisco OS is on the metal itself, it's just software on a drive. So in theory with any of these you can just wipe the drives and you have a cheap server.

Anyone else exploring this?

I have an order in for a Netflow aggregation device. It's a 220 m4 with dual e5-2660-v3 and 64GB of RAM, 2TB of disks and 2x dual 10Gbe NICs, brand new, $1k. Seems like a decent deal. I even found instructions online for how to re-install the netflow software, it's just on the bootable SD cards. So in this case it should be a reasonable server without the price tag.

Thoughts? Experiences?
 

MiniKnight

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Mar 30, 2012
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You're probably fine unless there's some crazy locked BIOS. I'm down to try too but I didn't see the netflow.
 

turgin

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May 16, 2016
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I did this with some Nexus 1010 appliances. I forget which C series they were but under the hood they were standard Xeon CPU and DDR3 ECC RAM. I even added the second CPU and more RAM and used them as ESXi compute nodes. The only problem I had was adding PCIe cards caused the fans to ramp up and down. Ended up being too loud so I just salvaged the CPU and RAM bits for use on Supermicro motherboards. I scrapped the 1u chassis.

I do like the Cisco CIMC though.
 

oddball

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May 18, 2018
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I'm sitting here with the 3340-K9 and it works as expected. I popped out the SD card, and it's a raw 220 m4 server. Came with 2x Intel 520-X cards, which was nice.

Tossed in a VIC 1227 (dual 40Gbe) and it worked out of the box. Will install Linux and we'll have a docker host.

Once I discovered UCS that's all I've been buying. Have a few legacy HP's, but CIMC is excellent. Love this platform.
 

BlueFox

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Oct 26, 2015
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I used to do this back in the day with Symantec and RSA appliances and load pfSense on them. Generally the only issue I ran into was lack of VGA, but there were ways around that and it's less common now. I've run across a lot of rebranded Supermicro and Dell hardware too.
 

BLinux

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Jul 7, 2016
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I help out one of the dev teams that builds one of the Cisco appliances. At least for that team, the Cisco appliance is built on a standard UCS server, perhaps with some rebranding here and there, but it's basically just a normal x86 server. Even the OS is just a normal enterprise Linux distro, and then we add our special sauce on top of that for packet collection and other stuff. By the way, I believe Quanta makes the UCS servers for Cisco.

On a similar note, I often find that appliance built on Supermicro systems are also often a cheaper way to get a Supermicro server. There were a lot of smaller NAS/SAN companies that built their appliance on Supermicro and just added their own OS and maybe a few special PCI-E cards, but nothing else was customized. For example, if I'm ever looking for a Supermicro 836 3U, I often look for a Dell Compellent CT-040 and it's usually a lot cheaper.
 

ebacho

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Feb 11, 2018
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I help out one of the dev teams that builds one of the Cisco appliances. At least for that team, the Cisco appliance is built on a standard UCS server, perhaps with some rebranding here and there, but it's basically just a normal x86 server. Even the OS is just a normal enterprise Linux distro, and then we add our special sauce on top of that for packet collection and other stuff. By the way, I believe Quanta makes the UCS servers for Cisco.

On a similar note, I often find that appliance built on Supermicro systems are also often a cheaper way to get a Supermicro server. There were a lot of smaller NAS/SAN companies that built their appliance on Supermicro and just added their own OS and maybe a few special PCI-E cards, but nothing else was customized. For example, if I'm ever looking for a Supermicro 836 3U, I often look for a Dell Compellent CT-040 and it's usually a lot cheaper.
Quanta didn't do the recent UCS offerings. Foxconn did the M3 and M4 generations while Wistron did the M5.
 

WANg

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Jun 10, 2018
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I help out one of the dev teams that builds one of the Cisco appliances. At least for that team, the Cisco appliance is built on a standard UCS server, perhaps with some rebranding here and there, but it's basically just a normal x86 server. Even the OS is just a normal enterprise Linux distro, and then we add our special sauce on top of that for packet collection and other stuff. By the way, I believe Quanta makes the UCS servers for Cisco.

On a similar note, I often find that appliance built on Supermicro systems are also often a cheaper way to get a Supermicro server. There were a lot of smaller NAS/SAN companies that built their appliance on Supermicro and just added their own OS and maybe a few special PCI-E cards, but nothing else was customized. For example, if I'm ever looking for a Supermicro 836 3U, I often look for a Dell Compellent CT-040 and it's usually a lot cheaper.
If you are familiar with the Juniper Networks side of things, JunOS is really nothing but FreeBSD but with its own userland utils and ASICs drivers slapped on top - hell, one of my favorite things to do back in the days is to pull a FreeBSD 7.4 VM image and figure out how to a slap JunOS on top (it's commonly called an "Olive" and used by Juniper geeks to learn to do JunOS stuff before they get their hands on Juniper gear. It made sense when a J2300 was a $500 machine. N0wadays, you can get an EX4200-48 with virtual chassis linkups for less than $150 on eBay)

As for chassis reuse, yeah, that's old school as well. Ever heard of the old Symantec/Axent Velociraptors? Cobalt Raq 4s with a new coat of paint. Lovely little machines.
 

BLinux

cat lover server enthusiast
Jul 7, 2016
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As for chassis reuse, yeah, that's old school as well. Ever heard of the old Symantec/Axent Velociraptors? Cobalt Raq 4s with a new coat of paint. Lovely little machines.
Oh god... that brings back some horrible old memories... i had two jobs where we used Raptor firewall. one was a government contractor and they said that was the only choice since the agency they were working with wouldn't trust us if we used an Israeli product. I was just a consultant, so it didn't matter to me. The 2nd job, I was actually managing the team that handled all the firewalls. Damn thing kept falling over, proxy processes would segfault or consume too much CPU, i tried helping the devs debug the issue, but they weren't making any progress. I ended up building an appliance firewall using Linux/netfilter running in RAM that booted from what folks today call "live CDs" that saved the configs on a floppy. When we got rid of the Raptor, everyone cheered and business unit leaders wanted to celebrate and dump the Sun servers running Raptor into the river. (no, we never did that) Does Symantec even still support that firewall?
 

neb50

Member
Aug 28, 2018
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I have found the Dell Compellent SC8000's to be rebadged r720's.

They include the following and can sometimes be found for <$400 shipped.

Intel dual 10gbase-t and dual 1gbase-t network daughter board
iDrac enterprise license
Dual E5-2640
64Gb DDR3 - 8x8gb
Dual internal SD card interface card
many add in cards for external storage

You can either add a 8 bay backplane and connectors to use it as a 2.5" drive bay server or buy a new/used r720 or r720xd chassis with backplane and move the parts over at a cheaper cost than a Dell r720/r720xd.
 

gregsachs

Active Member
Aug 14, 2018
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Following up on this, McAfee Advanced Threat Defense boxes are OEM Intel
ATD-3100 is R1208WTTGSR with dual E5-2609v4, 256gb ram,
ATD-6100 is R1208WTTGSR with dual E5-2695v4, 512gb ram,
ATD-3000 is R1304GZ4GC, dual E5-2658, 192gb ram,
ATD-6000 is R2304LH2HKC, quad E5-4640, 256gb ram.
 

Evan

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Jan 6, 2016
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Most appliances I have looked at just have some bios strings that identify what it is rather than any real physical or even other differences. (Often the bios is locked so you can’t change much as well but maybe not locked down too hard, sometimes just go to find the right setting to open it up)
 

WANg

Well-Known Member
Jun 10, 2018
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Oh god... that brings back some horrible old memories... i had two jobs where we used Raptor firewall. one was a government contractor and they said that was the only choice since the agency they were working with wouldn't trust us if we used an Israeli product. I was just a consultant, so it didn't matter to me. The 2nd job, I was actually managing the team that handled all the firewalls. Damn thing kept falling over, proxy processes would segfault or consume too much CPU, i tried helping the devs debug the issue, but they weren't making any progress. I ended up building an appliance firewall using Linux/netfilter running in RAM that booted from what folks today call "live CDs" that saved the configs on a floppy. When we got rid of the Raptor, everyone cheered and business unit leaders wanted to celebrate and dump the Sun servers running Raptor into the river. (no, we never did that) Does Symantec even still support that firewall?
The Velociraptors were EOLed back in '03, if I remember correctly - I should mention that the hardware is solid (AMD K6s) but only if the software side works well (I usually put bog standard Debian or Ubuntu in mine). I am not sure what the Axent/Symantec software stack looks like, but if they are similar to their EPO suite, it probably suck a royal one. I am pretty sure that a modern Raspberry Pi4 will run rings around them.